Many cats stress when they’re picked up. For cats, there’s comfort in having all four paws on the ground and being in control of their own actions. 

If a cat is fearful when picked up, or isn’t used to being handled, picking her up can fill her with fear, leading to lashing out by scratching or biting. Use calm handling techniques to help your cat feel safe and secure when you pick her up. Follow our tips to learn the best way to handle your cat. 

How to pick up a cat

  • Make sure your cat knows you’re coming
  • Approach from the side
  • Slowly crouch, but don’t lean over your cat
  • Start by petting
  • Slide one arm underneath your cat’s stomach. Support the hind legs on your arm
  • Place your other arm around the front of your cat’s body and hold him or her close to your chest

Here is a video demonstrating the best ways to pick up your cat:

When approaching your cat to pick her up, avoid sneaking up on her when she’s sleeping or eating. Most cats will let you know if they don’t want you to approach. Ensure she sees you coming and welcomes your presence.

If your cat walks or runs away, don’t force the issue by trying to grab her. Let her come to you on her own terms.

A cat who will accept handling is one who stays still as you approach or comes to greet you. Instead of walking toward your cat head-on, opt for a sideways approach. This is a less threatening position and will encourage your cat to tolerate handling.

After you’ve come close enough to your cat to pet him or her, slowly crouch down next to your cat. Avoid leaning over your cat, as that is another threatening position to animals. 

Offer your hand to your kitty. She will likely rub her cheek against it or bump you with her head, showing her willingness for petting. 

Once your cat has accepted petting, slide one arm underneath your cat’s belly and pick her up. Be sure to support her hind legs and body on your arm.

Securely hold your cat close to your chest by wrapping your other arm around the front of her body, allowing her front paws to rest on your arm for balance. 

One arm should cradle the body and hind legs, while your other arm should support the front half. Some cats may prefer to rest their front paws on your shoulder, but that is only recommended for relaxed environments, like at home. 

For potentially unnerving situations, such as a veterinary visit, avoid letting your cat place her paws on your shoulder. She may become scared and try to leap out of your arms, scratching your face or neck during her escape.

Pick your cat up in a secure manner to ensure he or she feels safe, minimizing panicking, flailing, and scratching. 

How to set a cat down

Even if your cat is struggling and wanting to escape, avoid letting her leap from your arms. Contrary to popular belief, cats do not always land on their feet and she may injure herself by jumping down, especially if she is desperate to have the ground beneath her paws again. 

Instead of dropping your feline friend or allowing her to leap from your arms, gently set her down. Place her back on the floor, on a cat tree, or on a piece of furniture, allowing her ample time to get her footing before letting go. 

Unrecognizable young woman holding her striped cat

A calm release will help acclimate your cat to being held and reassure her that nothing scary will happen when she’s in your arms. Reward her with high-value treats to form a positive association with this potentially worrisome handling act.

What to avoid when picking up a cat

Cats do not appreciate being startled, so always make sure she’s aware of your presence before picking her up. Never pick up a cat when she is eating, sleeping, grooming, eliminating, or fighting—you may end up in a world of hurt. Even if you have your cat’s attention before approaching her to pick her up, avoid picking her up in these scenarios:

  •  To force social interaction — No one enjoys forced interaction, least of all our feline friends. You may want to show off your delightful ball of fur to your friends and family, but many cats are wary of strangers. By taking away her escape route, your cat may panic and lash out. Instead, let your cat greet strangers on her own terms.
  • To place her in her carrier — Shoving your cat in a small box is asking for trouble. If you haven’t taken the time to carrier train your cat, you are in for a struggle when trying to get your feline whirlwind of teeth, claws, and stiff legs into a carrier. Many cats only leave their homes to receive veterinary care, which is often an unsettling experience, and come to associate the carrier with the veterinary clinic. The mere sight of a carrier is enough to send many cats fleeing in terror. Attempts to place a cat in a carrier are met with bites, scratches, and straight legs designed to put the brakes on forward movement. Instead, teach your cat to love her carrier by following Jackson Galaxy’s tips
  • By her scruff — Although mother cats pick up their kittens by the scruff to transport them, you should not use this technique on your cat. They only carry their babies this way for the first few weeks of life because kittens have a reflex which causes their bodies to go limp. This reflex is lost by adolescence. 

Scruffing, whether or not you support the hind legs, is a painful method of picking up a cat. The only time an adult cat is held by the scruff is during mating or when under attack by a predator. No wonder cats don’t like being picked up by the scruff! Instead, use our outlined methods above to safely and securely pick up your kitty.

Man in red plaid tartan shirt holding an arrogant ginger cat.

Why you should teach your cat to allow handling

Cats should be taught from a young age to tolerate handling and restraint. Imagine if your cat develops an ear or eye infection and you have to medicate her, although she does not appreciate being handled. Teach your cat to allow handling and restraint for tasks such as nail clipping, brushing, ear cleaning, and medication administration to prevent future freakouts. 

Picking a cat up is one part of safe handling practices. Many cats learn to associate bad things with being picked up, scruffed, and handled, so be sure to always make it a positive experience. Avoid only picking your cat up to cram her into a carrier or to give her nasty-tasting medication.

When handling your cat, ensure she also safely returns to the ground. Never drop her abruptly or allow her to leap from your arms because she may injure herself or scratch you on the way down.

To begin proper handling, learn how to carefully pick up a cat in such a way that she feels safe and secure. 

Let us know in the comments below: how does your cat like to be carried?

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