How to Pick Up and Hold a Cat the Right Way

Why Is It Important To Pick Up And Hold A Cat Correctly?

Cats are very independent animals and in general they like to be free to do what they want when they want. Being held is not a natural situation for them and if this is done in such as way whereas they feel insecure or nervous then it it’s likely that they could lash out and bite.

If a cat is picked up incorrectly too often then it will become harder and harder in the future to have this sort of relationship with your cat. They will become instantly afraid every time you try to hold them and this will result in a cat who wriggles to get free from the start.

It is important that cats do become used to being handled in this way as there will be occasions where it is essential for you or a vet to either put them in a carrier or hold them for examination.


What to Do if Your Cat Absolutely Does Not Want to Be Held

If you need to pick up your cat but they are prone

If you need to pick up your cat but they are prone to scratching and biting whenever you try, you may find that using a towel or blanket will help.

Wrapping your cat in a towel is a great way to restrain them while also keeping them calm and protecting you from being scratched.

Wrapping your cat in a towel is quite easy, put a large towel onto a flat surface, fold it in half lengthwise then put (or encourage) your cat onto the towel.

Try to get your cat in the middle of the towel. Once your cat is on the towel, wrap one side over your cat’s back and around to the front of his neck (like a scarf) and then bring the other end over your cat’s back and neck too.

Secure the towel behind your cat’s neck with one hand, you want the towel to be wrapped around your cat’s body completely with their head sticking out.

Think of it like a cat burrito! This technique will help you to keep your cat under control without being scratched or having to pick them up.

Restraining A Cat

Most pet cats will be used to some handling and so taking them to the vets and being examined should not be too much of a problem. However there are some situations where it will be necessary to restrain a cat so that they are unable to move and lash out.

At the vets

Some cats simply never learn to like being handled

Some cats simply never learn to like being handled. Some pet cats I know who are the most loving and gentle at home turn into a monster when they have to go to the vets.

How to hold your cat for examination

Your vet may ask you to help hold your cat during an examination. The best way to do this is with your cat laying front ways on the table.

To allow the vet to examine the head:

From behind the cat rest your arms either side of their body with your hands pressing gently but firmly on their front legs. This will stop your cat moving the front of their body or running away.

To allow the vet to examine the body and rear:

From the side place both hands on your cats back between their shoulders and press gently but firmly. Make sure the cat is unable to turn their head and bite you.

Can I Let My Cat Jump Back to the Floor?

Some cats will likely attempt to jump back to the floor if they see an opportunity. This isn’t ideal but may happen so be prepared for it.

Throwing your cat or letting them jump from the position you are holding them in will be uncomfortable for your cat and could end up in them landing awkwardly.

It’s far safer and controlled for you to lower your cat slowly to the ground as described above.

Know How to Properly Pick up a Cat

Cats are known to get startled easily, especially when they are exposed to sudden movements. Thus, the best way to approach one is by using a slow and steady method. When you are set to pick up a cat, first extend your hand, this way, it will be able to sniff you, and may proceed to rub its head against your fingers. This is a clear indication that your feline friend is in a very good mood. And when you finally pick it up, be sure to do it with both hands irrespective of the size of the cats. According to experts on cat behavior, “all cats need to be held with both hands, whether small or big.”

So, to safely pick up a cat one hand should go under its forelimbs, and the other should support the hind limbs and back end of the cat’s body. The ideal position is to support the cat’s hindquarters with the crook of your arm and never allow a cat’s limbs to dangle – this will only make it feel unsafe and unsupported.

Be Careful While Sitting

So, what’s the proper way to hold a cat while sitting? If you wish to sit and watch the television while holding your furry friend on your lap, then you will need to give your kitty a free hand to figure out the exact position it wants to sit in. The chances are that your furbaby might favor your laps and proceed to settle there. Most likely, it will just curl up on your lap or go for the indent between your two legs.

