Let’s start by posing the big question – how do you know if your cat is confident? Here are few things to consider.
Would you describe them as “skittish”? Do they run away at the slightest noise or if there’s too much activity? Your cat is probably not too confident if you witness this frequently.
How about body language? Do they walk with their tail straight up vertically? Are ears facing forward (not including if they hear any extreme noises)? Is body relaxed or crouched with tail typically flat against their body when lying down?
Do they spend a lot of time hiding, even when no strangers are present? Do they sleep in a closet, under a bed, etc.?
These are all behaviors that can indicate your cat is not confident. It’s a common cause of inappropriate elimination (See Litter Box Usage section for more information) and other cat to cat relationships. Confidence ultimately comes from a feeling of being safe, available resources (food, water, litter box, safe place to sleep) and having some kind of control over their environment. Control is as simple as having options, such as multiple litter boxes, or jumping up on a cat tree, or relaxing in a chair. It can be any of their resources, but just having a feeling of control over the choices they make, and not worrying about not having them available, contributes to a feeling of confidence.
Here are some confidence building strategies good for any cat. If your cat is already confident, they’ll still enjoy these activities.
Vertical space – cats enjoy keeping an eye on the world from a safe perspective. This can include cat trees, high furniture or shelves hung strategically allowing for kitty exploration. Be mindful if you have an older cat that may have trouble climbing. Keep the space between jumps minimal or incorporate a ramp. Any cat will enjoy having these areas to roam and get a better perspective of their surroundings – especially if their insecurity is coming from another cat they find intimidating or other living housemate like a dog (or human, especially tiny ones).
Interactive play. Cats will feel more confident if they have their hunting skills perfected. In nature, it would be a means of survival. Wand toys are critical for any cat. It not only builds their confidence, it allows energy to be used constructively and strengthens your bond with them. Particularly if you have a very active young kitten, wand toy play is essential unless you enjoy having them swing from your chandeliers and knock everything not glued down off your furniture.
As part of interactive play, it’s great to end what’s called a “prey sequence” with some kind of treat, or even a regular meal. The typical hunting process ends with a reward – food. This will also help your cat feel they were successful hunters. Using a wand/fishing pole type toy, (see image of Cat Catcher which is one of my favorites available HERE) move whatever is on the end of it slowly along the ground like prey back in forth in front of your cat. After a few times, let your cat catch it. Repeat this several times and end with a catch and then a treat. This can be done before the usual feeding time and end with their usual meal, or at any time and end with a treat. This will reinforce that they were a successful hunter and contribute to building their confidence.