A girl cuddling with her cat

My cat is too shy. How do I help build her confidence?

Cat sitting on my lap
Lola used to be shy, but now we’re best friends!

This is our lovely cat, Lola. Back when I met my girlfriend towards the end of 2019, Lola was not a very confident cat. She never used any of her toys, and when we tried to pet her she would keep her distance. How do you bond with a shy cat?

As you can see in the picture, Lola sits on my lap now and she seems to enjoy it! Sometimes, she even lies next to us on her back, which is a really vulnerable position that cats will only be able to take if they trust you.

So how did I do it? Well, the key lies in realizing that a shy cat does not have a lot of confidence. Whether that is from past experiences or whether she was born that way, the main takeaway is that you can change it. In this article, I’m about to share with you the ways to build confidence in your cat and get her to slowly open up to you.

How to get a shy cat to trust you

1. Do not force anything

The single most important thing to realize is that a cat can only be confident whenever she has something called agency, which basically means having control over your own life. Cats are anxious creatures by nature, which stems from their origins in the wild. A cat needs a controlled environment with no surprises in order to be able to relax.

So how do you put this into practice and help a cat gain confidence? The first important thing to do is to never chase your cat and don’t force her to do anything. This may seem straightforward, but in reality, it’s a lot more difficult than it sounds. Especially if you have loud children around the house!

We as humans are born with an innate need to have physical contact. It is easy to assume your cat wants the same. You may feel an inclination to grab and cuddle her every time you two cross paths.

Cats, however, don’t always appreciate such a gesture as much as we like to think. In fact, on most days, they really need their space. So how are you supposed to know what to do? To understand when a cat does or does not want to interact, start observing her body language. A big clue lies in the tail position. When the tail is up, she’s open. Tail in the middle? neutral. A downward tail is a sign that she does not want to interact right now. Try to respect this.

If you force your insecure cat to be affectionate with you she’s not open to interaction, really what you will end up doing is making her even more insecure! Your actions could be causing a lot of stress and perhaps even an urge to withdraw from you.

Instead, try to let your cat take the lead from now on. Be patient & respect her boundaries. Do this, and soon enough, you will likely notice that she starts to approach you more often.

2. Avoid sudden movements

As we explained in the previous paragraph, most cats are a bit of a control freak. You may not realize this, but your cat is secretly observing you from a distance every day in an effort to discover what she could expect from you.

Try your best to be that predictable, because cats can only get truly comfortable if they know what to expect from their surroundings. So keep sudden, uncontrolled movements to a minimum.

3. Respond to behaviour

One of the most effective ways of training your cat towards displaying a certain behavior is by reinforcing it with a reward. Whenever you share a fun moment or a cute cuddling session, make sure to give out some extra tasty snacks or kibble.

Punishing bad behavior, on the other hand, is rarely effective. This is where a lot of people go wrong. You may think you are teaching your cat how to behave, but all this does is give extra stress. Enforcing boundaries in a loving way is much more productive, and will certainly lead to more confidence and a better relationship with your cat.

it’s possible that your cat is not so shy at all, but suffering from anxiety or depression instead.

4. Learn how to comfort her

Building a relationship with your cat also involves discovering how she likes to be comforted. This is something you can experiment with. When you learn how to pet your kitty in her favorite spots, you can bet she will come back soon enough to cuddle some more! You know you’re doing it right when she starts to make little purring noises.

Here are some places to experiment with:

hand rubbing cat under chin
A gentle rub under the chin is something almost every cat enjoys.

  • Trailing her back with your hand
  • Rubbing the jawline (most cats love it)
  • Behind her ears
  • Under the chin
  • Gently squishing her neck

Every cat has a personality

Like humans, every cat is born with a unique personality. Some are just naturally more anxious than others. You can certainly build confidence and trust with a shy cat with these tips and tricks, but at the end of the day, there will always be both a nature and a nurture component to a cat’s personality. Sometimes, you just have to come to terms with the fact that your cat is a little shyer than others.

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