Cats and Boxes: A (Not-So-Scientific) Study

Box Proclivity in Cats: Testing the IGNORE (Intention Gratification Negation Of Realization and Expense) Theory


Dawn in a cat box fort

A typical cat in a “box fort.”


It is well documented that the domestic cat, Felis sylvestris catus, exhibits a near-magnetic attraction to boxes (Maru, 2009). Other species of cat, including tigers, lions and leopards, have been known to sit, sleep and play in boxes (Big Cat Rescue, 2013). Among cats, this proclivity, or tendency to choose something regularly, can be so pronounced that boxes have been used on occasion to collect cats for petting and snuggling (Cheezburger, 2013).

In attempts to understand this common feline behavior, recent studies have observed cats in their habitats, providing a wide array of hypotheses. In Life with Dogs and Cats, Susan C. Willett (2014) outlined 18 reasons why cats love boxes. A summary of recent thinking (Gardiner, 2015) appeared in Wired magazine, including an overview of research on shelter cats and boxes published in the journal Applied Animal Behavior (Vinke, 2014).

Athena in a box lid

“Box” may be defined loosely by cats, as in this case, where the lid qualifies as a box.

However, few studies have examined the type of boxes preferred by cats. Most specifically, what factors affect how likely a cat is to occupy a particular box. In particular, there is not much literature exploring how the amount paid for the box (free versus purchased) or the intention of the box (used for shipping, storage, or designed specifically for Felis catus).

Calvin and Elsa Clair in a box

“Box sharing” is also an observed phenomenon.

It has been hypothesized that a cat’s box attraction — using the familiar Scratch, Claw and Tooth (SCAT) scale — is inversely proportional to the cost. In addition, there may be a similar behavior pattern relating to the intention of the containment unit. In other words, the more a human paid for the box or the more the box was intended to be used for cats, the less likely the cat would use it. This is known as the Intention Gratifcation Negation Of Realization and Expense (IGNORE) Theory.

We performed a series of experiments using boxes provided by several vendors (all free, used for product delivery), and a box provided by Famous OTO in the shape of cat-themed ice cream truck.

The initial exercise took place in a residential home on a day when the humans were extremely busy (cooking for a large family gathering) and the feline inhabitants were exhibiting undesirable Hiss-Swat-Chase behaviors.


Results are documented in the following photos.

Subject #1 (Elsa Clair) was attracted to the ice cream truck box even before it was assembled.

Elsa Clair sniffs flat ice cream truck box on floor

Subject #1 is drawn to the ice cream truck box.

Subject #2 (Calvin) claimed the shipping box, even though it had no sides. The behavior of Subjects #1 and #2 indicate a future area of research: exploring the essence of “boxness:” what defines a box to a cat. Characteristics to investigate include materials (cardboard, wicker, plastic, wood), walls (existence or absence, height), shape (rectangular, circular), and relative comfort  of the floor (soft, hard).

Calvin sits on a flat box

Subject #2 is attracted to the shipping box.

During assembly of the ice cream truck box, three of the household cats expressed interest. Subject #1 jumped into the box prior to completion.

Elsa Clair jumped in the ice cream truck before I had it completely assembled

Subject #1 enters the box.

Once Subject #1 vacated the box, Subject #2 entered it.

Calvin drives the ice cream truck

Subject #2 looking out the front window.

Observers noted that Subject #2 spent 23 minutes in the ice cream truck box.

Calvin looks out the window of the ice cream truck cat box

Subject #2 looking out the side window.

He explored all the windows.

Calvin the cat loves his ice cream truck box

Subject #2 looking out the back window of the ice cream truck box.

Upon leaving the ice cream truck box, Subject #2 “stood guard” outside it for an additional 14 minutes, discouraging the other cats from coming near him, or the box.

Calvin guards his ice cream truck box

Subject #2 “guarding”

The barking of dogs distracted Subject #2, who proceeded to hide under the couch, whereupon Subject #3 (Athena) took residence in the ice cream truck box.

Athena cat drives ice cream truck

Subject #3 occupying the box.

After the initial test session, the ice cream truck box was moved to an area that contained several boxes. Subjects were allowed to choose any box to occupy.

Subject #1 spent time in the other boxes — including one with crinkle paper — yet seemed to prefer sitting in the ice cream truck box.

