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You’re almost done packing and you realize that you need one more thing from the other room. You just slip away for a moment but when you come back your cat has decided to claim your open suitcase as their own and it almost looks like they’ve been there the entire time.
Then they give you a look like, “What…this isn’t for me?”
You’ve probably got cat trees, cat beds, and plenty of other comfortable furniture in the house but it’s not enough to satisfy your cat’s love of comfort. Instead, most cats can’t resist the chance to sit in our suitcases or on our backpacks and luggage.
But why do cats love suitcases, backpacks, and other luggage so much?
Suitcases, backpacks, and luggage all smell very interesting to your cat. Whether that’s the scent of the outside world or your own scent, cats are typically quite interested. Cats also naturally prefer confined spaces where they feel safe and secure but the fact that a packed suitcase is quite comfortable helps a lot too!
Those aren’t the only reasons and in many cases, it’s a combination of several factors that make suitcases, backpacks, and luggage the perfect place for a nap.
Let’s dive a little deeper by exploring each possible reason!
Reason 1: Because It Smells Strange
We may not always realize it but our cats are deeply territorial creatures and in the wild they’d control large areas of land where they’d compete for resources and of course mates.
Even though the world is very different for our domesticated feline friends, the instinct to patrol, explore and control territory is strong and can impact many feline behaviors including an irresistible interest in suitcases, luggage, and backpacks.
Scent is your cat’s method of communication not only with familiar felines but also with the world at large and smell is a key part of establishing the boundaries of territory. On top of that, our cat’s sense of smell is roughly 14 times stronger than our own so they’re experiencing a completely different scent profile when they get a good whiff of our luggage.
So why all this background on territory and scent?
Because your suitcase, luggage, and backpack all smell weird, foreign, and distinctly unlike the rest of the house. For your territorial cat, that’s a problem, and one of the best ways to fix it is by rubbing on and laying in your luggage.
Even if it’s been a while since you traveled, your suitcase and luggage are going to be covered in outside scents from planes, trains, vehicles, and people that your cat is going to be very interested in. The same is true of backpacks and the outside world is always going to be interesting to your cat.
It doesn’t help that you keep bringing your backpack outside again and undoing all the hard work that your cat put into marking their turf!
Oh well, I guess your cat will just have to take another nap on it!
Reason 2: It’s New!
Unless you’re regularly traveling for work, you probably don’t have a suitcase or other luggage laying out at all times. In some cases, you may not even have a backpack out either.
That can make the addition of a suitcase quite the event for a cat, especially since baggage is often placed in a conspicuous spot like the center of the room.
Honestly, how could your cat resist the equivalent of a giant cat bed placed in the center of the room?
But your cat’s territorial nature is at play here too and exploring new things is an important part of controlling territory. Your cat can’t simply ignore a new addition to their territory!
Reason 3: It’s Warm, Comfortable, and Comforting
In some cases, the reason could be as simple as finding a comfortable spot to take a nap.
Just like any other creature, cats enjoy being comfortable. Of course, we know that our cats also take their comfort very seriously and are never one to turn down a unique napping position.
Regardless of where you’re going, clothing usually makes up a big part of any suitcase which means plenty of soft bedding for cats. Even empty, many backpacks or suitcases are plenty soft enough to be comfortable for cats.
In wild, your cat would naturally seek out and build nests of soft, comfortable, and well-insulated material. This partially explains why cats love crinkly things like paper since the sound of leaves or other natural nesting material can be similar to the crunch of paper.
Your cat still has the drive to find appropriate areas for nesting and while suitcases and backpacks may not always have a satisfying crinkly sound (although many do) they are typically well insulated.
Finally, there have been several studies to support the benefits of a pressure wrap in both cats and other animals. That just means cats like being snug as a bug in a rug and it’s one of the many reasons why they like going under the covers. A suitcase or backpack may not have the exact same effect that a pressure wrap does but it does get close and only adds to the appeal for our feline friends.
Overall, suitcases and backpacks match almost every requirement that your cat looks for when finding the perfect napping area- so how could they resist?
Reason 4: To Get Your Attention
If you’re busy packing, you’re not busy petting.
And that’s a problem if I’ve ever heard of one! At least for your cat!
Cats will immediately notice that the process of packing is getting a lot of your attention. That’s attention they’d rather have and so naturally cats will find a way to change this.
As the folks at Hello Giggles explain, “So when cats walk or sit on your belongings you’re in the middle of using, it’s because they’re sending you an intentional message: Get off your dumb laptop and pay attention to me instead. And it’s hard to say no to them, isn’t it?”
While I can’t disagree with them, it does make packing a suitcase or backpack a lot more difficult!
