If you've lived with a cat for any length of time, chances are you've wondered just what it is about cardboard boxes that cats find so compelling.Researchers from the University of Utrecht recently completed a study that offers a theory, publishing the results of their findings in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science.
In their recent study, the researchers set out to see if boxes could help alleviate stress in shelter cats. They worked with a Dutch animal shelter and took 19 new shelter cats. 10 were randomly assigned to be given boxes and 9 were part of a control group who didn't have boxes.
It's not exactly news to longtime cat guardians that cats tend to be easily stressed out little creatures!Boxes can provide cats with a secure-feeling "home base," giving them a place to hide that lets them feel safe.
So it should come as no surprise that the cats in the study with boxes exhibited faster recovery ability and also adapted to their new environment more quickly as compared with the box-lacking control group, with significant differences recorded just three to four days into the study.
"Stressful experiences can have a major impact on the cats' welfare and may cause higher incidences of infectious diseases in the shelters due to raised cortisol levels causing immunodeficiency. Though several studies showed preference for hiding places and stress-reducing effects of hiding boxes on cats in combined studies, none of these studies determined if proper hiding enrichment would be effective in a quarantine cattery," explained the researchers.
To assess the cats, researchers used the Kessler and Turner Cat-Stress Score during a 14-day study period. The results showed that the cat group with boxes registered mean CSS lower than their counterparts without the boxes, which meant they had lower stress levels.
There was also minimal difference in the scores reported for each cat individually within the group with boxes, while those without boxes showed a higher variance across the board.And while cats in both groups had adjusted well to their new surroundings by the end of the study, the cats in the group who had boxes reached that equilibrium in far less time, which led researchers to conclude that being given a box to hide in allows a cat to recover in a new environment faster by keeping stress levels down.
As a next step in research involving cats and boxes, it may be explored how taking a box and hiding it factors in on housed cats and what long-term effects having access to a hiding box might have. Additionally, research may also soon be done on the role of hiding boxes in infectious disease outbreaks in cats.
In the meantime, those who work in rescue would be well advised to keep some cardboard cartons handy to help new-intake kitties adjust faster to a shelter environment.And to all you cat moms and dads out there—never underestimate the value of a good cardboard box when it comes to keeping your kitty happy and healthy!
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