Bridget is a long-time cat owner, cat sitter, and cat lover with years of
feline research and hands-on experience.
Anyone who is familiar with cats knows that they will lie on the book in front
of you, the piece of paper you just set down, the object you want to take a
picture of, the box you are about to start packing with, or anything else that
you seem to need right at that moment. But why? Is it for attention?
Neediness? A sense of feline superiority and overall…cattiness? Let’s take a
deep dive into the inner motivations of our feline friends when they choose to
sit on or in whatever object we might need.
Cats just adore boxes. If anyone sets a box or box-like object near a cat,
they will inevitably do anything they can to sit in or on it. They are drawn
to boxes like magnets.
One theory is that cats feel secure surrounded by the four walls of a box and
that it emulates their experience huddled up against their mother and siblings
Another theory posits that temperature is a large factor. Most human living
spaces tend to be around 72 degrees Fahrenheit while according to a 2006 study
by the National Research Council, the thermoneutral zone for a domestic cat is
86 to 97 degrees Fahrenheit. Cats are cold. Boxes are warm. Corrugated
cardboard insulates very well and helps cats to preserve body heat.
It’s All About the Squares
It seems, however, that cats actually enjoy two-dimensional square shapes in
One study found that cats are more likely to sit in a 2D shape that looks like
a box (such as tape in the shape of a square on the floor or shapes on the
floor that give the illusion of a square inside of it) than they are to sit in
a misshapen square.
So, it seems to be something about the shape of a square along with its
corners that cats find to be particularly appealing. It seems possible that
the box shape itself represents a “misplaced sense of security and
psychosomatic comfort,” according to Nicholas Dodman for The Conversation.
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Another study made it clear, in fact, that cats provided a hiding box were
able to recover faster (showing fewer signs of stress) and coped more
effectively in a new shelter environment during the first weeks after arrival.
Medievalist Emir O. Filipovic was flipping through fifteenth-century
manuscripts at the State Archives in Dubrovnik, Croatia when he came across
cat paw prints!
Love and Attention
Cats bond quickly to their mothers after birth, however, most are taken from
their mothers and separated from their siblings at around 8 weeks of age in
order to go to a home where they are often the only cat. Likely feeling
fearful and alone, they tend to bond to their new human companions who become
re-attached to the human, the new provider. Our cats are tied to our scents
and love things that smell like us, as well. And, with over 200 million scent
receptors, their sense of smell is 40 times stronger than ours! So, it makes
sense that they would want to be on or near something that was just in our
hands. If the item is square, it makes even more sense!
Cats also want to be the center of our attention and can tell when they are
not. They have amazing senses and can tell where our focus is at a given
moment. So, by laying on that object or standing right in front of the
computer screen, he or she hopes to become the new center of attention.
Another truth about our feline friends is that they are naturally territorial.
They will claim their territory by rubbing themselves on an object
transferring their pheromones (which come from glands in their faces and feet)
onto whatever it was that you were just holding or using. This gives the
object some of the cat’s own unique scent, marking it as yours (but really,
Even more, when a cat recognizes his or her own scent on an object from
before, maybe a book you were reading a few days ago and just set down again
after a few more chapters, he or she will keep reapplying their own scent to
mark the object as safe. The same goes for your cell phone, laptop, or
anything else you might use regularly.
“…think about survival. Why would cats want to get our attention when we’re
on the phone or putting our focus elsewhere? Well, they might get worried.
Attention is being taken away. Or they might be acting like the owner, doing
what the owner does. I think they like us, too. Out in nature they have a big
social repertoire with other cats. They hang out near each other for most of
the day. “
-Mieshelle Nagelschneider, “The Cat Whisperer”, for The Dodo
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and
is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a