A lot of people mindlessly repeat the trope of a cat being aloof, uncaring and unapproachable. As individual cats are quite different, there surely are cats that fit that profile. However, too many people attempt approaching a cat when it clearly doesn’t trust them. It’s not surprising – think about it from a human’s perspective. You need to gain your cat’s trust.
There are some naïve people who trust everybody and seem to be caring to everyone, but most people will be unsettled by being approached randomly by some stranger (especially if you can’t discern their intentions). New cat owners make this mistake as well! You can’t just overwhelm your cat with attention and, indirectly, corner them. You need to gain your cat’s trust if you want to build a meaningful relationship.
To gain your cat’s trust, show them you mean no harm
This might seem obvious from your perspective, but remember, a cat is way tinier than you and, as such, unless properly socialized, will see you as a giant predator. You might find yourself frustrated by your new cat, feeling constantly rejected. But this kind of response is normal, especially if you adopt an older cat. You don’t know what their history is and what they’ve been through. As such, building trust is of utmost importance.
As such, to gain your cat’s trust, you must pay a lot of attention to your actions during early interactions. Don’t corner them, as it might spook them and make them feel like prey. Don’t be too loud around them or raise your voice – cats can differentiate between voice tones and can misinterpret that vocal aggression. And also, mind your body language! Approaching them in an intimidating manner will make them feel intimidated, obviously. Try softer, gentler movements, coupled with a soothing voice.
Associate yourself with their food source
Make sure your cat knows that you are their food provider. You need to keep giving them food that is obviously coming from you for a while, while being patient and caring with them. Don’t assume a cat will let you pet it the moment it sees you get food. Some might, but others might be suspicious and you can destroy progress like that.
As such, it’s better to take the slow road when it comes to this. To gain your cat’s trust, it must see you as a protector and provider at first. Further relationship development will come after that, for sure. Remember to be patient – a cat is not selfish and mean for not returning affection after being fed, it’s just being cautious. It will slowly come closer to you.
Offer small bits of affection
If you overwhelm your cat with affection (attempting to pick it up, less-than-gentle petting, kissing) when your base relationship hasn’t been built, it might feel cornered and threatened. All of this depends on the cat’s background, which most of the time is unknown. However, kittens react differently as well and it’s good to be cautious.
Therefore, after making yourself known as a provider of food that doesn’t harm the cat, you can try very slowly approaching the cat for affection. Make sure it can see your hand coming closer to it and don’t put it above their heads – this can also make them feel cornered and intimidated. Let the cat smell your hand – their sense of smell is just as developed as a dog’s.
This will help the cat remember you and realize, in time, that you’re harmless and just want to help it. It might still be suspicious of you and some body parts might remain off-limits to petting, but after some time you will be able to gently pet their heads and, perhaps, even the rest of the body. Purring and a relaxed stance are always good to see! The body language of a cat will always tell you everything there is to know about their mood.