Cat shelter findings: Less stress with box access

February 8, 2015 by Nancy Owano, weblog
Cat shelter findings: Less stress with box access

Out of all those cat videos that keep your eyes glued to the screen far longer than you would care to acknowledge, you may have seen some showing little and big cats trying their best to snuggle into big and too-little cardboard boxes. What makes them so content about being in a box? Scientists have spent much time looking for answers. "Will a hiding box provide stress reduction for shelter cats?" That is one such exploration, published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, the journal of the International Society for Applied Ethology (ISAE).

The three authors, from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Utrecht, studied stress in shelter and found that hiding boxes reduced stress, at least on the short term. They chose shelters as their investigation site because that is where the stress levels for domestic cats can be serious. The researchers assessed the effect of a hiding box on of newly arrived cats in a Dutch animal shelter. Ten cats had a box; nine did not. They found a significant difference between the two groups on observation days 3 and 4. The cats with the hiding box were able to recover faster in their new environment.

Writing in Wired, Bryan Gardiner took up the topic of why cats love boxes, discussing the researchers' findings as well as other explorations into the way cats love scampering and even squeezing into boxes. One of the authors of the Dutch cat shelter paper, Claudia Vinke, was quoted in Wired: "Hiding is a behavioral strategy of the species to cope with environmental changes and stressors," Vinke said in her email.

Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, in their observations about cat shelters and stress, said that "cats benefit greatly from the ability to hide when stressed. In shelters, this can be accomplished in a variety of ways, with a range of costs and benefits." One type of hiding spot which they recommended was a "hiding box" which they said could be "a cardboard box, a specially designed Hide-Perch-and-Go box, a sturdier plastic box or cage insert, a plastic carrier, or a commercially available "cat den." The Cornell site said that while cardboard boxes are inexpensive, they cannot be cleaned, and must only be used for one cat before being discarded or recycled.

Gardiner in Wired made the point that boxes are not the only enclosures that attract cats; bowls, a bathroom sink, or other enclosures seem to work, too. Gardiner also made the point that cats scramble for such enclosures in a fundamental search not merely to feel psychologically cozy but for heat.

"According to a 2006 study by the National Research Council, the thermoneutral zone for a domestic cat is 86 to 97 degrees Fahrenheit. That's the range of temperatures in which cats are 'comfortable' and don't have to generate extra heat to keep warm or expend metabolic energy on cooling." Corrugated cardboard, he added, is a good insulator; if the box is a tight squeeze so much the better; it may "force the cat to ball up or form some other impossible object, which in turn helps it to preserve body heat."

Explore further: A cat's game of hide and seek

More information: Applied Animal Behaviour Science, … 0236-6/abstract?cc=y

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Doctor D
2.6 / 5 (5) Feb 08, 2015
(Ig) Nobel contender for sure!
2.3 / 5 (6) Feb 08, 2015
Next up: Cheapest cat toys that work.
-Crumpled piece of paper.
-Plastic Straw
-Plastic water/soda bottle cap
5 / 5 (20) Feb 08, 2015
Everyone knows that cats hide in boxes to keep their wavefunction from collapsing
5 / 5 (4) Feb 08, 2015
Everyone knows that cats hide in boxes to keep their wavefunction from collapsing

Veterinary Medicine, University of Utrecht, studied stress in shelter cats and found that hiding boxes reduced stress, at least on the short term.
I suspect this may also relate to why office workers prefer high-walled cubicles over an open office floor plan.

2 / 5 (2) Feb 08, 2015
Need an additional stimuli, such as running a vacuum cleaner in the room, to stress the cats and see how they behave.

You could also try the experiment with different size boxes for the cats to hide in.
5 / 5 (3) Feb 08, 2015
ubavontuba: It is. Just like cats, many primates, including us, are predators, but NOT the top of the food chain, at least until we invented weapons. A place to hide is important when something bigger, meaner, or unfamiliar may be trying to make us dinner. In our case today, the "predator" is likely to be another human, and office politics can be just as dangerous, if less deadly, than the jungle. Looking for an enclosed space where we can guard the door is probably instinctive. An open floor plan is too much like the African savannah, with predators roaming everywhere.
5 / 5 (1) Feb 08, 2015
Everyone knows that cats hide in boxes to keep their wavefunction from collapsing
Yes, especially cats named Erwin.
Seems to me that this question is like asking why soldiers prefer foxholes when they hear incoming artillery, or why they instinctively crouch behind armor when they hear a machine gun.
Feb 08, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
1 / 5 (1) Feb 08, 2015
Just how much were these "researchers" paid to discover something very cat owner knows?
1 / 5 (2) Feb 08, 2015
Just how much were these "researchers" paid to discover something very cat owner knows?
5 / 5 (4) Feb 09, 2015
Just how much were these "researchers" paid to discover something very cat owner knows?

Are there any cat owners with quantitative results? No.
It's sensible to check the stuff 'everyone knows' once in a while - because it sometimes turns out that everyone is wrong.
5 / 5 (5) Feb 09, 2015
Lots of jokes being made. As someone who volunteered in the "receiving room" of a shelter for several years, unless you're extremely hard hearted, you'd understand how important using this technique could be. People have some sort of idyllic scenario ( I think) in their head when they dump their pets off at shelters. Their cat is good natured. That they'll do just fine, that it's no big deal. Most of these pets are TERRIFIED after being dropped. They're placed in a cage, other animals in cages nearby, dogs and cats mewing and barking, strange people, smells. It's hell on earth for them. Some tremble uncontrollably. I've seen some actually suffocate themselves trying to bury their head in the litter of their cat box. Even the friendliest bite out of abject terror. Some will recover, while still scared, they'll managed to cower in their cage and be evaluated and go out to be adopted. Some won't recover, they literally go crazy. I guess you could compare it to PTSD in soldiers.
not rated yet Feb 10, 2015
Not only are those stressed cats hiding, they're claiming a small but crucial piece of territory that they feel they can defend as their nest. From that base, they can build a 'home range'...

The flip side is that cats are instinctive topologists, love novelty that they can explore, then claim by residence and/or pheromones...

{ Beware a grumpy male cat's claim-staking, neutered or not, if he feels insecure... }

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