The ability to hide gives the cat the choice of how and when to start engaging. Having choice reduces stress levels.
Research was done at a Dutch animal shelter involving 19 cats. Approximately half of the cats were given hiding boxes and the others weren’t. The cats with the boxes started exploring their environment sooner and stress levels decreased.
Being in a box where a cat can rest his back against the sides helps him feel safer because he can’t be ambushed from behind. This may explain why some cats seem content to curl up in boxes that seem uncomfortably small. Feeling something solid behind them or around them might increase feelings of safety.
Since cats prefer to avoid engaging in physical conflicts, disappearing into a box is a good way to stay under the radar when sharing space if there are adversarial relationships between pets. For some cats, it may also be more comfortable to chill out in a box to avoid all the household traffic and chaos.
A box can be a good place to calm down after an altercation or stressful event as well. After a conflict, the box may become a safe zone while tempers return to normal.
Cozy cat beds or being curled up under the covers are wonderful ways for a cat to stay warm but a cardboard box can help keep kitty toasty as well. Line the bottom of the box with fleece or a soft towel and you have an instant bed. If the box isn’t too big, the cardboard provides insulation.
This also qualifies as fun. Drop toys in boxes to entice your cat to jump in and bat them around. Set up a few boxes and your cat may jump back and forth from one to another. Incorporate the use of a cardboard box during interactive play so your cat can dart in and out.
Your cat’s nose may work overtime when you first place a box on the floor. Many cats will do a scent investigation and if the box contained a delivery of pet food or pet supplies, expect that nose to get a real workout.