How to Handle a Cat


Before you adopt a cat, it’s important to learn how to handle a cat properly, and teach your children proper handling as well. Don’t immediately walk up to an unfamiliar cat and pick her up. First, get to know her and let her smell you and check you out. Pet her lightly on the back, running your hand from shoulder to tail. Pet the top of her head, and give her your hand to smell. Speak to her in calm, soothing tones. Don’t let yourself get upset or excited if it’s not going well; the cat can sense your alarm, and will resist you.

Unless the cat is a very young kitten (in which case it’s safe to pick her up by the scruff of the neck), you should pick up the cat with both hands, first putting your hand under the chest just behind the front legs (using your forearm for additional support). Then support the back feet above and behind the paws with your free hand, cradling the rear of the body so that the cat is fully supported. The key is to success is making the cat feel both safe and comfortable, and keeping her limbs in check so you don’t get scratched.

If the cat is resistant, spend some more time with her, perhaps sitting on a couch, and letting her come to you for petting. Work up to getting her to sit in your lap, and when she’s comfortable with that, try again to pick her up.

Some cats prefer to be carried like a baby, facing backward with their forelegs over your shoulders, and their hind quarters supported with your free hand. This is fine once you and the cat are accustomed to each other. Initially, however, it’s not a good idea. If the cat is spooked, she’s likely to dig her front claws into your back, and her back claws into your chest to launch herself like a rocket away from you.

Never pick up a cat with both hands by the midsection without supporting the hind legs. This will upset most cats and leave their back paws free to scratch you.

If it’s necessary to handle a feral cat, an injured cat, or a cat who seems prone to biting or scratching, wear heavy duty gloves and a long sleeved shirt or jacket.

If you are unaccustomed to handling cats, you should not attempt to pick up feral or injured cats yourself if it’s possible to find someone more experienced to help you.

In most cases, feral cats should be trapped rather than handled. Your vet or local shelter will usually have traps available to borrow or rent.

Often, badly injured cats should not be moved unless it’s to move them out of harm’s way (the middle of a street, for example). Then contact a veterinarian to determine whether the cat should be moved, and how best to do so.

Some cats simply don’t like to be handled. Over time, gentle petting and treats may help you gain their trust, but don’t assume every cat can be picked up safely on the first attempt. Give it time, and chances are that eventually she’ll come around.

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