A girl cuddling with her cat

How to get a shy cat to trust you

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.

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? How to get a shy cat to trust you?

The first thing to realize when you want to know how to deal with a very shy cat is that they generally do not have a lot of confidence. It doesn’t matter if that is due to past experiences or whether she was born a little anxious; the main takeaway is that confidence can be built. Here are five things you should do in order to build a better relationship with your cat:

1. Don’t force things

The single most important thing to realize when you want to comfort a shy cat is that cats can only be confident whenever they feel in control of their environment. This desire to be in control stems from their origins as a territorial animal in the wild.

Great.. But how do we put this into practice?

The first thing to do is never chase your cat and don’t force her to do anything, as this causes tremendous amounts of stress. We as humans are born with an innate need to have physical contact. It is easy to assume cats all have the same desire. 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 gestures as much as we like to think. In fact, on many days, they prefer to be solitary in their own space. But this varies from one cat to another.

Respecting this part of your cat’s personality is more difficult than it sounds. Especially if you happen to have children around the house.

How and when to approach a shy cat? By reading body language

So how are you supposed to know when to interact? To understand when a cat does or does not want to interact, start by learning a bit about 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.

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, 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.

3. Respond appropriately

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 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.

Related article: How to care for a dying cat at home

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

5. Patience

Friendships are rarely built in a day’s or even a week’s time. You need to slowly build up trust by being consequent in your actions and responses. Over time, your cat will eventually notice this and her anxiety will start to dissipate. The key here is consistency.

Helping a shy cat adjust to new home

Taking a shy cat to your 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.

Conclusion

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.

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