Why Do Cats Like Small Spaces?

There’s no place too small for a cat 📦

cat curled up in box

Cats are able to contort themselves into the strangest positions to fit into boxes, sinks and shoeboxes — but why do they want to do that?

According to experts, cats actually like being in small spaces because it makes them feel safe (the cuteness factor is just a bonus).

The Dodo spoke to Dr. Michelle Burch, a veterinarian from Safe Hounds Pet Insurance, to find out more about why cats love small spaces — and how much hiding is too much.

Why do cats try to fit into small spaces?

Cats usually try to hide in small spaces because it’s safe and comfortable for them, Dr. Burch told The Dodo.

Cats are often thought of as predators, but they’re also prey animals. Because of this, they have an instinct to hide to stay away from animals who may be hunting them.

“In a small space, cats can hide from potential predators that may sneak up from the sides or behind,” Dr. Burch said. “A potential threat will come into their field of vision before the attack, thus removing the element of surprise.”

Cats also tend to be wary of new people or animals entering the house, so hiding can make them feel more at ease if there are changes going on in their environment.

“The small space can also provide comfort to your cat when confronted with conflict,” Dr. Burch said. “Conflict can include a new pet in the household, a family member visiting or a young child trying to play too aggressively.”

Curling up in a small space also protects your cat’s belly, the most vulnerable part of his body. (You may have noticed that, unlike dogs, cats don’t roll over as much to let you pet their stomachs because it exposes them to danger.)

Finally, it’s also just cozy for cats to squeeze into small spaces! Curling up preserves body heat and keeps your cat warm and comfortable.

How are cats able to fit into small spaces?

You may have seen your cat hide in a box half his size and wondered how he’s able to do that.

It turns out cats have a ton of flexibility in their bone structure to allow them to bend their bodies into weird shapes.

“Cats do not have a rigid collar bone, which gives them the flexibility to squeeze into small spaces,” Dr. Burch said. “If a cat can get their head and shoulders through an area, then the rest of its body will glide through.”

Cats also have extremely flexible spines that can stretch and twist, which is why cats seem to be so elegant and gymnastic.

“A cat's spine also has more significant rotation than other animals, allowing contortion into confined areas,” Dr. Burch said.

Basically, your cat is so flexible he could be a member of Cirque du Soleil — which makes it a lot less daunting for him to squeeze into the strangest spots.

How to prevent your cat from hiding in unsafe places

Because cats have the ability to fit almost anywhere, they can sometimes get into places that aren’t safe for them.

You should try to look around your house for areas or items that your cat could get into that might be dangerous for him, and block or remove the entry points — like if you’re doing construction and there’s a temporary hole in your wall.

“To prevent a cat from hiding in an unsafe small space, I recommend blocking the area off to prevent entry,” Dr. Burch said. “Ensure any holes left open are so small your cat cannot get their head through the opening.”

You can also try using smells that your cat doesn’t like to make him avoid the area. And since there are a lot of scents that are pleasant to people but not to cats, you don’t have to have a gross smell in your house either.

“I recommend using a scent deterrent in an unsafe area that a cat may try to squeeze [into],” Dr. Burch said. “Scent deterrents can include cinnamon, vinegar or hot and spicy scents.”

If you want to make a homemade cat repellent, you can try mixing one up with essential oils that are nontoxic, natural and made from plants like citronella, peppermint and lemongrass. (Just make sure not to include eucalyptus, which is toxic to cats.)

You can also buy a pre-made repellent like this one, which you can get from Chewy for $6.69.

How to help your cat feel safe if he’s hiding

It’s part of being a cat to hide sometimes. But if your cat is hiding all the time, it might mean he feels unsafe, anxious, uncomfortable or even sick.

The first thing to do to help him is to try to figure out what is causing your cat to hide.

“I recommend evaluating your environment to determine if there is an object, pet or human which may be causing distress to your cat,” Dr. Burch said. “If you identify the cause, try to remove the thing.”

You should also create a safe space for your cat to go so he can relax away from everyone else if he needs some alone time.

“When creating an environment specifically for your cat, ensure plenty of bedding and safe places to hide off the ground,” Dr. Burch said. “Ensure your cat has their litter box, food and water easily accessible in the area.”

You can provide a cat tree for your cat to help him feel safe. Cat trees allow cats to view what’s going on around them, which can make them feel safer while also giving them a way to escape some causes of anxiety on the ground (like a curious dog or grabby toddler). You can try this one from Amazon for $80.99.

Sometimes cats will hide when they’re sick, too. So if you can’t figure out why your cat is hiding, you should talk to your vet to find out if he actually has an illness — especially if your cat has suddenly started hiding more.

“If you cannot identify the cause of your cat's distress, I recommend a veterinarian visit for a physical examination and bloodwork,” Dr. Burch said. “The underlying medical disease can cause cats to hide, as they do not feel well and seek safety in smaller spaces.”

If your cat doesn’t have an illness and isn’t afraid, he might be seeking out small spaces to hide because he’s anxious. Talk to your vet if you think your cat might have anxiety or be stressed out about something to find out the best way to help him, such as calming products or behavior modification.

Basically, cats like small spaces because they make them feel safe. So as long as your cat isn’t hiding all the time, and the places he hides aren’t unsafe for him, it’s normal for your cat to sleep in the sink sometimes (even if it looks a little weird).

We independently pick all the products we recommend because we love them and think you will too. If you buy a product from a link on our site, we may earn a commission.