Dogs love balls, last week’s topic, might not deserve the front page headline any more than the observation that cats love squeezing into seemingly impossibly small spaces. But why do they do it? I’ve found my cats in the sock drawer, including the sock drawer I swear I hadn’t opened since the morning, and even more surprisingly actually behind the sock drawer in that 2-inch wide spot obviously too small to contain a cat; in the pasta strainer (how could that be comfortable?) behind the closed cupboard doors; in my shoes (and my feet are not especially large) (or sweet smelling, for that matter); inside the pillow case in the dirty clothes hamper; inside the pillow case fresh from the dryer (the cat, I safely assume, not having gone through the dryer); as well as in the dryer (although always between loads).
Generalizing about cats is never wise but it’s probably safe to assert that 99.9% of cats not only like small spaces, they love them. Make a small square on the floor out of adhesive tape and don’t be surprised if your cat chooses to occupy it; that’s right, even a space without walls or sides (Don’t believe me? Try it!). Forget the expensive cat bed and just leave the empty Amazon box on the floor and you’ll soon find your cat sound asleep looking so damn comfortable that we should all be jealous.
Cats’ spines are crazy flexible, more like rope than a series of bones. Their spines are physically different, in fact, with a whole lot of vertebrae (52-53, compared to our 32-34) spread far apart (ours are packed tightly together) each surrounded with a special elastic cushion. This is why cats, from household cats to lions, enjoy a wider range of spinal curvature and rotation: they are, in a word, bendy. That accounts for the “how,” but what about the “why.” Some believe that cats choose small spaces to increase their sense of protection: it’s hard for someone to sneak up on you if you’re tightly tucked into your surroundings, with senses alert to the only point of access. On the other hand, this is cats we’re talking about. I think the likely reason they do it is because they can.
Ken White is the president of the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA.