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 as infants.
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 general.
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.
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, theirs).
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.
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 qualified professional.