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how to pick up a cat

How to Pick up a Cat - The Correct Way to Handle a Cat

Written by Ryan Gliozzo


Are you looking for a way to pick up a cat? If so, then you've come to the right place! Cats are one of the most lovable pets around and can make great companions, but they don't always make it easy for us humans. Picking up a cat can sometimes be tricky; cats don't always appreciate being picked up, and if done wrong, it can be traumatic for them.
A woman in gloves holding a cat


If you are planning to adopt a fur baby but have never been in close contact with a cat before, it is important that you arm yourself with some basic skills like how to pick up a cat and hold them properly. Cats, like all other pets, have to be handled with a certain amount of care and attention.

When approaching a cat, you need to be able to perceive the mood of the cat from their body language, looks, and positioning of their body. It will soon become second nature to you once you start living with a cat but for a new cat parent, this is an entirely new skill that needs to be learned.

How do you properly lift a cat?

How to lift a cat

There is no ‘one formula fits all’ when it comes to holding a cat properly. Different cats behave differently when being picked up. However, as a cat parent, you can always look out for certain behavioural tactics, body language, and posture in your cat that will tell you whether your fur baby wants to be picked up or not.

Before you touch a cat and try to pick them up, you need to make sure the cat is relaxed and wants to be held.

Here are some tips from cat body language experts you need to look out for that will tell you that your cat is on an edge and might not want to be held:

  • Wide eyes with dilated pupil

  • Tail twitching and wagging continuously 

  • Growling or making distressed noises

  • Ears standing straight, stretched out

  • Fur standing straight on their body

  • Taut and puffed up tail 

Once you make sure that your cat is relaxed and is not showing any of the above signs of distress, you may approach them with ease.

Hand and arm posture- When it comes to holding a cat, you need to maintain a secure grip with your hands and arms. It is important to hold up your fur baby securely with your hands under their head. With one hand supporting their heads, you can wrap your arm under their hind legs. 

For a cat to sit securely in your lap, you need to provide them with solid and secured support behind its rear end. It helps them relax in your arms and get comfortable easily.

Lifting and movement- Holding a cat is only half the job done properly. As soon as you hold a cat firmly in your hands, you need to bring them close to your body almost immediately. Holding them up in the air, away from your body makes them alarmed and might even trigger a memory of being held badly. If possible, bring them close to your body even before you have held them up properly.

Proximity to your body- The warmth and the close proximity to your body will help them feel relaxed in your arms and will allow them to get comfortable easily. While you wrap your arms around their body, make sure the support on their rear end continues and their body remains close to yours just the same.

Moving them away from your body even if you are holding them securely, will create an uncomfortable feeling of suspension and elevation that cats might poorly react to. 

Hold them in a comfortable position, while ensuring they are content and not struggling with any body twitches and if this is the case, only hold them for a short period of time before carefully placing them down on the floor.

Secure grip- Your hands and arms placement are important when it comes to holding a feline baby. The hold needs to be confident, unwavering, and supportive of their body weight no matter what you are doing while holding them. Sometimes cats feel shy and prefer to hide their face in the crooks of your elbow, if that is the case then let them do it.

Close attention to changing attitude- It is not enough to just hold your fur baby properly, you also need to be able to monitor and notice any change in their behaviour. If they show any sign of distress as discussed above, react accordingly.

Putting them down- Putting down your cat on the ground in the proper way is just as important as picking them up. Put them down gently, with a slow movement, closer to the surface where you intend to put them.

Even though cats can jump and move from one elevated surface to another, it is best if you can avoid that kind of erratic movement while letting them down. Oftentimes, when cats jump out of one’s hold to an uneven surface, their paws leave scratches on your hands.

How do you pick up a cat that doesn't like being picked up?

A man holding a cat

Not all cats want to be held even if you approach them correctly. In such cases, it is important to initiate friendly contact with your fur baby and make them step-by-step used to the process of being held.

Get them used to the feeling of being held- If a cat does not want to be picked up, you need to be patient. Scruff their head and neck until they relax. Try to get them used to the feeling of being held before you try to pick them up. Hold their body for a few seconds before leaving them on their own.

Lift their legs up- Place your finger beneath their forelimbs and lift them up for a few seconds and then drop it gently. This way they get used to the feeling of not having their legs on the ground. Once they get used to it, you can easily lift them up.

Positive reinforcement - Use treats as positive reinforcement. Every time your cat makes new progress while being held, or picked up, reward them with a treat. Repeat this process so that your cat wants to be picked up enthusiastically and associates it with a positive experience.

Do not use force- If your cat starts growling or making uncomfortable noises while you are holding them, it might be a sign for you to put them down. Do not ever try to hold onto a cat by using force. It can negate all the progress you might have made with your cat so far.

The wrong way to pick up a cat

A cat being held who doesn't look happy

If there is a right way of handling a cat, then there has to be a wrong way of handling them too. Here are some of the common mistakes that you might want to avoid:

  • Do not skip the introduction process. Make your approach patient, gentle and calm. Give your cat get used to being held slowly, gradually. 

  • Do not use force on them. Allow your cats to move around freely and never pick them up against their wishes. 

  • Do not pick them up by their scruff or the skin of their neck. A proper hold with the right placement of your hand and body is the only way to pick up a cat comfortably. Lifting them up by skin creates a very unpleasant experience for them. 

  • Do not hold a cat far away from your body. Bringing them closer to your chest makes them feel safe, secure, and comfortable. 

  • Avoid sudden movements when trying to pick up any cat, in order to raise their comfort levels and give them a higher level of security.   


These are some of the pointers that one needs to keep in mind while handling a cat. It is important to be patient and gentle with your fur baby and give them time to get used to being held by a human. With some time and practice, your cat will trust you and will find the experience of being held by you soothing and joyful as you both bond.

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