Bringing a new kitten home is an exciting time…for you. It can be scary for a kitten. This may be why you’re searching for how to get a scared kitten to trust you.
We adopted two kittens who had been living in a garage on a farm. They were skittish when they first got to our home and we had to work to gain their trust.
I believe trust is built over a lifetime. As long as you don’t do anything to break their trust, your kitten will feel more and more comfortable with you and your bond will grow.
Here are techniques I’ve used over the years to get my new cats/kittens to trust me.
1. Lead with love
Animals can feel your energy. That’s why some cats or dogs will run up to one stranger (the animal person) but hiss or growl at others.
Keep that in mind as you interact with your kitten. You obviously love them, but be mindful of your energy. If you’re stressed, anxious, worried, angry, etc., they’ll be able to feel that.
If you’re skeptical, check out the video here: https://trust-technique.com/
2. Give them a dedicated space
A kitten will be focused on their new surroundings. If they must get to know both you and a big house, they’re going to be busy running from room to room and every time they encounter you while exploring unfamiliar territory, they’ll be startled.
It’s best to put them in a bedroom when you first bring them home. Depending on the size of your home, you may be able to let them roam more space within a day or two.
We first brought our kittens home to an 800 square foot home. We thought the space would be small enough but they jumped every time we touch them.
So we moved them to a bedroom. It had a litter box, food, water, and kitten-appropriate toys (no wands with strings they could get wrapped around them).
Within ten minutes we could tell they were more comfortable.
Instead of cautiously walking around with wide eyes and backing away from our touch, they started to become more playful. Within the hour we were petting them and holding them.
Here they are in their safe room the first day we brought them home:
3. Create a Quiet space
Loud noises will startle your kitten, so find a space that’s quiet and makes them feel safe.
They should be away from little children until they feel more comfortable.
You also don’t want to put them in a room with noisy appliances, such as a furnace that can scare them when it kicks on.
4. Give them hiding spots
Even if you’ve set up a dedicated room for your kitten, it’s important they have spaces within that room that feel safe to them.
A safe space for a kitten may be a box or a corner of the room they can sit in and keep a watchful eye while their back is protected.
I know you don’t want them to hide, but they may feel they need to until they realize they’re in a safe environment.
5. Get down on their level
Imagine how a kitten might feel being taking away from their mom and siblings, put into a cage, taken on a car ride, and then put into new surroundings with a stranger. They’re scared and you look like a giant to them.
Don’t tower over them. Sit or lay on the ground with them so you seem less intimidating.
6. Soften your gaze
Staring at an animal can be a sign of dominance or aggression. Although your kitten is incredibly cute, try not to stare wide-eyed at them.
Softening your gaze, slowly blinking, and even closing your eyes when your kitten is near you can help them feel more comfortable.
7. Speak softly & move slowly
As mentioned, humans are basically giants to kittens and we can seem scary to them. Move slowly and speak to them in a very soft voice and gentle tone.
8. Let them come to you
As much as you want to pet, hold, and cuddle your kitten, it’s important to give them their space until they’re ready. Forcing them to sit on your lap before they feel comfortable will only break the trust. They may start to associate going near you with something bad.
Imagine if someone you didn’t know tried hugging you every time you got close to them. You’d start to keep your distance from them.
Try sitting on the ground with your hands on the floor too. Let your kitten walk up to you, smell your hands, walk across your lap, etc. and don’t move.
Just let them explore you on their own.
As they become more comfortable around you, start with slow movements. Reach your hand out first and them them smell you. When they start to rub against your hand, you’re gaining their trust.
Remember to progress slowly. When you go to pet them on their head, they can’t see your hand or what’s coming. So you may startle them.
Reach your hand out and when they rub against it, brush your hand along their cheek and then down their back without lifting your hand from their body. This way, they aren’t startled when all of a sudden there’s a big hand on their back.
9. Offer treats
Be sure to choose treats that are appropriate for a kitten. You don’t want them to be too big or too hard. You also don’t want them to eat too many treats, so break them into small pieces if you need to.
Sit on the ground and place a treat in your hand. Try getting them to eat it out of your palm. If they’re not comfortable with that, work up to it.
Place the treat on the ground and move it further and further away from you until they’re comfortable enough to eat it. It’s important not to try and pet them during this stage.
With the next treat, move it a little closer to you. Inch the treat closer to you each time, until they’re eating right next to you or out of your palm.
10. Play with them
The easiest way to gain a kitten’s trust is to play with them.
Sit on the ground and use a toy that creates a connection to you, but allows for some distance between you and the kitten.
A wand is a perfect toy.
If you simply use a toy that doesn’t require your involvement (e.g. a ball), it won’t be as effective with building trust.
You want the toy to keep the kitten close to you and create an association to you.
The toy will create a distraction, so they let their guard down. But will also teach them that it’s fun to be around you and you can be trusted.
11. Take advantage of nap time
Kittens are obviously more relaxed when they’re sleeping, so it may be a good time for you to get closer. They may just be too tired to care if you’re near them and allow you to pet them.
They do need their sleep though. So if you being near them is making them reluctant to sleep, then it’s best to back away.
Regard and respect is most important when trying to gain your kitten’s trust.
Here’s Arthur sleeping on my lap the first day we brought him home. Once the kittens would get sleepy, we’d pick them up and put them on our lap or hold them in our arms.
12. Be consistent and patient
Each cat moves at their own pace. We adopted two brother kittens and one (Arthur) is a bit more of a scaredy cat than the other (Charlie). Charlie warmed up to us quickly while Arthur needed more time.
For the first week, Arthur would jump up from a sound sleep and run and hide when we opened the door to their room. His brother, on the other hand, would simply lift his head and look at us.
When I think about the trust we had with our cat who passed away a couple of years prior, we still have a long way to go.
It takes most of us years to trust people in our lives. So we shouldn’t expect an animal to put their full trust in us immediately.
And it only takes one moment for a person to break our trust. The same can be true with our cats.
That’s why it’s important to be consistent. Do your best to be a calm, loving, and gentle person to and around your cat, always.
Tip: Introduce new people
Once you’ve gained your kitten’s trust, it’s also important to introduce them to new people so they learn to trust strangers too.
If you can, introduce them to children as well, but only under your supervision. You don’t want your kitten in another room with an overzealous child. That can break your kitten’s trust with humans.
However, you do want to be able to trust your cat around children. So it’s important for your kitten to learn that although children can be a little more sporadic and loud, they can be trusted too.
You will need to rely on other people to care for your cat. Whether that be the veterinarian, a family member, a roommate, or a petsitter you hire when you go on vacation.
Introducing your kitten to several people when they’re young can help teach them humans are safe and trustworthy.
How long does it take for a kitten to trust you?
Each kitten will be different, but as long as they aren’t dealing with past traumas, most kittens will trust you within a day or two. They’ll feel comfortable enough for you to pet them, pick them up, and play with them.
If the kitten is feral or has been living in an environment where they had to keep their guard up, it may take weeks or months for your kitten to trust you.
I’ve had cats all my life and have always lived in a household full of cat lovers. Even the two cats who showed up on our doorstep injured trusted us within a matter of days.
Our two newest kittens trusted us almost immediately. It was obvious they felt safe to be around us and were comfortable being held and petted within a few hours of us getting them home.
Loud noises or sudden movements still made them jump for the first week or so. But they weren’t scared of us.
You may also be interested in: