Why does my cat like to sit and lie on paper?
Have you ever left the Sunday newspaper open on the sofa to return and find your cat sitting on it? Has a piece of printer paper ever fluttered off your desk to the floor only to become a “bed” for your cat? Have you ever dropped a piece of mail by the front door and later found your cat sitting atop it like a throne?
Why does my cat sit on plastic bags? Why do cats always sit on things?
Or perhaps it’s not just paper your cat loves to sit on. Many cat owners find that their cats will lie down on a plastic bag left out on the counter. Paper bags are a cat favorite, too – not just for hiding in, but for sitting right on top.
It’s not a coincidence. It’s not just that the paper was there, right where the cat wanted to sit anyway.
Any cat owner will tell you this: if you were to put a cat in an empty warehouse with nothing but a single piece of paper on the floor, the cat will walk from one end of the warehouse to the other just to sit on it.
Some (slightly questionable) theories about why cats sit on paper
Cats like to lie on things, it’s true. And there are lots of reasonably credible theories about why cats like to lie on things. Cat lovers speculate about why cats sit on paper, and perhaps there is some truth to conjecture. Let’s look at some of the theories ordinary observers of cats offer for why cats sit on paper:
Cats sit on paper to get your attention
Cats sit on paper to “claim it”
Cats sit on paper because they like different sensations
Cats sit on paper because it is warmer than the floor
Cats sit on paper because it’s new and cats are drawn to novel things
My favorite explanation for why cats like sitting on paper: it’s a kind of box, but without sides
A couple of years ago there a fad on social media with the hashtag #catsquare. Cat owners would outline a square on the floor with tape and watch, amazed, as their cats would settle themselves inside the square. It was as if the cats were drawn by some potent, magical force to the square, helpless against its power.
Famed animal behaviorist and veterinarian, Nicholas Dodman, wrote about this strange phenomenon in The Conversation in an article entitled, “Why can’t cats resist thinking inside the box?”
He reminds us about why cats are so drawn to boxes (for more information about cats and their love of cardboard boxes, read Science!), elaborating on one of the benefits of boxes for cats: they are tight spaces that force a cat to curl up.
“It’s just a fact of life that cats like to squeeze into small spaces where they feel much safer and more secure,” said Dodman.
Squishing into the tight space in a box might recall for an adult cat the feeling of closeness and contact that she felt as a kitten curled up in a nest with her mother and littermates.
Dodman and fellow researcher Temple Grandin, a scientist known for her work in developing systems which counteract stress in certain human and animal populations, conducted a study ("The effect of naltrexone on relaxation induced by flank pressure in pigs") on tight spaces that involved pigs. They believed that tight spaces might cause pigs’ brains to release endorphins – chemicals similar to opiates that relieve stress and pain.
Dodman and Grandin noticed that pigs who were gently squeezed in a chute relaxed. But pigs that were given a drug that blocked the endorphins did not relax in the chute. Maybe it’s the same for cats: their brains release endorphins when they can feel the edges of the box against their sides, and they feel safer and more relaxed.
What does this have to do with a “cat square” or piece of paper left on the floor?
Dodman theorizes that the cat square is like a very shallow box – it’s almost cozy and comfortable, but not quite. “The virtual box is not as good as the real thing, but is at least a representation of what might be,” he concludes, “if only there was a real square box to nestle in.”
So maybe the cat square and the paper on the floor are “virtual boxes” – offering cats a kind of abstract or imaginary sense of security and well being. It's a theory that makes sense.
If you'd like for your cat to have a real box to curl up into, consider this one:
Love Pinterest? Here's a Pinterest-friendly pin for your boards!
Dawn LaFontaine is a lifelong animal lover who always seems to have a little pet hair in her keyboard. Her blog, Kitty Contemplations, helps cat guardians better understand and care for the special beings they share their lives and homes with. Her cat-products business, Cat in the Box, sells beautiful, well-made, and award-winning products that she designed to meet the biological needs of cats.