The Mystery Of The Cat Square Explained

Written by: Adri Sandoval
Adri Sandoval is the Special Projects Manager for iHeartDogs and iHeartCats. Her work has deepened her love for animals, fostering a strong passion for rescue and animal advocacy.Read more
| Published on April 19, 2017

There’s nothing the Internet loves more than a good cat fad, and #CatSquare has recently taken over Twitter. Cat owners everywhere are making tape squares on the floor and watching as their feline friends are instinctively drawn to their creations. Black cats, tabby cats, big cats, kittens, and even hairless cats are parking themselves in the center of their squares in utter contentment. It’s a neat trick, and now cat owners want to know why it works.

Nicholas Dodman, an animal behavior professor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, may have the answer. He writes about how from the moment they’re born, cats feel safer and more comfortable in small spaces. He recalls how newborn kittens find comfort in the “lateral side pressure” provided by their mother and siblings. Research suggests that close contact releases endorphines to calm the cat and reduce stress.

The “if I fits, I sits” cat philosophy is related to this ingrained attraction to physical contact and concealment. Cats climb into boxes, crates, shoes, and even flower vases. It’s always amusing to watch, but your cat isn’t doing it to make you laugh. She’s squeezing into those small spaces in search of safety and comfort.

Dodman explains how Dutch researchers put this theory to the test with shelter cats. They gifted a number of cats “box retreats” and recorded how they reacted. In the end, they concluded that the cats who were given boxes adapted to new situations faster and easier than a control group of felines without boxes. The cardboard hidey-holes worked to minimize stress and keep the cats calm.

But why a square made out of tape? Without actual walls, tape squares can’t provide the covert concealment of an actual box, but it’s the idea of the square that attracts your cat. Tape squares represent the possibility of a box, and for some cats, that’s good enough. Call it imagination or inventiveness, but a cat that sits in a tape square is able to envision where walls should be. It’s flimsy and not ideal, but if there’s nothing else available, a tape square can provide similar kinds of security.

The #CatSquare challenge is mesmerizing to watch, and it’s also a solid example of why providing cats with some kind of confined space to call their own is important for their emotional well-being. But don’t take offense if your cat seems immune to your square. That might mean they feel perfectly comfortable out in the open. Or, it could mean they’re too smart to fall for your silly human tricks. We’ll let you decide.

Feature Image Source: Twitter/Rob Archer


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