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Cats love boxes because the confined space makes them feel safe

The latest pet craze taking the internet by storm is the #WhattheFluff challenge, where dog owners will perform a “disappearing act” for their dog and wait for the mystified pup to catch on.

We love our pets, but sometimes we just can’t help but play some fun tricks on them to the delight of the internet. Before #whatthefluff, cat owners were tagging posts of cats sitting inside taped squares on the ground with #CatsSquare, and the “CatSquare” trend began.  

That just the hint of a square box was enough to entice or trick the cat into sitting in the square had many wondering what exactly was going on. Were the cat’s really tricked by the tape?

As much as cat owners might like to ascribe their cat’s affinity for small spaces and cardboard boxes as a cute and unique quirk, an animal expert weighed in and resolved the mystery of the cat-box relationship once and for all.

Cats simply seek out the comfort and safety that a cardboard box can afford and are drawn to small, den-like spaces where they can curl up and feel secure.

According to Nicholas Dodman, a professor of Behavioral Pharmacology and Animal Behavior at Tufts University, it’s a way for the cat to relieve anxiety.

Dodman wrote a piece for the The Conversation in 2017 delving into the reasons why cats like enclosed spaces and why the #CatSqaure craze was as popular as it was.

For a cat, even your living room may be a little overwhelming sometimes and being in a safe place like a cardboard box is a way to guard against the dangers and insecurities of open spaces.

According to Dodman, cats, like dogs, used to spend their early days close to their mother and littermates.

The warmth and comfort of all that contact is something that animals will likely seek out in their later years by burrowing under covers, making nests out of blankets, or in the cats’ case trying to fit into small boxes.

“Think of it as a kind of swaddling behavior. The close contact with the box’s interior, we believe, releases endorphins – nature’s own morphine-like substances – causing pleasure and reducing stress,” Dodman wrote in The Conversation.

How does the box and cat square connect? Dodman has an answer for this too and it might be the fact the taped square offers a psychosomatic, virtual kind of comfort.

“Without a real box, a square on the ground may be the next best thing for a cat, though it’s a poor substitute for the real thing,” Dodman wrote. “Whether a shoe box, shopping bag or a square on the ground, it probably gives a cat a sense of security that open space just can’t provide.”

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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