Whether they're zooming around the house at 3:00 a.m., staring at ceiling corners (which may or may not hint at a ghost problem), or napping on the most uncomfortable surface in the room (ignoring the handful of cozy pet beds and cat trees you've gifted them), cats are just plain weird — and we love them for it.
Another peculiar cat habit arises when you're in the middle of reading, taking notes, filling out forms — during any activity that involves paper. Kitties love to plop their fluffy butts on sheets of paper at the most inconvenient moments.
What's so comforting about flat white rectangles? We're here to investigate cats' obsession with paper.
Why do cats like to sit on paper?
Even the strangest of cat habits have a bit of logic attached to them.
"Paper and cardboard are insulating materials and will hold a lot more heat compared to concrete, steel, and other hard surfaces. Cats, having originated from desert wildcats, love heat, and warmth," she explained.
Additionally, Dr. O'Keeffe wrote that paper can pique their curiosity and offer a chance at playtime and scent marking. So, if you see Mr. Biscuits actually making biscuits (or kneading) on your stack of notes, he may just be marking his territory.
The sweetest reason your kitties may sit on paper —specifically a piece you're working on — is simply because they want to be near you.
"Cats sometimes sit on paper or a book if they’re trying to get closer to you and are seeking your attention," Dr. O'Keeffe wrote. "They don’t necessarily mean to sit on the book, but in order to get closer to you they have to and the book is just in their way."
Interestingly, cats are also drawn to the shape of paper. You've likely noticed that cats adore cardboard boxes, frequently squeezing into shoe boxes, shipping boxes, and even cereal boxes (sort of). According to Dr. Nicholas Dodman, Professor Emeritus of Behavioral Pharmacology and Animal Behavior at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Tufts University, cats feel safer and more secure in enclosed spaces.
"Instead of being exposed to the clamor and possible danger of wide open spaces, cats prefer to huddle in smaller, more clearly delineated areas," he explained in a 2017 piece for The Conversation. "The close contact with the box’s interior, we believe, releases endorphins — nature’s own morphine-like substances — causing pleasure and reducing stress."
So, what does feeling invulnerable have to do with rectangles? Well, in 2017, #CatSquare was trending on Twitter (now called X), calling for cat parents to create a box shape on the floor using masking or painter's tape. Naturally, cats from all across the Twittersphere instantly gravitated toward these tape squares.
"This virtual box is not as good as the real thing but is at least a representation of what might be – if only there was a real square box to nestle in," Dr. Dodman wrote.
A 2021 study published in Applied Animal Behavior Science even found that cats are more likely to plop themselves inside two-dimensional shapes that mimic the shape of a square. In other words, cats still felt compelled to sit inside illusions of 2-D box shapes, essentially just four corners and zero sides.
You may be wondering, "Why does my cat eat paper?"
Regardless of the shape, some cats just love paper. And some like to eat it.
In a 2021 The Spruce Pets piece by veterinary technician Jenna Stregowski (and reviewed by veterinarian Dr. Bartley Harrison), it's revealed that cats will gnaw on paper for a slew of reasons: "Curiosity, boredom, fun/play, teething in kittens, stress or anxiety, [and] obsessive-compulsive disorder."
As always, we encourage consulting with your pet's veterinarian if concerning or unusual behavior emerges, and/or if illness becomes apparent.
If cats are simply chewing on paper, Stregowski believes this could be connected to carnivorous instincts.
"It is possible that tearing paper and cardboard mimics the act of tearing through the meat of their prey," she explained.
And while paper chewing and playtime is usually harmless, Dr. O'Keeffe suggests keeping paper that contains any "potentially harmful" fragrance, dyes, paints, glues, or staples away from cats.
If your cat is actually ingesting paper, it's definitely time to intervene.
"Paper is made from cellulose fiber extracted from wood or similar materials and may contain various chemicals used in processing. Finished paper often contains ink and dyes. The chemicals in some paper may be toxic if enough is ingested. Fortunately, it would take a lot of paper to cause toxicity," Stregowski detailed.
To avoid gastrointestinal obstruction and a trip to the emergency vet, keep an eye on your sweet kitty during paper playtime.