A girl cuddling with her cat

How To Gain a Cat’s Trust (Tips For Owners of Shy Cats)

Cat sitting on my lap
Now we’re best friends!

When I met my girlfriend in 2019, her cat was timid. When we tried to pet her, she would just run off and stare at us like we had just murdered her babies.

As you can see in the picture, Lola is my friend now. A lot of her anxiety around the rest of the family has dissipated as well. Occasionally, she even lies on her back and lets us pet her on the belly, which is an extremely vulnerable position for cats.

If you have a shy cat too, read on to learn what I did to gain this cat’s trust. You can apply these same strategies to build a wonderful relationship with your shy cat.

1. Confidence

So, how to make a scared cat trust you? The first thing to realize is that skittish cats have a lack of confidence, both in themselves and in their environment (which includes you). Now, whether this is caused by past trauma or your kitty was simply born with a more anxious predisposition, the key thing to take away from this is that confidence can be built. All you need is a soft, consistent approach and a lot of patience.

2. Don’t force things

Humans have an innate need for physical contact. People who don’t understand cats often wrongly assume that they operate from the same desire. Being the enthusiastic and loving pet parents that they are, they will grab and cuddle that cute little ball of fur every chance they get. But cats don’t always appreciate such interactions as much as we would think. In fact, on many days, they prefer to be in their own solitary space.

This issue is even bigger for shy cats. They don’t like to be picked up and held by someone they don’t trust. It makes them feel anxious and imprisoned. So the most important thing to be mindful of when you want to build trust with a cat: felines can only learn to relax around you when they get to make their own decisions.

Tip: Forcing a cat to do anything will only lead to more anxiety. If you want to build a relationship, you'll have to let your cat take the lead. Accept that you can not rush things or force affection.

3. Body language

Being able to read body language will help you know when to approach a shy cat. This cat is scared and not looking for cuddles.

The next clue for “How to make a scared cat trust you” lies in 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 your cat is looking for interaction.

On the other hand, a tail that’s pointing downwards towards the ground is a definite sign that your cat does not want to interact right now.

If you ignore body language and approach a cat that is not looking for interaction, really what you will accomplish is that the animal becomes even more nervous and insecure.

4. Be consistent and predictable

Did you know that cats spend a good deal of their day observing their owners? They do this in an effort to get familiar with your patterns and movements. Once a cat has a read on you, it knows what to expect and can recognize when something is changing in its environment.

Children often fail to notice that a cat is scared.
Be sure to explain it to them.

So if you want to gain a cat’s trust, keep loud noises and sudden, uncontrolled movements to a minimum.

If you have children, be sure to explain this facet of feline behavior to them. Kids often do not understand that cats need a gentle and soft approach.

5. Positive reinforcement

One of the most effective ways of training a cat to repeat a certain behavior is by reinforcing it with a reward (just like you would in clicker training). 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. And this is sadly where many people go wrong. You may think you are teaching your cat how to behave, but all it does is add to the confusion and 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.

6. Affectionate cuddles

Cuddles and strokes make everything better! Once you learn how to pet your kitty in its favorite spots, you can bet it will be back soon enough to cuddle some more.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Trailing a cat’s back with your hand
  • Rubbing the jawline (most cats love it!)
  • Behind the ears
  • Under the chin
  • Gently rubbing the neck
hand rubbing cat under chin
A gentle rub under the chin is something most cats enjoy thoroughly.

7. Be patient

Friendships are rarely formed in a day or even a week. Felines slowly bond over a period of multiple months, or in some cases, years. You will gain a scared cat’s trust by being consequent and giving the right responses. With time, your cat should start to realize that you are not a threat. That is when the anxiety will start to dissipate.

8. Love = trust

Cats do not show love in the same manner as dogs and other pets. For a cat, love is rather displayed through signals of trust. Have a look at this article to learn more about the ways that cats show affection towards their owners.

FAQ

How long does it take a shy cat to trust you?

That depends entirely on the personality of your cat and the effort you put in. Some cats will start to trust you after just a few days of consistently applying the tips outlined in this article. Others may slowly warm up to you over a period of months or even years. Whatever the case, don’t give up!

How can I help a shy cat adjust to my 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.

FAQ

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