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How to Pick Up a Cat the Right Way: Vet-Approved Tips & Tricks

Written by: Jordyn Alger

Last Updated on July 4, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

person holding a gray cat with collar

How to Pick Up a Cat the Right Way: Vet-Approved Tips & Tricks


Dr. Luqman Javed Photo


Dr. Luqman Javed

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Not all cats enjoy being picked up; however, there are times when it is necessary. If you need to pick up your cat for any reason, it is important that you do so properly. Picking up your cat correctly can ensure that your cat does not associate being picked up with stress and discomfort, and it can also prevent you from suffering a retaliatory scratch or bite. In this article, we’ll go over the steps you need to follow to ensure you pick up your cat correctly.

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Before Picking Up a Cat

Before you pick up a cat, you must determine whether or not you have a good enough relationship with the cat to do so. None of us want strangers to come up and hug us, so why would cats?

To verify that your cat feels close to you, there are some behaviors you can observe.

Signs Your Cat Trusts You
  • Meowing or purring
  • Following you or sleeping near you
  • Kneading on you
  • Headbutting you
  • Showing their belly
  • Grooming you

Of course, there may be instances where you must pick up a cat without having an established relationship with them. However, it’s much easier if the cat is familiar with you.

a woman holding a cat that's licking its mouth
Image Credit: Olesya Kuznetsova, Shutterstock

How to Improve Your Relationship With a Cat

One of the key ways you can improve your relationship with a cat is to know when to back off. Although cats are social creatures that love their families, they also need their alone time. If you constantly force yourself into your cat’s space, your kitty will feel threatened by you. Giving your cat space and allowing them to come to you will do wonders for your relationship.

When your cat does come around you, take advantage of the time to create a bonding experience. Giving your cat an occasional treat or playing with your cat will encourage them to associate you with good times.

While trying to improve your relationship with a cat, be patient. What is important is that you continue to give your cat space rather than try to force forward progress. Attempting to force relationship-building will only damage the trust you have built.

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How to Pick Up a Cat the Right Way in 8 Steps

Picking up a cat does not have to be stressful for either party. To guarantee that you pick up a cat correctly, follow the eight steps below.

1. Approach the Cat

You don’t want to take a cat by surprise. That will only cause additional stress. By approaching your cat calmly and clearly, you are giving the cat plenty of time to see you coming and decide whether or not they want to stick around. If the cat bolts, they may not be ready to put that level of trust in you.

Young man in white t shirt holding a black Scottish fold cat
Image Credit: Vershinin89, Shutterstock

2. Interact With the Cat

If the cat sticks around, engage with them. Don’t immediately rush to lift them up. Instead, let the feline check you out; your kitty may sniff you or rub their head on you. Pet the cat if they allow it, and work on soothing them if they seem agitated in any way.

3. Verify That the Cat Wants to Be Picked Up

If the cat is not in a good mood, it is not the time to pick them up. Likewise, if the cat appears wary of you, they are probably not ready to be picked up. If either scenario is the case, it’s advised to leave your cat alone for now.

The only exception to this is if it is necessary that you pick up the cat, such as in an emergency. Still, brace yourself for swatting and hissing, and try to release the cat as soon as possible.

Signs a cat doesnt want to be picked up Infographic
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4. Place Your Hands Properly

Once you have verified that the cat is okay with being picked up, place one hand underneath your cat’s body and just behind his or her front legs. Move quickly onto the next step. Your other hand should be placed beneath the cat’s hindquarters so you can support the legs and bottom.

5. Gently Pick Up the Cat

Don’t yank the cat into the air. Instead, gently lift your cat into your arms and toward your chest. Lift your cat head-high, not upside down.

Place the cat’s entire body against your own; this will help them to feel more secure. Keep the cat’s posture straight since it is more comfortable. However, different cats may have other preferences. If you know the cat especially well and know that your cat prefers to be cradled like a baby, do that instead. Otherwise, stick to providing the most security and comfort that you can.

How to Pick up a Cat Infographic
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6. Pay Attention to the Cat’s Body Language

While holding the cat, it is essential to pay attention to their body language. If they appear calm and content, you can continue to hold them. But if the cat looks restless, anxious, or squirmy, it is time to let them down.

Holding your cat longer than they want to be held may cause the cat to associate negative emotions with being held. It may also damage the trust you have built, so release the cat when they’re ready to be let down.

7. Gently Put Down the Cat

Although cats are agile and excellent at landing on their feet, they must be put down gently. Bend down, place the cat on all four legs, and release your cat only when their paws are on the ground. Of course, there is a decent chance that the cat will leap from your arms before you can fully put them down, and that’s fine.

A Note About Shoulder Cats

Some cats have an affection for high perches and are called “shoulder cats” because, once picked up, they love climbing onto their owner’s or caretaker’s shoulders. If your cat is a shoulder cat, the first time they climb up on top of you might be a surprise, however it is important to stay calm regardless.

The easiest way to get a shoulder cat off you is by slowly sitting down on a chair, bed, or couch. The loss of height usually bores out a shoulder cat to a point where they often jump off and seek other perches to venture to. Attempting to pull them off isn’t advised, as your cat may panic and dig their claws into your shoulder while you struggle to pull them off.

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Picking up a cat requires patience and trust. If your furry friend isn’t ready for you to pick them up, respect their boundaries and keep building your relationship. Keep in mind that not all cats enjoy being picked up, so if your cat doesn’t want you to pick them up, that’s not necessarily a sign that they don’t love or trust you. By respecting your cat’s comfort level, you can foster a deep bond that makes your cat feel safe and at peace.

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Featured Image Credit: Artem Beliaikin, Unsplash

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