Some cats are naturally more fearful or shy than others, but with a bit of time, patience and understanding of cat behaviour, here’s how you can make friends with a nervous cat.
While some particularly confident cats may be happy to approach a total stranger for a fuss, many cats will be wary of new people.
If you’ve just brought a shy cat home, or want to become best buddies with a friend or family member’s cat, there are some simple tricks you can use to gain their trust.
Although they may never be comfortable with cuddles, with a bit of patience and understanding you will hopefully be rewarded with the ultimate sign of love, a head bump!
1. Let them come to you
The most important role when making friends with a cat is to do everything on their terms. Forcing your affection on them is only going to make them stressed, and even if they stay put, they won’t necessarily be enjoying the fuss you’re giving them. It may take a bit of time, but wait for them to approach you first and always let them get away if they want to.
2. Be small and quiet
Having a human towering over them is going to be quite frightening for a cat, so try sitting down on the floor or a chair nearby so you don’t look so scary. Similarly, any loud noises and sudden movements may spook the cat, so move slowly and quietly around them but make sure you don’t sneak up on them if they don’t know you’re there.
3. Slow blink at them
When the cat is looking at you, avoid staring back at them as this may make them more nervous. Instead, try slowly blinking your eyes at them. This lets them know that you trust them enough to close your eyes in their presence, which is a big deal for a cat. Hopefully they will then return the gesture by slow blinking back, letting you know that they trust you too.
4. Offer out a hand
If the cat seems comfortable around you, try casually holding out your hand a few inches to the side of them to see if they give it a sniff. Still keep your distance and monitor the cat’s body language. If their weight is shifted onto their front or back legs then they may still be unsure and any further contact may startle them. However, if their body language is more neutral and they rub their face on you this is a good sign, as they will be marking you with their own scent (which only cats can smell) via glands in their cheeks. You can then progress to giving them a gentle head rub or chin stroke.
5. Don’t touch their tummy
Once the cat starts to become friendly with you, they may roll over onto their back and show you their tummy. No matter how tempting it may be, try to resist touching their tummy when they do this. By showing you their tummy they are letting you know they trust you enough not to touch it, so if you go in for a stroke, that would be the ultimate betrayal. Instead, just stroke their head or chin to show them you appreciate the gesture.
6. Encourage them to play
Some cats may never be keen on being stroked, but they might enjoy playing some games with you instead. Try slowly moving a fishing rod toy across the floor a meter or two away from them to see if they stalk it, or slowly bat a ping pong ball towards them to see if they chase it. Catching toys releases happy hormones in cats’ brains and so playtime is a great way to bond with them and may lead to head bumps eventually!
For more information on helping shy cats to become more confident, visit www.cats.org.uk/shy-cats