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.
As you can see in the picture, Lola is sitting in my lap now, and she seems quite content. A lot of her anxiety around people has dissipated. Sometimes, she even lies on her back. That’s a really vulnerable position that cats only take if they completely trust you. I think it’s safe to say, my mission was successful!
But how did I do it?
So how can you get a shy cat to start trusting you? The first thing to realize is that shy cats generally do not have a lot of confidence in their surroundings.
It doesn’t matter if the reason for this lies in past trauma or whether she was born a little anxious; what’s more important is that confidence can be built, and you don’t even need to purchase any expensive cat products or books.
Let’s examine a few important steps that you can take today to start building a relationship of trust with your shy cat:
1. Don’t force things
The first and most important thing to realize when you want to comfort a shy cat is that our furry friends can only be confident whenever they feel in control. This stems from their origins as territorial animals.
Great.. So how do I put this into practice?
The first thing to realize is that forcing a cat to do anything will cause anxiety. We as humans are born with an innate need to have physical contact. Naturally, most people assume that cats have the same desires. As an enthusiastic pet parent, you may feel an inclination to grab and cuddle your cute cat every time the two of you cross paths.
Cats, however, don’t always appreciate such interactions as much as we would think. In fact, they often prefer to be solitary in their own space. This is something that has to be respected.
Accepting this part of feline behavior may pose quite a challenge, especially if you happen to have younger children around the house. The whole family has to commit!
2. Body language
So how are you supposed to know when to interact? To get a better understanding of your cat, you can start by learning a bit about cat body language. Did you know that cats communicate a lot by moving their tails? When the tail is curved and pointing up, you can take that as a sign that she’s receptive to interaction. Tail in the middle? neutral. A tail that’s pointing down towards the ground is a sign that your cat does not want to interact right now.
If you force an insecure cat to be affectionate with you whenever she’s not open to interaction, really what you’re actually doing is making her even more nervous and insecure! Your actions could unknowingly be triggering an urge to withdraw from you.
Instead, try to let your cat take the lead from now on. Be patient and respect her boundaries. Do this, and soon enough, you will likely notice that she starts to approach you more often.
3. No sudden movements
As we explained in the previous paragraph, many cats are control freaks. You may not realize this, but your cat is secretly observing you from a distance every day in an effort to get to know you and your movements.
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.
4. The right response
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.
5. Learn how to comfort your cat
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 purring noises.
Here are some places to experiment with:
- Trailing her back with your hand
- Rubbing the jawline (most cats love it)
- Behind her ears
- Under the chin
- Gently squishing her neck
6. Be patient
Just like human friendships aren’t built in a day or even a week, cats need time to form a bond too. The key is consistency. Trust is built by being consequent in your actions and responses. Over time, your cat will eventually notice this and her anxiety will start to dissipate.
Help a shy cat adjust to your new home
Taking a shy cat home for the first time is bound to cause a lot of stress. It would be wise to gradually introduce the cat to parts of your house. If you have other pets, be sure to keep them separated on the first day. The new impressions around the house will be plenty to process.
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.