How To Gain a Cat’s Trust


Cats are popular pets and humans develop interesting relationships with them – most of the time. I’ve lived with many cats and all have had different personalities and behavioral quirks. One of the most concerning cat trait is nervousness to the point of running a mile from everyone. Don’t fret as there are ways to overcome this. The best way forward is to follow a tried and tested plan.

To gain a cat’s trust, you must simply earn it. Cats are more independent than dogs and can take a while to trust a new person. Take time to build its belief in you and, in time, it will learn to trust you.

There’s nothing more rewarding than the first time a nervous cat doesn’t run and hide when you enter the room and when it chooses to come up to you for a cuddle your patience will have truly paid off.

How to gain a cat's trust

11 Ways to Build a Cat’s Trust

Here are 11 things you can do to build your cat’s trust in you:

1. Provide a Safe Place

Provide a safe haven for your cat, somewhere it will feel secure. Ideally, this will be a place chosen by the cat, somewhere it chooses to hang out. Ensure this spot is accessible at all times.

Make sure it has a hiding place such as a cardboard box or a cozy cave bed (see Amazon reviews of one of these here). Install a selection of toys and a scratching post or cat tree (read the reviews of an excellent example here.) Put a litter box, food, and water at the boundary.

cat in a box

Don’t invade the space yourself as your cat will not settle and feel secure. Stay away, except for replenishing food and water supplies and cleaning the litter box. When your cat is ready it will extend the area it inhabits to include more of your home.

2. Avoid Sudden Movements

Never make a sudden movement near your cat. Be on a go-slow until it has settled in and is used to you being around. Even then don’t rush around your home unless absolutely necessary. Cats love a laid back environment.

3. Keep Calm and Quiet

Russian blue cat crouching

You may be a calm and quiet person naturally but if you’re not, become one for a while. Nothing scares a timid cat more than a booming, excited voice.

Keep music and the TV volume as low as possible as sudden loud noises from either will spook your cat.

Sit nearby and speak in a soothing voice to your cat but don’t get too close. It will come over to see you when it is ready.

If your cat does something you dislike don’t ever raise your voice. Distraction is always the best policy.

Don’t ever perceive that your cat is being naughty, cats don’t think like this. They are certainly never vengeful. All cats will have accidents from time to time, just accept this and clean it up.

Never ever lose your temper with a cat and don’t ever smack or physically punish one as you could lose its trust for a long time and have a long haul ahead to rebuild it.

4. Build a Routine

Cats thrive on routine so try to establish a good one from the start.

Provide food and clean water at the same time every day.

Clean the litter box as often as possible but don’t make too much noise about it.

5. Show Patience

Be patient at all times. The more you exhibit, the greater the rewards will be. You can undo days of progress by trying to hurry the settling-in process along, no matter how well-meaning you are.

6. Don’t Grab Your Cat

Shy Maie Coon kitten

You may be tempted to scoop your cat up when it develops the confidence to approach you. Resist this urge! Imagine yourself working up the nerve to approach someone 6 to 8 times taller than you only to be grabbed and lifted at speed high into the air. Your cat will probably freak out and you’ll be back to square one.

7. Read Your Cat’s Body Language

A cat’s mood is fairly clear to read from its body language.

Here are some common positions along with what a cat is thinking at the time:

  • Sitting straight up – I’m starting to tolerate you but I’m ready to make a quick getaway. I don’t really trust you yet
Black Maine Coon kitten looking worried
  • Crouching on the floor, all four paws firmly on the ground, eyes fully alert – I’m here for a bit to see how you react but I may soon be off
scared cat crouching
  • Laying in an upright position with legs curled up – I’m settled but can still do a runner if necessary
Black Maine Coon kitten
  • Laying with front legs stretched out – I’m feeling more at home now
Brown and Black Mackerel Tabby Maine Coon
  • Laying upright with all legs stretched out – I’m happy here and I don’t think you are a threat
Relaxed cat with mouse
  • In a curled position on one side, some belly exposed, legs up and curled, and big eyes – this is a sign of my growing trust of you but not an invitation for you to tickle my belly! Attempt to at your peril
Red Maine Coon belly up
  • Flat on back, belly exposed, eyes closed – I totally trust you now I believe you are not the enemy. I’m exposing my belly because I now trust that you will not harm me. Still no tickling though! Well, some days I might allow it but you will have to guess if it’s one of those days or not. Haha, good luck!
Cat asleep upside down

8. Use Toys and Treats To Create Positive Experiences

Make every encounter between you and your cat a positive experience. For example, feed it, play with it with a toy such as a rod and feather (see Amazon reviews of this excellent example) or a catnip toy like this one, or dish out a favorite treat (your cat’s fave not yours!) In fact, the more you play with your cat the greater the bond between you will become.

9. Let Your Cat Come To You

If your cat enters a room that you are in, allow it to come to you instead of approaching it. This will happen eventually but quite often a shy cat retreats if you try to approach it. Patience will pay off.

10. Learn Which Are ‘No Touch’ Zones

Once your cat is comfortable enough to let you pet it, start by tickling its cheeks and chin lightly. This transfers your cat’s scent from the glands in its face onto your fingers, effectively marking you as its territory.

Try tickling and stroking its head – this might be acceptable. Watch its body language carefully, and pay attention to the tail which is a great give away of tolerance. Some cats don’t like being stroked on their backs and most hate their vulnerable tummies being tickled.

Stop petting well before any anger manifests. Build up the areas you stroke gradually. Remember cats are fickle and what is acceptable one day may be a bridge too far the next. It’s your job to determine what is acceptable from day-to-day.

11. Tell ‘Tail’ Signs

You can tell so much about a cat from its tail. Here are the basics where trust is concerned:

black and white Maine Coon kitten
  • An upright tail is a sign of happiness and the very tip may twitch too
  • Curved like a question mark means your cat is in the mood to play
  • A tail low and horizontal to the ground can be a sign of aggression
  • A tail curling down and between the legs is a sign of nervousness or fear
  • A tail puffed out like a bottle brush means something has frightened your cat and it is trying to make itself look bigger
  • A tail whipping rapidly back and forth can mean fear or aggression
  • A slow swishing tail means your cat may be about to pounce on prey or a favorite toy
  • A tail curled around your arm or ankle is the equivalent to a cut hug – your cat loves and trusts you for sure

How to gain a cat’s trust – Conclusion

Time, patience and sticking to a plan are the best way to gain a cat’s trust. I hope you are able to follow our tips and win your cat’s trust. From then on your relationship will bloom and you will have a loyal little friend for life.

Recommended Articles

If your cat needs calming look no further than our article ‘Ten Tips to Instantly Calm Any Cat’.

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You can find out how to recognize 15 signs of cat stress right here.

Jane

I'm Jane Pettitt, co-owner of Pets Knowledge Base with my husband, Matt. I have a grand total of 50 years’ experience as a pet owner. It all started with a guinea pig called Percy when I was 5 years old and since then I’ve lived with two more guinea pigs, a hamster, mice, a rabbit, a tortoise, a dog, and 11 cats. I’ve learned so much about pet care during this time and many of my articles are based on my personal experiences plus those of my family and friends.

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