Every single time you open a package, leave a board game box unattended, or align a pair of shoes just so, your cat is going to climb on in. And if your feline friend doesn’t automatically take the opportunity to wedge themselves into close-knit quarters, they are definitely thinking about it.
Cats do all kinds of quirky things that we chalk up to their unique and purrfect personalities, but in the case of confined spaces, this runs across the species. So why are cats drawn to tight spots — or even just tape squares on the floor? Animal behaviorists think they’ve put their paws on an answer.
Cat owners have long since known that their pets love to curl up in weird little spots. In fruit baskets, the bathroom sink, high or low, wherever doesn’t really matter. It’s wedging their malleable feline bodies into that tiny space that’s important.
And somewhere on the recesses of the cat-enthusiast section of the internet, a new tight-spot trend was uploaded into existence — #CatSquare. Someone had the brilliant idea to section off a square on the floor and see how their kitties responded.
YouTube / Smoothiethecat
So, people made their squares and waited with bated breath for their cat’s next move. Low and behold, the cats were drawn to the spots like magnets. Tabby, Ragdoll, British shorthair, no matter the breed, cats across the world were sitting inside the squares.
The Conversation / Maggie Villiger
Needless to say, this created an epic what-does-it-all-mean question to ripple across Twitter: It was true that creating a square on the floor with tape will, in fact, bring to the cats to the yard (or rather, squares). But why?
Twitter / CalicoCrew1
Animal behaviorist Nicholas Dodman explained why cats are instinctively drawn to closed-off spaces. As most cat owners can confirm, they have a way of plopping their bodies into any contained spot, even if their fluff doesn’t quite fit.
Tufts University Catnip
Well, if you have experienced a cat birth, it probably comes as no surprise that cats seek out these comfortably confined areas. A few days before labor, a mother cat starts nesting in a secluded often, small dark spot where she feels she can safely deliver.
The Cat Site / BlazenlyObvious
So, when cats are snuggled up tight between their siblings, they’re absorbing the warmth and milk from their mother’s side. Recreating that “lateral side pressure” brings your kitties a sense of security and nurturing coziness. Research went a step further.
Getty Images / Ahloch
Occupying the enclosed space has a direct effect on a cat’s mood, as recreating that closed-in boundary creates an endorphin boost. So if you see your pet resting in a cardboard box, they’re letting their stress and worries melt away. To better understand the phenomenon, animal experts drew up an experiment.
Flickr / Dgermony
Animal behaviorists from Utrecht University conducted a study researching the impact that a simple box might have on a group of Dutch shelter cats. They were curious to see if the addition of a box would make an observable difference in their stress levels.
For the study, 19 cats that were new to the shelter were split into two groups. In a room with ten of the cats, they placed a hiding box, while the other nine cats went boxless. Over a 14 day period, the researchers documented the behaviors of each group.
Shelters are notoriously stressful environments for stray cats, particularly during the first few days of acclimating to their unfamiliar surroundings. Many cats are too distressed to eat, they over groom, develop bladder problems, and the list goes on.
Researchers used the Turner Cat-Stress-Score, which breaks down pretty much every part of the feline body, whiskers, legs, pupils, ears, etc, and rates them from a level one (fully relaxed) to a level seven (terrified) to determine the effect of the hiding box.
Oregon State University /
Around day three of day four, the researchers noticed the cats with the hiding box started to exhibit more physical signs of relaxation. Eventually, the control group cats started to show those same signs of relaxation, it just took them way longer.
Reddit / Vinkulelu
So, it was clear that adding a spot for a cat to settle into that hugs their body has a direct correlation to their stress levels. Which will make the lives of the millions of cats that cycle through the shelter system each year a tiny bit easier. But this knowledge can be applied more widely.
Incredibly, this inside-the-box mentality is shared by cats far and wide, across breed, domestication, and even grumpy personalities. So if you have some stray cats in your neighborhood, try and observe the places they go to decompress, without disturbing them of course.
Imgur / OctopussSevenTwo
Your own cats will search out places in your home that provide that lateral side pressure. Popular spots where people catch their kitties enjoying that hormone-induced tranquility are sinks, planters, the little space behind the cupboards, their imaginations know no bounds.