Reason 5: Backpacks and Suitcases Smell Like Their Favorite Human
If your cat has chosen you, then you’re the favorite human!
We’ve already talked a lot about how important smell is to your cat, especially the smells from the outside world. But cats will also be very familiar with your scent and in most cases, it’s something they find comforting and calming.
If cats are doing their job right, you should also remind them of their own territory since you’ll be regularly marked with headbutting, kneading, and of course, napping in your lap.
Suitcases are filled to the brim with all your stuff so it’s impossible for it not to smell at least a little like you.
This is even more true for backpacks that are pressed against you for the most of day. You might find it a little gross, but on a warm summer day, you probably can’t help but sweat a little into your backpack. That turns your backpack into a concentrated scent factory for their favorite human.
How can you blame your cat for wanting to spend more time around one of their favorite smells?
But doesn’t this contradict our first reason where we suggested that cats are trying to cover up an outside scent?
Again, cats have such a powerful and dynamic sense of smell that they can most certainly distinguish between multiple scents on the same item. While our much weaker noses are usually good for picking up one dominant scent, our sensitive cats can appreciate the fine blend of your sweat and the outside world.
Reason 6: It Feels Safe, Calming, and Secure
The internet is full of cats showing off their love of boxes. It’s truly a legendary love and cats love to lay in, chew on and just hang out with cardboard boxes.
What is a suitcase or a backpack but just another version of a cardboard box? Well, at least that’s how our cats probably see it.
We’ve already talked about how cats find suitcases, backpacks, and luggage a good, comfortable spot for a nest but a cat’s love of a box is a little deeper than that. There’s been a lot of data collected on the impact of enclosed spaces for animals and researchers even found that when cats are given a box to hide in they have a measurable reduction in stress.
Your cat doesn’t have to actually crawl inside the suitcase or backpack for this experience and most luggage will still give cats the senstation of being wrapped up. As I’ve already mentioned, there have been several studies to support this reduction in stress.
But more recent studies suggest even just the shape can be appealing to cats and as a result may offer the same calming effects. This not only explains why cats love backpacks, suitcases and luggage but also things like sitting on paper or laptops.
For a surprising demonstration of this, check out this cat preferring the square shape over the less organized option. He’s certainly not the only feline that does this and there are dozens of cats doing this across the internet!
So pleased to announce that my paper, "If I Fits I Sits: A Citizen Science Investigation into Illusory Contour Susceptibility in Domestic Cats (Felis silvestris catus) has just been published in AABS! #IfIFitsISits #CatSquare #CitizenScience #CommunityScience pic.twitter.com/AXbDttnOGC
— Gabriella E. Smith M.A. (@Explanimals) May 4, 2021
It’s Likely A Mix Of All These Reasons
The truth is, it’s probably a mix of all these reasons that fuel a cat’s love of suitcases, backpacks, and luggage.
It might not be as satisfying as picking just one reason but the behavior of our felines friends is simply too complex for that.
Still, it probably all starts with a drive to explore territory. Whether it’s the novelty of the suitcase or the scent of the backpack that drives the initial exploration, your cat’s territorial instincts are still the starting point.
From there, cats are propelled by all the other reasons to love luggage like the satisfying box shape, familiar smells, and just plain ol’ comfort!
It’s Probably Not Separation Anxiety
In researching this article I found that some folks have suggested cats that love sitting on backpacks or suitcases may actually be showing signs of separation anxiety.
The idea is that cats realize a suitcase or backpack means you’re about to leave and they want to try and stop you by patiently plopping down on your travel gear.
While that’s a cute idea, it’s not very cat-like. Even though cats often get pegged as anti-social, which they aren’t, they aren’t quite that social. Because they evolved as solitary creatures, this level of communication and coordination isn’t really something that most cats are capable of.
That doesn’t mean it’s completely impossible and separation anxiety can occur in cats but it’s highly unlikely.
Should You Ever Worry?
Unless you’re placing your backpack in some perilous positions I can’t think of any possible reason to worry about your cat’s love of all things luggage-related.
The biggest downside is going to be shedding but there are plenty of ways to help reduce cat shedding and of course, you can always try to just keep your travel gear out of reach but how can you resist letting your cat take a nap!
Just make sure you don’t accidentally take your cat with you!
As we’ve seen with many other feline behaviors, there’s rarely just one explanation for something.
We know our cats are complex but sometimes we can forget just how complex they really are until we dive into a specific topic!
Simply put, cats experience the world very differently from us but that doesn’t mean we can’t relate! We just need to try and see the world through their eyes, and more importantly their nose, to really get an idea of what’s going on!
What do you think?
What reason best explains your cat’s love of suitcases, backpacks, and luggage?