Do cats trust their owners?

Yes and no is my answer. I don’t think the answer is straightforward. Firstly, a cat has to be fully socialised to become a domestic cat who is able to accept living in a human world with their human caretakers. Without socialisation, the cat does not trust the human. You only have to observe the behavior of feral cats to realise that. Domestication is in large part about the cat learning to trust the human. And not all cat guardains are able to generate trust in their cat for various reasons. It might be as simple as ignorance of what is required of them with respect to cat caregiving. But even in a good home, there might be some doubts in the cat’s head and a little experience happened to me about half an hour ago which illustrates this.

Trusting kitten
Trusting kitten. Photo: Pixabay.
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I had to hoover my bed. Sounds familiar?! It was covered in cat hair and bits of mud that he had walked in from the outside. I couldn’t work sitting on the bed surrounded by hair and other bits of detritus that he had left behind. So I fetched my Hoover. I then fetched the attachment to allow me to hoover the bed. He saw me carrying the attachment. He recognises me visually so he knows that it is me who is carrying this object. But he still retreated to keep a good distance.

The point of the story is that he does not trust me enough to know that I’m not dangerous when I am carrying a strange object. I know a strange object is going to make him fearful (although it isn’t that strange because he seen it before). So I expect him to retreat to a safe place if he sees this object which is a long tube to attach to the Hoover. But if he fully trusted me he would know that if I was carrying that object he was safe. He should be able to decide that if I’m carrying it he wouldn’t be harmed by it.

Perhaps this is a failure of rational thought although in my opinion cats can think rationally. Perhaps he couldn’t connect the fact that when I’m carrying a dangerous object it makes him safe from that object. He just sees this strange object and is blind to everything else including the fact that I am carrying it. Perhaps he doesn’t comprehend the idea of carrying something. I’m not sure, but if he trusted me like a person might trust me he wouldn’t run away when I’m carrying an object which makes him fearful. My presence should nullify the fear of the object.

Perhaps it is just too complicated for him to figure all this out and therefore instinctively he runs from a strange object. So perhaps it isn’t about trust. That said, although domestic cats are socialised they do live in the human world and humans are much larger than domestic cats. It doesn’t take a lot for them to become fearful of a human in their home and that human might be their owner. Some slight mistreatment such a strong word said or a slap given in punishment and frustration can severely dent the trust between cat and person to the point where a cat might feel a little anxious when their owner behaves innocently in a certain way which may bring back the memory of those harsh words or raised hand.

Under normal circumstances and in a home where a domestic cat is well loved, they do demonstrate trust, quite obviously. The slow blink is said to be a sign of contentment brought about by a relaxed and secure environment. And sometimes domestic cats allow themselves to be very vulnerable such as lying on their back in the family home which is indicative of trust and that they feel secure and safe.

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