Why Do Cats Get Stuck in Things?

High Angle Portrait Of Cat Sitting In Box
credit: Juan Miguel Caballero / EyeEm/EyeEm/GettyImages

Sometimes it can seem that cats defy the laws of physics. Animals are definitively solids, but as anyone who has ever lived with a cat can attest: cats are basically liquid. They love to squish themselves into confined spaces and while away the hours. But despite their fluid tendencies, cats also have an uncanny ability to become stuck in bizarre places and have a hard time dislodging themselves (or, at very least, we have a hard time dislodging them).

Why do cats hide?

The first step in solving the mystery of cats getting stuck in weird places is answering the question of why they stuff themselves into tiny spaces to begin with. For cats, it's all about comfort, safety and security. Staying in a tiny space helps cats conserve their natural body heat and, harkening back to their wilder instincts, serves as a means of protection against potential predators.

Why do cats like boxes so much?

Cats love the security of confined spaces, and boxes are a natural fit for cats who are looking for a place to curl up and hide. We know that most house cats love a good cardboard box to squish into — even if the box doesn't seem big enough for their fluff monster bodies.

The reasons why cats love boxes are similar to the reasons that cats like to hide: tiny places make them feel safe and comfortable. Considering cats spend 20 hours a day sleeping, feeling protected is important. Scientists have found that cats are most comfortable between 86 and 97 degrees Fahrenheit, which is considerably warmer than the temperature most people like to keep their homes. Curling up in a box conserves a cat's body heat and gets them closer to that ideal temperature.

What do cats look for in a hiding place?

Cats look for three things when evaluating a hiding place or confined space: They want a location that is dark, small and enclosed. These criteria create the ideal scenario for cats and explain why they're often found in boxes, drawers, beneath furniture and inside laundry baskets. These small places give cats comfort and make them feel safe against possible attacks.

What makes a cat feel secure?

Cats feel most secure when they are nearly invisible to others. That's why they love to shove themselves into tiny spaces that seem too small for their bodies. Even the craftiest predator would never expect a cat to be in a cereal box, right? Cats are very solitary creatures, and they need to feel confident that they won't be found.

Close-Up Portrait Of Cat
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How to coax a cat from a hiding space.

Cats are adept at crawling into unreachable spaces that it can be difficult for their well-meaning humans to get them out. If you need to lure a cat from her hiding space, avoid making sudden noises and movements. These actions can spook your cat, which can further complicate freeing your cat. If your cat is hiding indoors, try bribing her with toys, catnip or wet food.

If your cat is hiding outside, it might feel like you'll never find her again. In this case, try microwaving a can of tuna and leaving it out in the yard. Your cat is probably terrified. Hunger should outweigh her fear, and the tuna may lure kitty back home. Once in a familiar space, your cat is likely to come inside when you open the door — even if it's just to run to her favorite indoor hiding spot.

Do cats really get stuck in trees?

Having to call the fire department to rescue a cat who is stuck in a tree is a common trope in television comedies, but do cats really find themselves stuck in trees? It depends on the age and agility of the cat in question and why the cat climbed the tree to begin with. If a cat climbs a tree in fear, she is unlikely to climb back down until whatever scared her is gone.

The best way to get a cat out of a tree is to wait until she's hungry and then lure her with food. If your cat refuses to descend or is unable to climb down, then you may have to call your local animal control department for help.