But one thing is for sure: tape squares are not as good as the real thing. Cats prefer the fur-to-object contact to really get into that soothing swaddle feeling. So, it’s a good idea to create a little nest spot for your cat to retreat to.
Beyond the internet fads and funny pictures, providing a spot for your cat to decompress should be another regular responsibility of being a cat owner. Think of it as an essential item, like a food bowl or flea medication.
Still, though, it’s a downright entertaining party trick to keep in your arsenal. With a roll of tape and a geometric shape, you can convince a crowd you’re basically Houdini with cats, and what could be better than that?
But what about the moment when your cat steps outside the square, locks eyes with you, and gives two pointed winks. What does that mean? Untangling the messages of your passive-aggressive kitties can be worse than navigating human communication, so see what animal behaviorists say they mean.
Reddit / Kera_chan
1. Cats can be pretty aloof, so there’s nothing unusual about your pet lounging alone and surveying the entire room. But if your pal looks at you and starts slowly blinking, he’s giving you an important message.
Slow blinking is a sign of comfort and love. It’s a signal that cats use to tell each other everything is OK, so, if you see it, your buddy is feeling pretty good. There are some other ways they communicate, too…
2. We’re all familiar with purring, which is another classic signal that your cat is feeling content. Still, there’s something deeper going on when they start revving their engines — a message that you might not be aware of .
Cats don’t purr to communicate with other cats; they only do it for humans. That means your pet is specifically telling you how happy they are. You should also be on the lookout for these other sounds.
3. Beyond purrs and meows, your cat might occasionally make a high-pitched gurgling sound. It can sound pretty alarming if you aren’t expecting it, but don’t be afraid; it’s just another way of trying to tell you something.
Cats gurgle when they’re feeling upbeat and social, so the sound is a positive sign. Your pet is just trying to chill out and have a friendly chat. Another way of communicating can get a bit violent, however.
4. Have you ever been minding your own business when your cat runs over and headbutts you? Seems pretty rude, right? Heck if a human tried that it would be time to call the cops! But there’s a deeper meaning to that strange gesture when cats do it.
Cats use scent glands in their head to mark their territory, meaning a headbutt is actually quite affectionate. Your pet is telling other cats that you are her person! Daaww, how sweet is that? Now moving on to biting…
5. Cats are predators, which means they have some pretty sharp teeth. So when they turn those fangs on you, it has to mean something bad is going on, right? Like maybe they are really unhappy with the new dry food you’ve been dishing out?
While an aggressive bite is obviously a negative sign, gentle nibbles are a demonstration of love. Your cat is just telling you that he appreciates your presence; after all, he’s choosing to bite you playfully instead of forcefully.
6. After biting, the obvious place to go is licking. If the former is a playful mark of endearment, what is your kitty trying to say with her scratchy tongue rather than her teeth?
Have you ever seen apes grooming their relatives? Well that’s what’s happening when your cat tries to clean up your hand or hair! She’s identified you as part of the family and wants to help take care of you.
7. If you ever see your cat flopped on the floor with his belly facing up, he’s not just being lazy. In fact, there’s a deeper significance to the pose that you might not realize…
South Boston Animal Hospital
The phrase “soft underbelly” is grounded in reality; an animal’s stomach is a weak point that they try to protect. If your cat lets you touch that sensitive area, that means he trusts you completely.
8. You probably know not to touch your cat’s tail, but did you know he’s using it to communicate? A bushy tail, for example, is a sign of distress, while a waving tail has another meaning.
Cats really don’t wag their tail, but they do flick it back and forth to show happiness. If your furry friend is feeling especially affectionate, they’ll even curl their tail around you like a hug.
9. Have you ever woken up to find your cat has left a dead mouse or her favorite toy on your bed? It’s like a scene from The Godfather (only minus the mob activity). These “presents” aren’t the type of gift you might think, though.
Beth Wilson/ Twitter
While your cat isn’t giving you a gift out of appreciation, the gesture is still a mark of trust. Cats bring their prey back home so they can eat it safely; leaving it near you means that you’re someone who won’t steal their stuff.
10. Cats might not be interested in going for walks and playing fetch, but they have been known to follow their owners around. But do they do it for the same reason as dogs?
