Here’s Why Your Cat Loves Crawling Into Small Spaces

Photo: Chris Winsor/Getty Images

Sure, your cat might come off like an aloof, self-possessed loner, but he’s also proof that you don’t need to be affectionate to share a bond — and if nothing else, the two of you are bound by the fact that, like you, your cat has his own deeply weird, unshakable habits.

One of which, you may have noticed, is likely an affinity for small spaces. “As a panelist on Animal Planet’s “America’s Cutest Pets” series,” veterinarian Nicholas Dodman recently recalled in the Washington Post, he “was asked to watch video after video of cats climbing into cardboard boxes, suitcases, sinks, plastic storage bins, cupboards and even wide-necked flower vases.” You can see it for yourself with #CatSquare, a social-media phenomenon that boils down to this: Make a square on the floor with tape and your cat will definitely go hang out in it.

But that’s not even a real space! you say. It’s a metaphorical representation of a space! This is true. But as Dodman, author of Pets on the Couch: Neurotic Dogs, Compulsive Cats, Anxious Birds, and the New Science of Animal Psychiatry, explained in the Post, cats aren’t picky: More than anything, they crave the security of borders, no matter what form those borders take. “Instead of being exposed to the clamor and possible danger of wide-open spaces,” he wrote, “cats prefer to huddle in smaller, more clearly delineated areas”:

When young, they used to snuggle with their mom and litter mates, feeling the warmth and soothing contact. Think of it as a kind of swaddling behavior. The close contact with the box’s interior, we believe, releases endorphins — nature’s own morphinelike substances — causing pleasure and reducing stress … Seeking small spaces is part of cats’ behavioral repertoire, and such spaces are generally good.

So attached are cats to their nooks and crannies, in fact, that research has shown that giving boxes to shelter cats helps them to de-stress and adjust more easily to their new surroundings. Think of it like a spatial security blanket. And for the box-deprived cat, there’s always the option to relax with a little cat wine — just another way for you and your pet to have something in common.

Here’s Why Your Cat Loves Crawling Into Small Spaces