We all know cats look adorable and many love to be petted but when it comes to picking them up for a cuddle, not all kits are totally sure. With their flighty personalities many can be easily spooked when they feel they are being scooped up off the ground. And the last thing you want is a mid-air skirmish with a cat who is desperate to get back on to terra firma.
But even if your cat is not a cuddle puss, there are going to be times when they need to be picked up and held, whether that’s to lift them to a safer place or for an examination at the vets. So, how do you pick up a feline? We give you the lowdown on how to properly hold a cat.
Do Cats Like Being Held?
For a host of reasons, not every cat likes to be picked up and held so it is important to know what factors are at play. Your cat may not have been sufficiently socialized as a kitten and is still unsure of the human touch, some cats are wilder in their temperaments than others while some cats may have had a bad past experience that has left them skittish and fearful. There are also some breeds such as the Ragdoll that are willing participants and love to be held, while other breeds, the Bengal for example, that are not that into being picked up and cuddled.
Check out our guide on the Best Cat Carriers for more info.
Read How Your Cat is Feeling
But even if your cat is willing to tolerate or enjoy being held, you will need to be able to read their body language and mood, so you know they are up for being picked up. Your cat will tell you if he wants your attention by rubbing up against you or by meowing and playing. But if he tries to hide, scratch or turns away, this is a sure sign he’s not too keen on having company. His tail is also a good indicator – held upright he is content but if his tail is thumping or swaying quickly, he is a tad on the agitated side, especially if his ears are also laid back flat against his head. If you have grumpy or timid cat situation, try to calm him down with some gentle rubs and tickles to his head but if his body language remains unsure or downright unhappy, then it’s probably best to give him a little space.
Before you Pick Up, Put Your Cat at Ease
Assuming your cat’s body language and mood indicates they are open to be picked up, don’t rush in but take a few moments to put your kit at ease. Approach them so they can see and know you are coming and talk to them softly to keep them feeling calm and secure. Suddenly launching yourself at your cat or picking them up from behind so they are unawares is going to be seen as a threatening situation and can cause them to panic and feel unsafe.
Before you go for the pick up, put your hand out without any sudden movements so she can come to you for a head rub and a reassuring touch.
How to Pick Up a Cat
Once they are at ease, there are three simple steps to correctly picking up and holding a cat:
- Crouch down so that you are at your cat’s level and they are not intimated by you coming at them from above. Being level with your cat also ensures you can continue to engage and reassure them, while reading any subtle body language being displayed.
- Place one hand under your cat’s body, behind his front legs and notice if is relaxing into you or is tensed and ready to break away. Ensure your hand position is secure then use your other hand to scoop under and support your cat’s back legs and bottom, almost as if you are cradling him.
- Now that your hands are securely in position, lift your cat as you gently stand up and your arm will form a support for him to sit back onto. Pull your cat into your chest to make him feel extra safe and secure. Pet and stroke him as you hold him so he can relax back into your arms, all the time ensuring his back legs are stable and supported.
At this stage, your cat should feel calm and relaxed but if they start to get squirmy and ready to make a bid to escape, gently ease him down onto the floor. This also helps to build their confidence as they know they can get down if they want to and are not being held captive.
How to Hold a Kitten
To get a young kitten used to being held, it is important to start early, ideally by 12 weeks of age as it will get harder the older, they are but younger if you can. However, avoid picking up or over-handling a kitten in the first week or two of life as it may upset their cat-mom and may even cause her to reject them.
Picking up a young kitten for just a few minutes each day will be enough and help to get them to associate being held as a secure and enjoyable experience. Hold them one at a time, and with both hands, supporting their chest and legs at all times, talking to them gently as you hold them.
Putting a Cat Down Safely
When you or your cat have had enough cuddle time, you need to put them down gently by bending down so their paws touch or are near enough to the ground. Then support his back legs as he steps – or leaps – out of your arms. Taking him nearer to the ground, even if he is preparing to jump, means he will have a safe and stable landing and be reassured that being held by his human is nothing to be worried about.
You may also like our article on Cat Muzzle.
Never Scruff Your Cat, Unless it’s an Emergency
And finally, don’t ever pick up your cat by the scruff of his neck unless it is the only way to safely get him out of an emergency situation. All cats have extra skin on the back of their neck called the scruff – mom cats will often use this scruff to carry her kits around. But for an adult cat, their heavy body will put too much stress on the scruff, neck and muscles if it is used regularly to carry them around.
Only ever pick a cat up by the scruff if they are caught in a situation they need to get out of quickly and are starting to panic or get scared. In an emergency scenario, picking a frightened or agitated cat up by the scruff can also help prevent you getting caught in the scratching crossfire. But if you do need to pick a cat up by the scruff, it is essential that you still support the weight of their body by placing your hand under their butt and back legs and release your hold on the scruff as soon as they are settled and secure in your arms.