Cat Trust Must Be Earned – How to Do It

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Trust doesn’t come naturally to us cats. And who can blame them? Humans, from a cat’s perspective, are big, unpredictable creatures who force us to do things we don’t want. They’re loud and possibly dangerous. Even when someone loves and cares for a cat, natural human behavior may still push us away. A cat will love a person back, but if we don’t trust you, we will prefer to do so from a distance.

Cat trust must be earned. And to gain that trust, two things must be mastered: looking at your own behavior, and understanding cat behavior. Mastering both, and adding in some patience, will go a long way in your mission.

Knowing What Cats Want

To feel safe enough to trust you, cats need certain things. Here is what’s important.

Cats require predictability

Routines help cats feel secure. If we were people, imagine the classic mid-twentieth century office worker who toiled 9-5 every day, had regular vacations, and retired with a gold watch. It may sound boring to you, but it’s actually a cat’s ideal life! Although cats are supposedly domesticated, we are still close to our wild natures and our survival instinct. Anything outside of the norm may pose a threat, and that makes us nervous.

In a cat’s world, routines = safety

Body autonomy is important

Even with claws that humans refer to as “murder mittens,” cats are small and easily injured. And we know it. Since we are both hunter and prey in the wild, we are very aware of their vulnerability. So any attempt to handle us against our will is a threat. And that goes double for when we are handled in a strange environment, like a veterinary exam room.

It literally doesn’t feel good for us cats to have certain parts of our bodies touched, which is why we react by striking out instinctively. And it’s scary to be handled by creatures much bigger than us, if there’s a lack of trust.

Cats want personal space

If a cat wants to sit next to you, they will sit next to you. If we want to be petted, we let you know. We don’t welcome uninvited attention. A cat will let on when they want you around, and you will know it. That is, if you learn the signals.

How You Push Your Cat Away (and How to Fix It)

If you are having a hard time earning your cat’s trust, you may be getting in your own way. Here is some human behavior that disturbs cats, and what to do instead.

You are unpredictable

Sudden movements and loud noises are upsetting to cats. If you are banging pots and pans, laughing raucously, or screaming in anger, you are scaring your cat. Any time you behave angrily or unpredictably, especially if it is directed towards your cat, you damage any budding trust they have.

So be mindful of how you are behaving around your cat. Maybe you can’t totally control your reactions to jokes during your favorite comedy show, but you can be a little quieter in the kitchen and control your temper. And any time you get the impulse to react to something your cat did — stop yourself. Even if you would never touch a cat when you are angry, your cat still sees your emotion as a threat to their safety. We kitties are much, much smaller than you. Even the 20 pound guys. Always remember that.

Your schedule around them is random

If you keep your cat guessing about your comings and goings, and you feed them whenever the mood strikes, they will never be able to rely on you. Create routines and rituals around your cat’s basic needs, like food, play, and litter box duties. And create a few fun routines too, like treat times, or catnip parties.

What if you don’t have a regular work/life schedule? Create special routines for your comings and goings. You don’t have to make a big deal about saying hello or goodbye to your cat. Doing simple subtle things, like keeping your keys in the same place and rattling them a certain way as you are leaving, are enough to let your cat know what’s up. The whole point of your routines is for your cat to feel secure, and know they can trust you to provide their basic living needs.

You ignore their body language and behavior

Cats have two types of behavior: one that is common among all cats, and one that is specific to your cat. Ignoring either of these will cause your cat to mistrust you.

All cats want personal space, and to be petted and handled on their terms. Your cat may have specific needs. They may get overstimulated easily. There may be areas that they dislike being touched. Whatever your cat’s preferences are, respect them. Nothing about a cat’s behavior or body part is cute or irresistible enough to risk losing their trust. You will win brownie points with your cat if you also don’t let visitors behave in ways they dislike. Keeping visitors in check around your cat actually can build a better bond for your and your kitty.

How Do You Know Your Cat Trusts You?

You will feel it! But here are some clues.

  • Your cat spends more time with you. They know you won’t invade their space.
     
  • They groom you. If your cat licks your hair or face, they are accepting you as part of their clan.
     
  • They roll on the floor, or show other vulnerable behavior. And yes, don’t betray that trust by touching them unless you already know they enjoy it. If you risk getting your hand attacked, you are also risking any trust you’ve built with your cat.
     
  • They start beating you to their scheduled routines. If they are a moment (or more!) ahead of you, they are learning that you can be trusted to follow through.
     
  • Your cat’s tail is always raised when they see you. When your cat holds their tail high, or slightly curved at the tip, it’s a strong sign of friendship.

We cats are not naturally trusting creatures. And yes, we can love you without trusting you fully. Trust is an extra, deeper element, a bond that is special and something to be nurtured and treasured. It’s something that will stick with you forever. My wish is for you to share that type of bond with your cat.

For more useful tips on bonding with your cat:

Cat Trust Must Be Earned - How to Do It

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