Cat Confidence: How Important is it?

In short, the answer to the question 'How important is cat confidence?', is VERY IMPORTANT!  We don't mean to yell, but it is one of the most important things to when it comes to having a happy relationship with your cat.  While not all cats have confidence issues, but if you’re struggling with trying to help your cat with his confidence, err on the side of caution and explore all the suggestions we have here that could be issues causing your cat to be a little on the less confident side. 

A confident cat is a motivated, proactive cat that has tasks to complete, jobs to do, and objectives in their life. A confident cat is a happy well-adjusted cat that is a productive part of the family or community unit.  This is the type of cat we all want our furbabies to be or become!  Confidence in a cat is the key to a better life for your cat and to avoiding or correcting some of the problem behaviors you might experience with a cat that isn’t quite so confident, such as not using the litterbox, hiding, or anxiety that can lead to aggression or destructive tendencies, to name a few.

If your cat walks into the room with her head held high, tail up, and has a relaxed look and posture about her, your cat is a confident one!  Now if there are guests over, that same confident cat may retreat or shy away a bit and appear less confident, but it’s in a cat’s nature to be leery and hesitant of strange and new situations.  Because our cats are both predator and prey, this

cautious nature is hardwired into them and is a survival mechanism to keep them out of harm's way, so just because your confident furry friend may act the opposite when new situations arise doesn’t mean that she isn’t secure in her normal surroundings and confident.

The cat with less confidence is one that isn’t sure of his surroundings in a normal everyday sort of way and there are ways you can help your feline friend get a better handle on things and boost his confidence, creating a happier life for him and for you, while also avoiding potential behavior issues or correcting existing ones.

Just to make things simple without projecting our human ideas of confidence on to our cats, let’s layout an easy way to understand what a confident cat is. A confident cat is one that feels comfortable in their surroundings, knowing that they ‘own’ their territory and do so in an active, confident, and relaxed way.  This means that they don’t have to hide from things, sounds, or people, or overmark (urine marking), because they know that the territory (their house) is theirs.

First, understand that a cat has many ways to ‘mark’ his or her territory other than urine marking.  Scent glands for marking are located on a cat's face on their cheeks, chin, ears, and neck, as well as on their tail, at the base of their tail and between their toes. There are many areas on a cat that they can use to mark, so if they are using the urine marking method, they most likely need a confidence boost as this is a very strong territorial way of marking if they feel their territory is unsecured!  

If you have a confident cat, this is great news!!  If you’re not sure, or if you know your cat needs a little more confidence, we’ve got ways to help you help your furry friend gain that confidence to help him live his best life!  Whether you’re getting a kitten or a cat (or have one), you can set him up to have a successful and happy life so that yours will be, too!  

​Here are some of the things you’ll want to consider in order to ensure your cat’s confidence:

Interactive Playtime: If you have only one cat that lacks confidence displayed by behavior(s) or actions like aggression, urine marking, or scratching furniture, the easiest way to begin building her confidence is by increasing interactive playtime with your furbaby that mimics hunting in the wild. Prey playtime that mimics cat hunting engages your cat entirely with both mental and physical stimulation. By being able to complete the prey playtime, from start to kill, several times a day on a regular basis, a cat’s confidence, mood, and attitude can improve while lowering their stress factor.

 

Think of it as what a workout does for us. When we work out, we feel better! Our stress levels drop, our mood improves, and an overall feeling of wellbeing becomes evident.  It is the same for cats. Keep in mind that there is a ‘right’ way to play prey with your cat, and the best way to accomplish this is by thinking like a cat.  If you have a wand toy, use it by imagining that it is your cat's potential prey.  If your cat were chasing a mouse, for example, the mouse would never run toward the cat but would be trying to escape by running away.  So when moving the wand toy around, try to mimic what a mouse or bird might do. Don’t through the toy into your cat's space, rather slowly wiggle, pop and move it away from your cat.

Use things like pillows or corners to have the toy slowly disappear from sight and make a 'catch me' game of it.  Remember to let your cat finish the prey play, too. Your cat may lose interest if they’re never allowed to make the kill!  Repeat the sequence of stalking, chase, jump, and kill until your cat appears to be done, or if he becomes winded and out of breath.  Let him rest if he seems physically tired for a bit and then try to play some more. Many behavior experts recommend 15-minute play sessions 3 or 4 times a day, but if your schedule is tight, even 15-minute sessions a time or two a day would make a big difference! 

For interactive play that helps stimulate your cat mentally and physically, you can also take your cat out for a walk if you’ve properly leash and harnessed trained him!  That would be great exercise for both you and your feline pal, assuming you have a quiet neighborhood without unleashed dogs or too much foot traffic that might scare your cat.

