The Fragile Trust of a Cat

Of course, you want your cat to like you and interact with you. To feel the joy of a head bump from a cat or to hear their gentle purr when petting them.

Sometimes gaining the cat’s trust and keeping it isn’t easy.

Take Nacho, for example.  Since spring Nacho has struggled with an unknown allergy causing her to bite at her legs and lick most of the fur off. Her skin seems to do better with the Revolution.

Nacho doesn’t like to be picked up or approached. She was one of the feral kittens from my yard a few summers ago.

Gaining her trust wasn’t quick or easy. Now, three years later, her trust feels like a gift.

She will visit me for petting on her terms. When I am sitting at the basement desk, she comes to see what I am doing shortly after I go to the basement.

If I do not try to reach out to her, she will stand on my lap and allow me to pet her.

When I’m on the first floor of the house, she rarely approaches me unless I seem occupied doing something else, like playing the organ.

To get her to the vet a few months ago, I used this little bit of trust to capture her. Like clockwork, she followed me to the basement and got on my lap. Then I was able to quickly place a towel over her and get her into the cat carrier.

She notices routine changes.  When it was time for the next dose of Revolution, as usual, she jumped on my lap in the basement. I thought, “Easy Peasy!”

But she heard the seal break on the little vial, and maybe she could smell it.

For the next three days, she avoided me! She came to the basement, but she would just run off quickly and not come back if I looked at her.

I had broken her trust. Again. 

On the fourth day, she had forgiven me and was all about being petted. After about 10 minutes of petting, I was able to apply the mediation to the back of her neck.

We will see how long it takes before I can next pet her. Taking advantage of her trust doesn’t feel great, but what else can you do when you want your cat to have the medical treatment she needs?

Gaining the trust of a cat

It took over 2 years before I could pet Pork Chop, one of the semi-feral cats in my yard, and he’s still tentative about it.

Violet was timid when we brought her in from the yard and now will purr for me and likes to be petted.

I am not a cat behaviorist. However, I noticed the keys to gaining the cat’s trust are time, patience, and consistency.

Sneaking in pets when possible and talking nicely to the cat helps.  And sometimes letting the cat come to you when they are interested.

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Heidi Bender is the writer and founder of the Joy of Cats. She enjoys sharing cat information and providing helpful cat tips. She considers herself a cat lady and currently cares for eight cats.

5 thoughts on “The Fragile Trust of a Cat”

  1. I had taken in a cat to foster and decided to keep him. After 2 years he ran out my door. Why I don’t know. I saw him in the yard shortly after and he ran from me. It’s been 32 days. And nothing. I feel so sad and what did I do to make him leave. We had coyote and fisher cat out back so I’ve been upset thinking they got him. Hoping he’s ok or with a different family.

    • I am sorry your cat is still missing. Maybe you didn’t do anything and he was just nosy about what was outside.

      Have you tried using a live trap to get him? He may just be too scared to come back inside on his own.

  2. Apparently a way you will know if you have gained your cat’s trust is if they headbutt you! Headbutting is your cat’s way of marking you with their scent – this lets them know that you are safe. Does nacho do this?

    • Nacho has not done any headbutting recently. I can’t recall if she has in the past, maybe but not often. Sometimes she will let us pet her belly, but she hasn’t shown me her belly since the last dose of Revolution.

  3. It took several years to earn the trust of our neighborhood’s semi(?)-feral matriarch, but we did! and we were able to get her and all but one of her family neutered/adopted. It’s so worth the time and effort to keep showing cats that you are caring, gentle, and trustable!
    Another one of the former “community cats” at that location just hated it when I brought out the Advantage and after I applied it, he’d shoot off like out of a cannon!


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