Why Do Cats Love Paper and Plastic So Much?

Cats are excellent at squeezing themselves into tiny containers, especially cardboard boxes. Konstantin Aksenov/Shutterstock

Cats are curious little creatures. As the only domesticated species in the family Felidae, the domestic cat has a mixed reputation — everything from aloof to love bug. We humans are never quite sure if our cats truly love us or are just in it for the free food and lodging. But there is one thing cats and cat owners can agree on: cats love bags, boxes and paper.

Whether it's a standard plastic bag from the grocery store or a cardboard box from your friendly mail carrier, cats are quick to pounce on these items as new toys, homes or even snacks. Scientists and cat lovers alike have several suggestions on why kitties go crazy for these containers.

Going gaga over bags

a cat in a blue plastic bag
Plastic bags are especially alluring to cats. KAMONRAT/Shutterstock

One of the most obvious explanations is that these bags or boxes were previously carrying food. Cats have an acute sense of smell, much stronger than any human's, so it's no wonder they're rubbing their whiskers all over a grocery bag that was carrying frozen salmon filets an hour ago. Additionally, many of those bags are coated in substances like cornstarch or salty acids, or even made out of an animal byproduct like gelatin, making them extra tasty.

As far as the crinkling sound a bag makes, these carnivorous mammals might also find that extra-titillating, as it could mimic the noise rodents make when they scamper through the fields. Additionally, consider the texture of the bag. Cats are nothing if not particular, and the cool, smooth surface of the bag may be exceptionally appealing to these creatures, whether they're licking it or rolling on it.

Nuts about boxes

When it comes to cardboard boxes, there's a multitude of explanations for why your cat loves Amazon deliveries even more than you do. For starters, a box is an ideal hidey-hole while hunting possible prey. It can also shield the cat from danger or other predators. A scientist at Utrecht University in the Netherlands studied the benefits of boxes on two groups of newly arrived cats in an animal shelter. One group had the option to hide out in their own personal boxes while the other group did not. To no one's surprise, the group of cats with boxes to chill out in were far less stressed out, quickly grew more comfortable in their surroundings, and were more interested in meeting their humans than the box-less cats.

Boxes also provide warmth when the outside air is too chilly for their liking. Cats can't simply throw on a sweater when the temperature drops, and with a body temperature 20 degrees higher than ours, it's no wonder cats seek warmth in unusual places. Cardboard is an excellent insulator, and curling up in a tight crevice creates additional body heat. Whether your cat is stressed, cold, or just looking for a place to hide that's safe from predators (the neighbor's dog, perhaps), a box provides all that.

Mad for paper

brown cat lays on crumpled up paper
Got paper? This cat wants in on it. Danielle Armstrong/Shutterstock

Speaking of boxes, the shredded or crumpled up paper that's often used as packing material can also be a cat's best friend. Never mind that you spent a pretty penny on a lush cat bed, there are days when the cat simply prefers your newspaper or wrapping paper. Numerous theories abound on the Internet about why cats are drawn to paper, but the simplest answer is that it just feels good. Or that it gets your attention, or perhaps they want to mark their territory, or maybe it's a new item in the house that needs investigating. There is no end to the speculations on why your cat loves to curl up on a candy wrapper.

Cats' actions might always remain a bit of a mystery to us, but that's part of their charm. Of course, if any of these behaviors seem highly repetitive or uncontrollable, you might want to consult a vet. Pica (the behavior of eating non-food items) in cats could mean the cat is stressed or bored, or it could be something more serious, like dental disease or diabetes.

Why Pets Matter to Treehugger

At Treehugger, we are advocates of animal welfare, including our pets and other domestic animals. The better we understand our cats, the better we can support and protect their wellbeing. We hope our readers will adopt rescue pets instead of shopping from breeders or pet stores, and will also consider supporting local animal shelters.