Try scheduling cat playtime into your day at specific times, making sure to try and get at least one good play session in before you retire for the evening.  This helps kitty use up that energy from the day so he can relax and sleep well at night, too.  Playtime before bed can help with kitties that like to wake you up in the middle of the night or super early in the morning, too.

 

There are other toys to play with, of course, but the wand is definitely one of the best to use that can really get your cat going. Most cats absolutely love the wands.  You may have to find the right ‘lure’ to have on the end of the wand string, but if he isn’t into wands, try catnip mice that you toss or tie to a string for an interactive experience, or anything with catnip if your cat responds to the nip!

Physical Contact:  As with anything new, always start slowly, but do make sure you work your way into loving, physical contact with your cat. Soft petting where your cat is comfortable, light scratches, and if you’re cat is a snuggler, make sure you give him plenty of that, too!  Your cat does see you as more than just a feeder.  In fact, research published in the journal 'Current Biology' states that 'cats form attachments to the people they love that are similar to those that dogs and even babies form with their caregivers', so some of that good old fashioned personal human contact that comes from you, the owner they love, is very important indeed! 

As your cat's owner and parent, you need to be their source of safety and security so that they can become a confident well behaved little children. The belief that cats are aloof and non-caring animals is a myth that needs to be put to rest.  Just because we may not always understand what a cat is trying to tell to us, does not mean they are less emotionally attached to us.  Although cats may process information and communicate that information differently than we as humans might, it does not mean they are not sentient beings that feel as we feel things emotionally.

Consistency:  Cats are creatures of habit and need to be able to predict cause and effect with regards to their behavior, so be consistent with your actions. You should never yell at or hit a cat. This can cause the cat to become very insecure and even scared of you, as they probably don’t understand why you’re yelling or hitting since what they have done is probably just a cat thing that they are not aware of is ‘bad’.  Redirection is a much better and more effective way to handle things if your cat misbehaves. Try picking your cat up, no need to speak, just pick her up, bring her to a bedroom, place her calmly down and close the door, like a time out. Do make sure there is water and a litterbox there and wait 5-10 minutes before opening the door.  When you do open the door, talk softly to her and give her a pet. Be consistent and remember, having a cat and working with behavioral issues is most likely going to be similar to a child. Consistency is the key and a calm voice and soft touch are the best cat practices to have when trying to correct behavior.

When a cat does something, whether it's something you think is cute or not, it's most likely because they're trying to get your attention. They need something, be it food, water, a clean litterbox or simply love and attention, so try to be attentive to what your cat might need before they have to ask for it. This can help stop any behavior issues before they start.

It’s also a good idea to be consistent when it comes to feeding time. Cats, by nature, are independent, and not being in control of when to feed can be a source of stress and anxiety for your cat. Not all cats have a problem with this, but some may if they’re struggling with confidence.  Try and use the same times every day to feed your cat. If your cat is able to maintain a healthy weight on a free feeding program, then make sure that there is always a little something in kitty’s bowl to graze on. There are also timed feeders you can purchase that will make sure food is available to your cat at the same times throughout the day if you're at work and can't be there during the day.  Making food available at scheduled times every day may help ease a lot of stress in your cat and help him climb that confidence ladder.

​Vertical Space:  It’s important for most cats to have vertical space available. The reason for this: cats can be both predators and prey and high places give the cat a sense of security where they can view what’s going on from a place of safety. Cat trees and/or perches are great for accomplishing this.  Having a place above it all gives your cat a place to survey his domain and feel safe doing so, increasing or instilling confidence in your little fellow! It also gives them additional square footage along with places to explore, hide, play, and escape to.  A good cat environment will always include a few elevated perch areas and/or some vertical real estate to be up and above it all!

Senses: hearing, sight, smell, taste & touch:  Remember that a cat’s senses are quite different and more sensitive than ours. A cat's sense of smell, for example, is 14 times better than humans, having over 200 million odor sensors in their cat noses compared to our human number of a mere 5 million.  A cat's taste, however, is rather week when we compare our 9,000 human taste buds to their 473 cat taste buds. With the differences in cat senses compared to ours, we need to consider that what is fine for us, may not be so fine for our cats. To help with kitty's confidence, make sure noise levels are managed. Loud sounds can be very distressing to a cat that can hear so much better than we humans can, and be sure to keep smells in check as well.

Cats are very sensitive to smells so it’s best to try and stay away from fragrances which can be upsetting to cats, not to mention that some things, like certain essential oils, can be toxic to cats. Because cats have such sensitive sense receptors, be mindful of what smells you bring into the home, fragrances used around their cat perches and trees, as well as what you wash their toys in and scented cat litter.