Elsa Clair checks out the ice cream truck box amidst all the boxes

Subject #1 deciding which box to enter.

The average time Subject #1 spent in the ice cream truck box was 1.73 times the amount spent in the delivery boxes.

Elsa Clair is not a friendly ice cream truck driver

Subject #1 expresses her displeasure at the concept of sharing the ice cream truck box with other subjects.


The cats in the study not only entered the box designed for them, but actually liked it a lot, as evidenced by the guarding and hissing behaviors and the amount of time spent in the ice cream truck box as compared with the control boxes. When offered a choice between standard, free, delivery boxes and the OTO ice cream truck box, one cat (Subject #1) spent more time in the truck. However, the results are inconclusive because:

1) the ice cream truck box was new, and our study did not account for the Novelty Factor

2) there was some evidence that the box box (the box that the ice cream truck was delivered in) was as exciting as the product itself

2) Famous OTO provided the ice cream truck box for free, and it’s possible that, because actual payment did not occur, it may have skewed the outcome because there was no cash outlay

4) the test group accounted for only 75% of the resident cats, which may not have been enough of a sample.

It is recommended that further testing be done to adequately understand the IGNORE theory. We will continue with this line of inquiry as we look to learn more about cats and boxes.

What’s your theory? Why do you think cats love boxes?

NOTE: I was not paid to write this story; I was provided one free ice cream truck box for my cats to enjoy.

10% Off a Cat Ice Cream Truck

Would your cat like an ice cream truck box? Use the code DOGSANDCATS at the OTO website and you’ll get a 10% discount. Valid through May 31.

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See also:

Today, we’re participating in the Mischief Monday blog hop. Stop by and visit some of the great blogs below.


24 Comments on "Cats and Boxes: A (Not-So-Scientific) Study"

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  1. Robin says:

    I love this! Such a cute ice cream truck box. I agree that the IGNORE theory does require more testing. Perhaps more cat bloggers will attempt to replicate your results to settle the matter. Personally, I know of a couple of subjects that would be willing to help me test such an important theory.

  2. That ice cream box with the cats in it is adorable!

  3. Elaine says:

    Haha! Subject #1 definitely has a claim on the ice cream truck! I’m looking forward to the follow-up trial that will feature the catnip van!

  4. meowmeowmans says:

    That’s some serious research about boxes and cats! All we know is that ALL of your cats look adorable in that ice cream truck box. Especially you, Elsa Clair! 🙂

  5. Annie says:

    I love this! Great post! The kitties here would like to test the IGNORE theory. Conclusion #2 is probably very valid.

    Love all the pics!!

  6. slimdoggy says:

    BRILLIANT! I wish all feline research was undertaken with such thoroughness!

  7. There’s a Monday blog hop??? Great news and FYI, Elsa Clair is featured on Tuesday at the CWA blog.

  8. Kari says:

    Genius! Cat pictures don’t usually do it for me… but you’ve won me over!! 🙂

  9. That’s the best and more serious research about boxes and cats we’ve ever read ! Purrs

  10. Jen Gabbard says:

    Such a well conducted scientific study. I’ve always wondered myself why cats have such a fascination with boxes, but haven’t been able to come up with any concrete theories. It is interesting to see that the “box box” received as much attention as it did. What I can tell from this study is that the fact that the ice cream truck box performed better than a crinkled paper box says a lot.

  11. Earl Lover says:

    Sounds way cool. And very interesting.

  12. So cute! If the “subjects” want boxes around the house to play with, might as well have cute ice cream truck boxes! (Love all the flavors! lol.)

  13. Kelley says:

    That box is the funniest thing I’ve seen all day!
    Kelley’s Dog Blog – The A to Z of Dog Shows

  14. Hilarious! I love this study!

  15. Ann Staub says:

    OMC I LOVE that ice cream truck! How cute! I wonder how Callie would like one of those…

  16. Cathy Armato says:

    The cats look absolutely adorable in the ice cream truck box BOL!! Are you certain it’s the box they love so much and not just the cardboard….. Hmmmm ? Thanks for sharing these great photos!
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  17. Anne says:

    I loved this! Oh my gosh, my cats would go NUTS for the ice cream truck box – that is so cute! Great pics by the way. 🙂

  18. Great post – we love the ice cream truck idea. We’ve seen similar boxes in the shape of fire engines, police cars and army tanks too..

  19. This is hilarious! I love this post!

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