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From shoe boxes, hat boxes, Tupperware and all the way down to the lowly cardboard box, if it fits, a cat sits. Every breed from the domestic house cat to the lordly lion has an obsession with boxes, but why do cats have such a fascination with all things boxy?

In a new study by veterinary scientists from University of Utrecht, they are believed to have finally unravelled why cats like boxes so much. As it turns out, curling up in a box that barely fits is a short term stress reliever for cats small and large.

In domestic cats, they can occasionally experience serious bouts of stress within the home or particularly while in shelters. This not only makes for a more unhappy cat, but it can also compromise their immune systems.

Dr. Claudia Vinke led a team of scientists in this new study to discover if boxes really do relieve stress as hypothesized. She studied 19 different shelter cats, separating them into two groups, those with boxes and those without, then rating them on the Kessker and Turner Cat-Stress-Score (CSS) scale. By the third day, the cats that had boxes had an lower average CSS score. Many of the cats without boxes were just fine, but some cats had a CSS score that skyrocketed well above normal levels of stress. The box-having cats showed no signs of such spikes.

As for why cats have such a fascination with boxes in particular is a more difficult subject for scientific explanation, although some sources suggest warmth or a way for solitary species to hide from social obligations. However, these recent findings published in the Applied Animal Behaviour Science journal are already being put to use by charitable organizations that want to see cardboard cat castled donated to animal shelters, although cat owners may suspect that tossing in a few shoeboxes may have the same effect.

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