Think about things that you would probably normally throw away: crumpled up paper, twist ties, boxes. Cats seem to love these things more than the expensive toys we buy them. Come to think of it, the same thing is true for human toddlers...put a toy in a box and there's a good chance the toddler will end up playing with the box, or in the box, or with the box on its head. Cats, apparently, are not much different.
While there's no accounting for cat behavior at times, being interested in things like boxes and twist ties makes a lot of evolutionary sense. Cats are ambush predators, so anything that relates to them feeling hidden and protected or else attracting them like prey does is going to be appealing.
Why do cats love boxes?
In a certain sense, cats are so naturally curious that if you put anything down on the floor, eventually your cat will walk over to it and investigate it. Boxes offer a lot of appeal, though, because if the box is the right size, a cat can hide behind it and feel protected while they can also sneak peaks at what's on the other side. There's less worry about something sneaking up on it from all sides, when at least one side is protected. If a cat is inside the box and something walks in front of it, the cat will know right away.
Cats are naturally drawn to confined spaces also. A 2014 study on stress relief in shelter cats looked at the level of stress of 19 newly arrived shelter cats. Some were provided a hiding box when they arrived and some were not. The group with the boxes showed less stress. The researcher concluded that cats provided with hiding boxes were able to adapt to their new environment faster than the cats without hiding boxes.
Another appeal of cardboard boxes is that they help hold in body heat. A 2016 study in Scientific World Journal points out that the ideal range of temperature for a cat is 86 to 97 degrees Fahrenheit. For most humans, that would be an uncomfortably high room temperature. That may help explain why cats are always looking for the sunny patch, even on warm days. It may also help explain why cats will curl up in just about anything they'll fit into: Cardboard is a great insulator and being inside any type of confined space allows a cat to preserve its body heat.
Why do cats love twist ties?
Twist ties are the sort of thing that people have laying around the house all the time. Most of the time, they end up as trash but our feline friends might think they are toys. Like other bits of trash like crumpled up paper, aluminum foil, or wrappers and things, twist ties can be dangerous to your cat. When they skitter across the floor, twist ties make an appealing sound, but they can easily get stuck in a cat's mouth or throat, especially that of a kitten that doesn't yet know what is safe to chew on.
Why do cats love plastic bags?
Plastic bags and other parts of a wrapper have an intriguing crinkly sound. They also may smell like the food they were wrapped in. When combined with the sensory appeal in other ways, like the smoothness or coolness of the plastic, plastic bags may be too tempting for your cat to ignore. Hills Pet says that some plastic bags are coated with things like cornstarch or gelatin, which may make them seem like a treat.
Other hard plastic objects, like straws and milk jug rings, may make a skittering sound as they slide across the kitchen floor, so to your cat, they just seem like a tempting toy, or possibly a new type of mouse. Some cats just like to chew, so these hard or soft objects like plastic bags or wrappers may just be fun to play with.
Other items that can be dangerous for cats
Some cats like to chew on things like fabric or other things that are similar to twist ties, such as cords. Many times, destructive chewing behavior such as this is rooted in anxiety and could be a comfort-seeking behavior. It's common for kittens to chew, and most outgrow it, but your cat may need to be redirected if you see them chewing on things like your phone cord, electrical cords, twist ties, or anything sharp.
Tinsel, a common decoration on a holiday tree, is particularly dangerous to cats. It's shiny and dangly, but unfortunately, if they chew on it, it can get stuck in their internal system and cause a lot of damage. Other tree-related dangers are low-handing ornaments, which might dangle and be tempting for them to bat off the tree. That could expose the hook, which could also be a dangerous toy.
Take care to put breakable or dangly ornaments out of your cat's reach. Rather than dangerous metal hooks, Preventive Vet suggests tying ornaments on with twist ties, provided they are sturdy, tied on securely, and not left around the house for the cat to play with. Even feathers, which are common on cat and kitten toys, can pose a risk if they get chewed on and a piece breaks off.
Things that you would probably normally throw away like plastic milk jug rings, crumpled up paper, twist ties, or boxes are trash to us but seem like really appealing toys to cats. Things like boxes aren't dangerous because for the most part, cats just like to sleep in them or hide behind them. this makes them feel safe and protected, and probably also helps keep them a little warmer.
Other things like cord, twist ties, or plastic bags can be dangerous for your cat to chew on. Bits of hard plastic from the rings, soft plastic from the plastic bags or wrapper, or wire from the twist tie can easily get lodged in a cat's throat or digestive system. Kittens, in particular, need to be directed to safe things to chew on so they don't develop a habit of chewing on things like electrical cords. Keep an eye on your cat if she likes to play with things that might be called trash, and remove them from her and give her something safe to play with instead.
- Applied Animal Behaviour Science: Will a Hiding Box Provide Stress Reduction for Shelter Cats?
- Scientific World Journal: Environmental Aspects of Domestic Cat Care and Management: Implications for Cat Welfare
- Pet MD: 6 Dangerous Kitten Toys You Should Avoid
- Hills Pet: Why Do Cats Try to Eat Plastic?