No matter how fancy the facility or how well-meaning the staff, shelters are not ideal places for cats (or any other animal, really) to live. Understandably, being put in cages while surrounded by the sights, sounds, and scents of dozens of strange animals can be incredibly stressful, especially at first.
When cats get stressed out, elevated levels of the hormone cortisol can weaken their immune system and lead to illness that they could spread to others. A new study in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science has revealed that one simple object could be the key to alleviating stress in these cats: a cardboard box.
Seriously. Though the conclusion sounds like it was made especially for the internet's undying love of cats, the study had sound methods. Claudia Vinke, a veterinarian with Utrect University in the Netherlands, and her team followed 19 cats who had just been admitted to an animal shelter, and used a standardized test to monitor their stress levels for the first two weeks in the shelter.
Ten of the cats were given cardboard boxes to play in, and the remaining nine were not. By the end of two weeks, the cats who had been able to hide in boxes had dramatically lower stress levels than their boxless counterparts.
There are a variety of theories of why cats love boxes. It could provide them security by giving them a place to hide and be alone while still allowing them to monitor their surroundings. When placed into a new, stressful situation, like being admitted into an animal shelter, feeling secure could make a tremendous difference.
Additionally, these small enclosures might also help the cats regulate their body temperature. By getting close and cuddly in a small box, the cat is able to preserve its body heat and stay warmer.
Did you know that it's not just small, domesticated cats who will hide in a box? Their larger counterparts, such as Villy the snow leopard from the Zürich Zoo shown above, also love a good box. For your daily dose of cute, check out this video from Big Cat Rescue that shows some of the biggest cats having a little fun with their box.