No matter the species, physical proximity is a show of affection. If your independent cat is always near you, especially when there’s food available in another room, he really loves you.
11. Whether you call it kneading, making biscuits, or anything else, most cat owners have felt this one. When a cat presses her paws into you, they’re trying to tell you something major about your relationship…
12. If cat vs. dog intelligence has ever been debated, consider it resolved: Cats have 300 million neurons in their brains, while dogs have just 160 million. In fact, a cat’s brain is considered to be extremely similar to a human’s brain, so expect a feline uprising any day now.
13. Since whiskers detect distances and movements by the air’s vibration, they’re actually crucial to a cat’s survival in the outdoors. So don’t be too scared if your cat runs off — they have survival tools built right into their bodies!
14. What’s the deal with cats and catnip? Cats naturally have the scent of catnip binded to their nasal passages, so when they get a whiff of the herb, it stimulates the sensory receptors in their brains — and makes them act a little lovey-dovey.
15. It’s no secret that cats spend a majority of the day sleeping. We’re actually pretty jealous of just how long a cat can sleep for, which is at least 12-16 hours a day. Cats just don’t know how lucky they are!
16. Did you know that cats have dominant paws? Females are more likely to use their right paws while males usually prefer their left. No word yet on if the whole “right brain, left brain” thing exists with cats!
17. The rumors are true, cats can change color! Well, maybe not in the way you’re thinking. Siamese cats have a gene modifier that technically makes them albino, but when they’re introduced to high temperatures, portions of their fur turns gray or even black.
18. If you want your cat to stop leaping onto the kitchen table, try spraying them with lemon water. Cats are picky eaters and are especially sensitive to bitter and citrus-y flavors, so they’ll quickly learn to avoid the lemony spray.
19. The next time your partner scolds you for taking too long in the shower, bring up this fact: cats spend 30%-50% of the day cleaning their bodies! Much like us with showering, grooming improves a cat’s circulation and prevents any unseemly odors.
20. A purring cat can be totally soothing when you’re in a bad mood, but the sound has other surprising healing properties as well. Purring can be restorative to a cat’s health, and it even helps heal problems with bones and tissues.
21. Be careful when considering a major lifestyle change with your cat. Studies have shown that something as simple as a change in routine can negatively impact a cat’s immune system and make it sick. Even a healthy cat can be affected!
22. Cats really do have 9 lives, and it’s thanks to their interesting bodies. Cats have a “straightening reflex,” meaning that some of the tiny balancing-organs in their ears help tell a cat when they’ll hit the ground and how to land on their feet.
23. At night, cats often choose to sleep in spots that are high-up and hidden in an effort to remain unseen by potential predators. This is just more proof that modern-day cats are not so different from cats in ancient times!
24. We all know that people can be allergic to cats, but did you know that some cats can be allergic to people? It’s estimated that approximately 1 in 200 cats suffers from asthma caused by dusty and unkempt living conditions. Luckily, cat inhalers exist.
25. If you’ve stepped on your cat’s tail, the high-pitched shriek and bared fangs you get in return is exactly what you’d see in a stray. A cat’s DNA never changes, so when threatened they revert right back to the wild ways of their ancestors.
26. Humans are unique in how we all have different fingerprints, and the same can be said for cats…sort of. Believe it or not, the sure-fire identifier for a cat is actually its nose! Who knew those little noses were so complex?
27. It may sound like the only thing your cat does is meow and purr, but felines can actually produce about 100 sounds! This certainly furthers the “cats are smarter than dogs” argument, considering how dogs only produce about 10 sounds.
28. Cats need seven times less light than humans to see, especially during the daylight hours. This explains why some cats naturally gravitate towards dimly-lit rooms or closets. It’s also why they’re more energetic at night — they can simply see things easier!
29. There’s another reason cats are so bendy, and it’s not because they’ve been exercising! Felines are born without clavicles, which means they don’t have to worry about bulky bones impeding their movement. This makes them experts when it comes to slinking through narrow passages!
30. If your cats aren’t BBFs, there’s a reason why. Cats develop a “secret language” with humans, a language they do not share with any other cat living in the same space. This means no cuddling and no mingling — they’re basically just acquaintances!