How To Pick Up A Cat

Cat Care, Cats

Last Updated - December 12, 2023

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Whether you are a cat lover or visiting someone with a cat, you easily be tempted to pick up a cat at sight. But whether the cat is yours, a feral cat on the street, or at a friend's place, don't be too quick to pick up the cat no matter how friendly you think it may be.

There is a proper way to pick up a cat that will be comfortable for her/him and safe for you. Otherwise, you may frighten the animal or get yourself injured. If you have kids that love picking up cats, it is vital that you properly supervise and let them know how to pick up a cat the proper way.

How To Properly Pick Up A Cat?

1. Talk To the Owner

If you are picking up a cat that has an owner, talk to the owner first. Ask whether the cat likes to be touched or held and friendliness level before attempting.

2. Know If The Cat Wants To be Picked up

First, let the cat know you are coming and read the cat's body language to determine if the cat wants to be picked up. Failure to do so can lead to the risk of being scratched, bitten, or terrifying the cat.

How to read cat body language to determine if the cat would like to be picked up? Is she/he hiding from you and has no interest in meeting or playing with you? Is she/he seeking attention by meowing or rubbing against your legs? By seeking attention is a good indicator that she/he is open to affection.

Cat body language tips

The tail: Unlike dogs, cats don't wag their tail when they are happy. If the cat's tail is wagging, it indicates that she/he is assessing the situation, and it's not a good time to attempt picking up the cat just yet. A high, vertical tail indicates that the cat feels confident and comfortable, so you can pick up the cat.

The Ear: If the cat's ears are facing forward, it indicates that the cat feels content, and it is a good time to pick her/him up. If the ears are facing backward, it's a sign the cat is feeling angry, and you better watch out. And if the ear is flattened to the side, it indicates that the cat is afraid, and you shouldn't pick it up unless it's necessary.

3. Get to cat level

When picking up a cat, crouch down to cat level to reassure the cat. This way, it also gives the cat a chance to smell and rub against you. Never hover or tower above it, as it can frighten the cat by causing it to feel threatened.

4. Place your hand in the right places

Put your dominant hand under the torso that is directly behind the front legs. You should be able to feel the rib cage under your finger. Use the free hand to support the cat's bottom and back legs by placing it under the hint feet.

5. Lift Up

Once you get the hands in the right position, lift the cat as you stand up straight. You can pull the cat against your chest to provide more comfort and support to help her/him to feel more secure in your arms. Be sure to remain calm so the cat feels comfortable.


Best Way to Move Close to a Cat

Before you pick up a cat, you must first approach the cat calmly and quietly. Avoid any sudden or big movements that can frighten the cat.

Most cats are nervous around strangers, and it takes time for them to get comfortable with someone new. Therefore, you must make your presence known before getting close. Let the cat see you and understand that you are coming. Never approach a cat from behind or directly from the front. Instead, go by the side. You may be talking softly as you approach the animal. That will give the animal a sense of safety. Do the same thing, even if it is your pet that is familiar to you.

How to Get Familiar with a Cat

It doesn't matter whether you are strange to the cat or it sees you every day. Before you attempt to pick up a cat, try to keep the cat comfortable in your presence. So, once you move to the close, first play with it. Never attempt to pick a cat up immediately when you get close to it. One good way of being friendly with a cat is by gently petting it on the head. You can also put it on the cheek or the area around its ears. Continue stroking it until you are sure it has felt relaxed and ready to be held.

How to Know If a Cat is Ready to Be Picked Up

Don't try to pick up a cat that is not willing to release itself. That is why it is essential to know if a cat is ready to be picked up or not. If a cat is not in the mood for being held, it may run away as you try to pet it. It may even get violent with you or swat at you. When the cat is calmed and comfortable, then you can go ahead and pick it up. But how do you do it?

Best Way to Pick Up a Cat

The emphasis here is that the cat must be well supported. Therefore, the best places on the cat's body to put your hands are just behind its forelegs and at the back legs.

You should start by putting one hand under its body just behind the forelegs. You can also put it directly under the two front legs. At that time, the cat may get irritated or feel uncomfortable. That is because it may not be sure of what you are doing. Therefore, quickly let it know that you want to lift it by placing the second hand under its hind legs. With your two hands on the cat, lift it gently. Even at that, the cat may still be frightened, as it is not sure what you want to do with it. So, quickly place it close to your body. That will eliminate all fears in the animal.

It is best to place the cat close to your chest and let it rest its forelegs on one of your shoulders. Ensure the cat maintains a good posture while resting on you. It is crucial that its head is positioned above its body and the body lean straight on you. However, you should study the cat and discover the best way it wants to be held. If it is your cat, you might have known this from your previous experience.

What if the Cat is Heavy?

Some cats are heavy and may be difficult to lift from the ground to your chest. Do not harm the cat. If you realize that you cannot lift a cat comfortably from the ground, then wait for the cat to climb to an elevated position before picking it up. It might be better to attempt to lift the cat when it is on a table or shelf.

How to Put a Cat Down

Of course, you are not going to hold the cat forever. You must know the best time to put the cat down. Many cats will let you know when they are no longer comfortable on your body. It would be best if you put them down immediately when you notice this. Among the signs that a cat may show to indicate it is no longer comfortable with you include meowing or shifting uncomfortably. However, when letting a cat go, don't throw it to the floor. Put it down gently in a similar manner to how you picked it up. Support its body until all four legs touch the ground. That will keep the cat safe.

How to pick up a cat that doesn't want to be picked up

If you have a cat that suddenly stops enjoying being held or picked up, then it's time to take it to the vet. Many reasons could cause this, such as injury, arthritis, personality change, or other medical conditions. Other possibilities include the development of sudden aversion if they have had a bad experience. Maybe with you, another family member, or someone else who held it wrong.

If you have to pick up a cat that doesn't want to be picked up, you can still follow the above steps but be sure to go with the speed at the cat's comfort. Allow the cat to sniff you and do its thing to build trust with you. 

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About the Author

Doctor of veterinary medicine with extensive experience in animal welfare with a strong interest in feline medicine and plans to pursue ABVP-Feline specialty board certification. A key member of many local veterinary associations and avid reader of animal related science journals and studies.