From newspaper to printer paper to paper bags to cardboard boxes, it seems safe to say that the relationship between felines and paper is complicated.
But why? Why do cats seem so irresistibly drawn to paper of all shapes, sizes, colors, and types?
Cats love paper so much that it even features prominently in many cat toys. And too many cat owners have a story of how they bought their kitty a posh cat bed only to watch their cat choose a cardboard box to sleep in instead.
In this article, learn what cat owners and feline behavior experts have to say about the feline’s strange obsession with paper.
Why Do Cats Sit On Paper?
There are many theories about why cats sit on paper. But until cats can talk and are willing to tell us why the best we can do is guesstimate what paper’s appeal is to cats.
Many cat behavior experts believe cats are drawn to paper because it has an interesting texture and makes intriguing sounds. It is also a great insulator.
Cat owners say their cats like to sit on the newspaper or books and magazines to get the owner’s attention while they are reading.
Veterinarians say that there is occasionally a medical reason for a cat’s obsession with paper. We discuss each theory in depth in the sections to follow here.
Watch a Cat Sitting on Paper
This short, adorable YouTube video features Butters the cat doing one of his favorite things – lying in the center of a pile of newspapers.
This highlights behavior that seems to be in alignment with some of the theories you just read. The cat is burrowing into the paper, perhaps using it as a hiding place or a way to insulate from drafts.
The cat also seems intrigued by the texture and sounds the paper makes as he moves around on and in it.
Popular Theories About Why Cats Love Paper So Much
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your cat could talk and answer all your questions about the weird and wonderful ways they behave?
Unfortunately, cats prefer to leave their people wondering why they do the strange things they do.
Yet the feline fascination with paper is so commonly observed that it seems safe to say most cats love sitting on paper.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that all cats have the same exact reasons for why they choose to sit on paper. Here, the most important clues will be found in the context.
For example, does your cat only like to sit on paper when you are trying to read the words on that paper?
Or does your cat only like a newspaper but gives printer paper a wide berth?
These are important clues to help you figure out why your family cat likes to sit on paper.
Here is more insight into some of the most popular theories about why cats sit on paper.
Paper is protective and insulating
As the Memphis Animal Emergency Clinic points out, cats can sleep 16 or more hours per day.
Although if your cat has ever woken you up in the middle of the night to play, you already know your cat’s circadian rhythm is quite unlike your own!
But this means your cat probably sleeps a lot during the day when there is a lot of ambient light and more noise. And paper is actually quite good at blocking out drafts and light as well as for providing comfort if the cat is stressed out.
So it is quite likely some cats will sit on paper, burrow into paper, crawl underneath the paper, or interact with paper in other, similar ways because it has a handy insulating, protective effect.
Sitting on paper is a way of claiming it
As this reader thread in The Guardian highlights, many cat owners believe that cats sit on paper to claim it.
This may be more prevalent in multi-cat households where there is some territorial conflict between feline family members.
Your cat could also sit on paper because it smells like you or because it smells like another cat.
As the Veterinary Clinics Small Animal Practice explains, felines have a great number of pheromone-producing scent glands on their bodies and faces, including in the paw pads.
Walking across or sitting down on a piece of paper or any type of paper item automatically transfers some of the cat’s pheromones to that paper.
For a paper that smells like you, this transference of pheromones is essentially the same as your cat saying “this person is mine.”
For a paper that smells like another cat, the transference of pheromones is like leaving a note that says “this area is mine.”
Sitting on paper is how cats get your attention
For cat owners who routinely find that their view of what they were trying to read is covered up by their kitty’s butt, it could be that your cat sits on paper because that is what you are focusing on!
The same could be true if you reliably come running over every time you see your cat playing with paper or sitting on paper.
While you probably didn’t mean to reinforce a connection between your attention and playing with paper, your cat is smart and will be quick to pick up on this.
Paper is very sensorily interesting to cats
While it is true it is adorably cute to watch your cat playing with a paper bag or a cardboard box, it can also feel frustrating when you just dropped half your paycheck on expensive cat toys and your cat prefers to play with the newspaper!
As we mentioned earlier in this article, the paper engaged your cat’s senses in important ways.
Paper bags may contain residual scents of what they were carrying. If you carried the groceries home in a paper bag, your cat will be able to pick up on scents from what was inside that bag.
Paper also makes interesting noises and has an intriguing texture. This engages your cat’s keen hearing and tactile senses.
In particular, as Treehugger points out, the paper that makes a crinkly or crackly sound might sound quite similar to the sound of a rodent trying to scamper by.
Your cat is a feline predator at heart and may not be able to resist following the trail of such an engaging sound!
How to Stop Your Cat From Sitting on Paper
While cats sitting on paper is not one of the traditional “problem” feline behaviors many owners talk about, it can be somewhat irritating to have to constantly move your cat out of the way as you try to read the paper.
PetMD suggests that the most effective remedy is creating “no-cat zones.”
The key to success here is to identify what needs sitting on paper meets your cat. Then you want to create an alternative seating arrangement that still meets the need but keeps the cat off your paper.
So if you want to read today’s newspaper in peace, this might look like leaving yesterday’s newspaper nearby in a pile where your cat is free to sit and explore the whole paper uninterrupted.
For particularly persistent kitties, you may need to turn on a fan that blows on today’s paper and/or add a treat or two on top of yesterday’s discarded newspaper to make sure your cat takes the hint.
When Cats and Paper Becomes a Medical Problem
While it is rare that a cat’s obsession with paper might become a medical issue, it has been known to happen.
There are two key issues to watch for: feline aggression towards paper and feline ingestion of paper.
Cat is aggressive with paper
If your cat becomes aggressive towards the paper, jumping on it or shredding it, tearing at it or biting it, this might mean your cat is bored. A cat that gets lonely or bored can become destructive and even develop separation anxiety.
Here, once your veterinarian has examined your cat and ruled out any underlying medical causes for the aggressive behavior, the most likely explanation is just that your cat needs more enrichment and toys to capture their attention and interest.
Cat starts to ingest paper
If your cat starts eating paper, this is a medical condition called pica. Pica can lead to an internal blockage, as Florida Wild Veterinary Hospital points out.
Some more serious medical conditions such as feline leukemia can cause pica. You definitely need to take your cat to the feline veterinarian for an examination so you can identify any health issues that might be causing pica.
If your veterinarian cannot find anything medically wrong with your cat, however, then the best resort is to offer other safer edible toys and treats and treat the paper with unappealing scents or sprays to keep your cat from eating any more of it.