This sitting position is recommended for those who tend to hold cats too tight while standing, especially kids. It is common for a kid to mistakenly drop a cat while in a standing position. So, before handing your precious pet cat over to minor, have the child take a comfortable position sitting on the sofa or chair. However, you should ensure to instruct them on how to handle the cat first and let them know when to let the cat down. For sure, if the child is not properly instructed on how to hold a cat, they might end up incurring injuries as the cat will not hesitate to use its talons when it is held down against its will.

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How Should You Pick Up a Cat?

After assessing the situation and getting the green light, approach the kitty with a relaxed manner. Crouch down to his level—he’ll feel less threatened when you’re not towering over him. You can even gain his trust by petting him in his hot spots, like the base of the ears or under the chin.

“If your cat is nervous of being picked up, but enjoys your company and petting, you can try to teach them to enjoy or tolerate being picked up,” Nigbur says. “[Motivate] her with a lick of baby food or a flake of tuna after every [step]. This will keep her happy about being touched. If your cat is not food motivated, you can also offer a few seconds of playtime with their favorite toy as a reward.”

Place your dominant hand underneath her ribcage (not their stomach). Use your free arm to support the back legs. When you feel comfortable, Nigbur says to slowly lift to a standing position while also pulling the cat against your chest for support. Use that non-dominant arm as a platform to support her hind legs.

Once she’s up in your arms, be sure to remain calm so the kitty feels comfortable. Hold the cat so her back paws are supported—lay your non-dominant arm flat across your torso, above the belly button, to give her a shelf to rest her rump on. Use your dominant hand to support her upper half and hold her firmly yet gently against your chest.

Once you're both comfortable, explore different ways of holding him to see what he enjoys. Some cats like to perch their legs on your arm and look back over your shoulder so they can enjoy the view. Others like to be held on their backs like a human baby. Nigbur says as you explore, pet him and talk to him to make him feel more comfortable and secure. Support him with your non-dominant arm and pet him on his head or down his back with your free hand. Maintaining a soft tone will put him at ease.

For younger children or anyone who’s less experienced with cats, Nigbur says to try holding him from a sitting position first, which will allow the cat to be in control and find a comfortable position on your lap. This is also the way you’ll want to hold a cat to prepare him for nail clipping, so it’s good practice to have him sit on laps.

Advanced holds

Those aren’t the only ways to hold your cat. As shown below, plenty of less obvious poses are still perfectly fine, as long as the cat wants to cooperate.

On the left is the baby pose, which Dr. Burstyn demonstrates in a follow-up video. This is safe and comfortable if you have a good relationship with the cat. But, he warns, “I would not do this with any cat that I don’t completely trust.” Holding a cat like a baby opens you up to scratches from its front claws, so if your cat resists, gently put it down and try a more traditional hold.

In the middle is a football pose. Dr. Burstyn recommends this for quickly scooping up a resistant cat. By pulling the front of the cat in toward your body, and holding in its hind legs, you reduce the cat’s range of movement (and thus its ability to scratch you or escape), while still supporting the body. Squish the cat close, says Dr. Burstyn. “It’s never going to do them any harm; in fact, they tend to feel more safe and secure when they’re being held tightly.”

Illustration: Angelica AlzonaIllustration: Angelica Alzona

Finally, there’s the shoulder hold. This is another pose reserved for cats and humans who have a trusting relationship. To get your cat on your shoulder, get your cat on a surface near waist level, then lean down toward it and allow it to climb up onto you. (You’ll risk a little scratching as the cat puts its claws out to climb.) Support the cat’s butt with your hand.

If the cat is comfortable on one shoulder, it might try to lie across both shoulders, behind your neck. You can let it (while risking some more inadvertent scratches), or you can keep it still by squishing its back into your shoulder with your other hand.

To let down a shoulder cat, don’t pull it off or let it leap behind you. Get to a waist-high surface and lean forward until the cat relents and rights itself. (When Dr. Burstyn demonstrates with his cat Mr. Pirate, he has to lean all the way down to the exam table before the cat finally lets go.)