“How do I get my cat to trust me?”
It’s a question many guardians ask themselves, especially after adopting a new cat. Whether a shy kitten, traumatized senior cat, or someone in between, gaining the trust of your cat can take a lot of work—and patience. But don’t give up hope! You can build trust with your cat, and help lay the foundation for a loving lifetime together, by following just a few steps.
1. Establish a routine with your cat.
Cats are creatures of habit. As Jackson Galaxy says, cats have a raw instinct to “Hunt, Catch, Kill, Eat, Groom, Sleep”—in that particular order. To unlock your cat’s nature—and trust, for that matter—you need to establish this same, predictable routine with him or her. When your kitty knows what to expect, he or she will be able to relax into their routine, and trust that their needs will be met.
A routine doesn’t have to be difficult to form and execute. Even the busiest of cat guardians can create a worthy routine that starts by playing with their cat for about ten minutes—this includes interactive toys that let the cat actively catch and attack (the “Hunt, Catch, Kill” of Jackson’s premise). Once the cat has gotten some energy out and started to slow down, a meal needs to be served. Ideally, this should be a raw or wet food that is provided at set times throughout the day (you guessed it, this is the “Eat” step). After the cat is finished eating, the guardian can take a step back and watch as the cat independently “Grooms” and “Sleeps” until it is time to wake up and do it all over again.
2. Spend time simply co-existing with your cat.
The easy act of just being around your cat can do wonders when it comes to establishing a trusting relationship with them. It’s pretty much a win-win. I mean, who wouldn’t want to spend hours on end quietly reading a book or watching a movie while your cat hangs out nearby?
I thought so.
But there is a catch to this. As much as we all love a warm, purring cat by our side, you have to give your cat the space he or she wants. Don’t run into the room, pick up your cat, and set her in your lap. If you do, she probably won’t stay (I’m speaking from experience here). Instead, calmly join their space, go about your own business, and wait for your cat to approach you. Even if it takes a few—or more—days of doing this, your presence will help your cat to gain confidence in you. And the first time he or she chooses to lay with you on their own will be a huge victory. Just don’t do too much of a happy dance—you won’t want to scare them off!
3. Let your cat take the lead.
It’s no secret that cats are dominant animals. They love to be in charge of their own surroundings, including the humans nearby. It’s true when people say that you don’t own a cat—a cat owns you. To gain trust with your cat, you need to let this dynamic play out and follow their lead by listening to what it is they want.
One way to let your cat communicate with you about what they want—specifically how they would like to be touched—is to extend a single finger, pointing downward, directly in front of your cat’s nose. You should be about an inch or so away, not actually touching them. If your cat wants to be pet, he or she will rub the part of their body along your finger that they would like you to touch. Many cats will give your finger a nudge with their cheeks, ears, or even back. If your cat walks away or doesn’t move toward your finger, that means they would rather you didn’t touch them right now. Respect that, and move on. When you do, you’ll earn trust from your kitty.
4. Be gentle with your cat.
Even though the media paints cats as aggressive pets, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Cats absorb the energy that humans give to them. That’s why cats respond best to gentle humans, and will return the chill vibes with trust and patience of their own. So the next time your brother rushes your cat, prompting her to hiss and hide then he exclaims that your cat is evil, know that you can reverse this and still establish trust in your cat.
First and foremost, never invite your brother over to your house again.
Kind of. In all seriousness, do keep the energy level of your house nice and calm. Your cat will be able to read that, and know that they are safe and can trust his or her surroundings. You can also build this trust by always being extra gentle when you touch your cat. Many cats love to be softly brushed, which can be a great bonding activity for the two of you.
5. Provide your cat with positive reinforcement.
Negative reinforcement or punishment doesn’t work for cats. It just doesn’t. Never, ever, EVER try these actions with your cat, and do make sure that spray bottle is dedicated to only watering your plants. I understand that it can be frustrating if your cat is constantly jumping up on the kitchen countertops or climbing bookshelves—not only is this annoying, but it can be dangerous for them. Instead of yelling at them, consider alternative positive reinforcement for your cat that will help train him or her and keep the relationship between you two healthy. After all, your cat will quickly lose trust in you if you are constantly being negative to them.
My favorite types of positive reinforcements are treats and toys. When my cats do something good—like coming up to bed when they are called—they get a treat. This is a routine that we have established since they were kittens, and they love it. They know that if they come up at nighttime, they’ll get a treat before bed, which makes them trust me when we give it to them. Toys have also worked wonders in our home by helping to distract the cats when they’re doing something bad or dangerous. One jingle of a wand toy, and they typically come running to play. Just make sure you actually do take the time to play with them when they run up to you. If you jingle it and then put it away just as fast, they will lose trust and may never come running again.
Establishing trust with your cat will take time, but if you are consistent, will keep them happier for the long run. A happy cat is a confident cat, and the most confident of cats trust their environment—and the humans who take care of them.
Is your cat quick to trust, or does it take a little extra time to win them over? Tell me all about your kitty in the comments below—I can’t wait to hear your stories!
I know a lot about cats, but I’m not a veterinarian. Please don’t take any of the statements I give as medical advice and do always consult your trusted vet, especially if your cat is experiencing behavioral challenges.