 

To understand the difference in how cats react to smells compared to people, consider catnip.  While not all cats react to catnip, many do, and the scent alone will send your furry feline into a nip induced euphoric frenzy, likely ending in some hard nap time.  Humans do not have the same reaction to the smell of catnip coming into the house and the same thing can happen in a negative way with scents and some fragrances, can be downright toxic for cats. Even floor cleaners can cause potential problems. You wash your floor with something and when kitty walks across it in her bare paws and then clean those paws later, they could potentially ingest some lingering cleaner, which could cause some problems.  Just think a little further into smells before brining things into your cat's world.

Respect your cat’s boundaries: This may not be something you think about, but it is important!  Let me explain to you why.  Your cat communicates to other cats and to you, and while you may not understand the communication, it is important to try.  If you don’t respect your cat’s boundaries and pet or play with him to the point that he becomes agitated or annoyed (You’ve probably made that mistake once or twice) then you may very well be the cause of your cat's lack of confidence.  If another family cat pesters your cat consistently causing frustration and agitation, this could most certainly cause an insecure cat and lead to some very unwanted behavior.  So please read the cue’s your cat gives you as to when he no longer is ‘ok’ with whatever you might be doing, and stop!

Pheromone diffusers/sprays/collars/wipes:  Pheromones are amazing tools to have in the house with a single cat, or in a multi-cat house!  The plug-in diffuser types are something you plug into your outlet. The solution warms up and disperses, filling the room with calming cat pheromones.  In cats, calming pheromones help kitty to feel safe and secure if they’re alone, and also if there are other cats around. They are also great for when you bring a new cat home, as pheromones help both the resident cats and the newcomer feel safer than they otherwise would.  Pheromone products come in a plug-in form, sprays, collars, and wipes so there are different options available, depending on your needs.  Feliway has a classic formula as well as a multi-cat formula and is the one we have used most, although Comfort Zone also has pheromone products that we’ve

also used on occasion and had good results. Even if your cat seems to be fine, it doesn’t hurt to use these products to keep the calm, relaxed, and confident cat side of your cat at the forefront!  Be sure to read the instructions before using and use the spray by spraying on things your cat likes such as cat trees, blankets, rugs, etc, but Don't apply directly to your cat.  That is what the collars are for.  😊

More than one cat?:  If you have a multi-cat house, make sure there is a enough space for all cats to explore and get their curiosity on, play, rest, eat and get away from some rest. They need to have room to be able to call certain areas 'theirs', or at least time share areas throughout the day and night.

 

Cat Space: All cats need room to play without having to compete with other cats if they choose not to, as well as the ability to secure that quiet place where they can get away from things. If they don't have their own area and space, they may feel uncomfortable and threatened, which may leed to behavior issues.  This isn't always a problem for all cats, but something to keep in mind. If you do see some issues popping up, take a look at your cat space!

Food Space:  They'll also need space to eat without feeling like they have to compete with the other family cat members, so if you're seeing some issues during feeding time, try feeding your cats in different areas with plenty of space so they won't feel threatened. If your cats can maintain a healthy weight on a free feeding program, make sure that there are enough feeding stations and space for all cats to eat without feeling they have to compete. Having to compete for food can be a huge stressor for cats and can definitely cause behavior problems.  Whether you have feeding times where you feed the cats, free feed, or use automated feeders, just make sure there is enough space for each cat to eat without feeling challenged by another.

Water Space:  The same that applies to food, also applies to water, so be sure to have plenty of water stations available for all cats, as well!  Whether you use bows, fountains, or waterers, make sure there is at least one water source for each cat and that they are separated and spaced throughout the home.

Litterbox Space:  Another issue that can come up in a multi-cat household is litterbox use.  Make sure that you have a litterbox for each cat, plus one more!  Not all multi-cat homes will have issues with space sharing, but if you do, the litterbox can be a big problem, so rather than let that problem come to light, I always say prevention is the best policy!  Work on preventing the problem before it starts by sticking to the rule that almost every cat behaviorists will agree on: One box per cat, plus one spaced out through the home. If you have a 2 story house, add litterbox options to the second level, too!  And please, please don't put them all in one place lined up next to each other.  This doesn't stop aggressive behavior toward a cat trying to use the facilities, nor does it stop a dominant cat from 'guarding' the box location, forcing others to find somewhere else to go...

Most likely in a place that will NOT make you smile! 😯

We love our precious little cats but we have to remember that they are different from us in many ways.  If you’re unsure of anything when it comes to your furbaby, I always say it’s best to check with a trusted source or vet first!

So to sum up, cat confidence is one of the most important things to creating a happy and beautiful cat human relationship next to health!  If you have any susspisions that your cat may need a confidence boost, try some of the tips and suggestions in this write up.  If you still have questions, concerns or problems, check with your vet or a trusted cat behaviorist! You're always welcome to message our in-house behavior specialist, Beverly Morgan, too.  If you'd like to learn more about Beverly or contact her directly you can visit her page here on The Kurious Kat.

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