Why do cats love boxes and sinks?
December 4, 2010 11:19 PM   Subscribe

Why do cats love boxes and sinks?

Or any small confined space for the matter? Was just watching the latest Maru video and was wondering if there was a legit answer. Please, no pseudo-science (unless it's very clever). I want an answer from a certified zoologist or a lion tamer (do lions and big cats exhibit these same tendencies???). Or is Maru a total outlier? Thanks.

More evidence: http://catsinsinks.com/
posted by jng to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
The more you try to understand your cat, the more insane you become.

You can not understand your cat because you are not a cat.

Your cat is like a Happy Fun Ball. Do not attempt to understand your cat.

Just let it be.
posted by sanka at 11:29 PM on December 4, 2010 [20 favorites]

Confined space = safety, because it's harder for things to get at you to eat you up or otherwise attack you. The cat can monitor paths of approach and attack more easily if there's only one way in (i.e., through the hole in a box).
posted by killdevil at 11:39 PM on December 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

Yes, lions and some big cats exhibit these same tendencies. Many wild cats like to sleep in dens which are very much like Maru's box; like killdevil says, they do it because it's safer than sleeping in the open. Here's a lion curled up in his den. Here's a picture of a wildcat (the domestic cat's immediate ancestor) hanging out in nature's version of a cardboard box... and here's one of some wildcat kittens outside a den.
posted by vorfeed at 12:36 AM on December 5, 2010 [6 favorites]

All of the above said, the two cats in my household are nowhere near as fascinated with boxes as Maru seems to be. They have pretty much no interest in boxes that are less than optimal size. But I dunno, maybe my cats are the weirdos who only like cat-sized boxes, while all other cats are like Maru.
posted by Sara C. at 1:05 AM on December 5, 2010

Maybe cats who love boxes were imprinted at an early age on box-like structures, like cat beds with tall sides, or an actual cardboard box with a towel in it, or something?

To provide an outlier: our cat couldn't care less about boxes, big or small, and it bums me out a little whenever I see hilarious footage of cats like Maru. We got our cat when he was 5 years old, so I have no idea what kind of box/non-box situation he was raised with.
posted by illenion at 1:44 AM on December 5, 2010

posted by plinth at 3:35 AM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm far from a zoologist, but googling suggests:

1. Because small protected spaces are safer, especially for sleeping
2. Because cats hunt by crouching, hiding, and then pouncing-a style which is aided by camouflage
3. Preserves body heat
4. Mother cats instinctively seek out basements, drawers, boxes, or just corners to give birth- it's a protective instinct not just for the mother but for the kittens which helps her with "corralling" them

Incidentally, typing "why do cats like..." in google brings up these suggestions:

why do cats like catnip
why do cats like pumpkins
why do cats like boxes
why do cats like to be petted
why do cats like milk
why do cats like fish
why do cats like plastic bags
why do cats like shoes
why do cats like laser pointers
why do cats like string

(Typing "why do dogs like" gets: belly rubs, bones, squeaky toys, peanut butter, and "to lick feet.")
posted by Nixy at 4:36 AM on December 5, 2010 [9 favorites]

Cats, broadly speaking, like confined spaces cause they feel safe or comfortable or whatever. I was once playing with a big Lego set (the kind with a huge flat green base) halfheartedly building a 4-sided box, I went up to get something and then found the cat wedged into the Lego box, purring as loudly as possible. I didn't have the heart to dismantle the Lego box, so we put it, stuffed with cat and all, in a secluded part of the bedroom and there it remained -the cat Lego fortress of safety.

Cats are weird.
posted by The Whelk at 4:54 AM on December 5, 2010 [16 favorites]

I have to agree with the "wanting safety" aspect, though I swear my cat, Max, just did it for fun or curiosity.

When I discovered this, I once took five packing boxes, cut cat sized holes in the ends and in a random side or two, tied them together with string and stuffed the whole maze under my bed. My cat loved this and I could often here the gentle scraping sound of fur on cardboard as he slid from box to box. Occasional upkeep was needed, as he would sometimes go insane and dash back and forth, pulling them apart with his violent digging at the box corners.
posted by DisreputableDog at 7:29 AM on December 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

thank you for sharing that adorable video. As I type this my cat just snuggled into a laundry basket. If I open the sock drawer even half an inch, she squeezes in. Without a doubt, they're attracted to small confined spaces - we can use this knowledge when trying to find them. Pretty safe to narrow search down to boxes, shopping bags, open drawers, dryers (be careful not to turn it on!) and even the sink.
posted by dmbfan93 at 8:48 AM on December 5, 2010

Because Garfield, the paragon of cats, sleeps in a box.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 9:08 AM on December 5, 2010

I read once somewhere that cockroaches like to have their bodies touching as many surfaces as possible, which is why they like crevices and things.

Maybe cats have a similar preference?

This thought still creeps me out, even to write it; I just imagine a roach sitting there rubbing its hands together and going "Mmmm, suuurfaces.... Heh heh heh," as it plots my demise.
posted by thebazilist at 10:15 AM on December 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

I know it as the "soft squeeze," although I don't know where I got that phrase from. Maybe it reminds them of snuggling with their mothers?

In any case, all three of our cats will climb into a drawer, box, nook, shelf, or tray that is clearly too small for them and be very happy about it. None of them like to just sprawl on the floor, so maybe it's about feeling safe and unassailable.
posted by vickyverky at 11:59 AM on December 5, 2010

I consider myself a sort of amateur zoologist of domestic creatures, and have been conducting observational ethological studies at my home for some time. While my sample size is small (current study enrollment: n = 5 cats), it reflects a diverse background of cats (2 were found on Detroit streets as kittens; 1 was adopted from a hippie cat shelter in Chicago; 1 from a farm; and 1 came from a suburban home), and data has been collected longitudinally since 2003.

60% of the exhibit strong levels of box-, sink-, or confined space-affinity, with 1/3 of this group exhibiting very strong levels of affinity. Interestingly, it is among the 40% of the sample for whom none of their kittenhood were observed by the researchers that demonstrate limited-to-no affinity for closed spaces, and it is known that 100% of confined space lovers spent at least some portion of their early kitten life in the outdoors. (Interestingly, a larger proportion of the cats who enjoy boxes also enjoy going outdoors when compared to the non-box-loving cats - 67% and 50%, respectively.

From this small study of domestic feline behavior, there is evidence suggestive of an association between exposure to the outdoors as a kitten and an affinity for confined spaces as an adult cat. This evidence provides some preliminary support to the theory that confined spaces represent safer sleeping and resting quarters for cats than exposed spaces, as kittens in the outdoors would have more need for safe spaces than kittens reared in climate-controlled and predator-free indoor spaces.
posted by palindromic at 1:01 PM on December 5, 2010 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: Alas, no zoologists among us, but I enjoyed the responses. Though safety sounds like the consensus, if someone wants to chime in with hard evidence, that would be great. Thanks everyone. Points all around.
posted by jng at 5:04 PM on December 5, 2010

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