Does Your Cat Like to Be Held?


Which of the following statements is true?

Picking up and holding a cat is an extremely tricky procedure that takes great skill and precision.

Picking up and holding a cat is the easiest thing in the world.

Until about a month ago, I’d have sworn that the first statement was true, even though I’d witnessed friends and significant others pick up cats as if it were the easiest thing in the world. It seemed like child’s play in the world of cat care and behavior. When these people did pick up cats, I played an ancillary role — I would stand next to the other person and pet the cat, whose head and front legs rested on the person’s shoulder. I was glad to do it. Still am. It feels loving, celebratory, and just a little bit daring for the cat to be in this precarious position getting affection.

There were times I attempted to pick up cats myself.

“Okay, so ÔǪ is this how you do it? You put a hand underneath here first, and ÔǪ wait wait. Where does the cat go? Over this arm, or here, over the shoulder, like this? Either? Okay. Yes — right — okay, we’re set. And yes, I’m supporting his back legs, that’s crucial.”

But even when I got it to work, it never felt right, if you know what I mean. After a while, the cats didn’t protest, but neither did they purr or seem relaxed.

Time out for some partial explanations:

1. The cats didn’t want to

I’ve lived with cats (or had friends with cats) who don’t like to be picked up and held. End of story. Baxter is one such cat. His “expert” would occasionally pick him up because she couldn’t resist, but then she would immediately start counting to 10, because that’s about all he would tolerate. At the 10-second mark, it was time to ease him back on the floor or be subject to furious claws.

2. I didn’t want to

Some cats (I won’t name names) I didn’t want to pick up. One of them weighed 19 pounds. Another was a long-haired breed who shed half her body weight in fur every hour. (That’s a slight exaggeration.) Some cats were half my size, and I had no need to pick them up. (I was 6 years old.)

But then there was Tiger Lily. This little black-and-white “cow cat” who Daphne and I found living underneath the apartment building where we lived was more my cat than any I’d had since I was a kid. But I never picked her up. She seemed so little, so fragile, and so happy on the floor, bed, chair, counter, or table.

Then came Thomas, the cat who I consider my friend, and who I wrote a love letter on Valentine’s Day. A couple of months after we met, I wanted to pick him up.

I tried. Multiple times. But, for better or worse, it was like what I described above — not wrong, but not quite right either. Did he not trust me? Was I missing some intangible thing?

Then one night it happened: I saw Thomas on the floor of our kitchen, and I was overcome with love. Just like that, I swooped down and put him on my shoulder.

Purr. Purr. Purr.

I petted him. I walked over to Daphne, and she petted him.

Purr. Purr. Purr.

He was happy, confident, did the little “I love you” slow blink.

Purr. Purr. Purr.

I’d mastered it! Finally! And I didn’t even really know how or why. Then I thought about it. I’d had practice picking him up, and I’d covered the basics of approaching him when he was ready, picking him up carefully, and then supporting him when he was in my arms. What I’d been missing was the intangible of confidence. And that confidence came from love. Only at the moment when I knew nothing could stand in the way of me picking up my kitty and giving him love, that’s when he felt safe and confident in my grasp.

So let’s revisit: Which of the following statements is true?

Picking up and holding a cat is an extremely tricky procedure that takes great skill and precision.

Picking up and holding a cat is the easiest thing in the world.

Both are true. Thing is, now I know you need the a confident loving hand for the first to seem like the second.

What’s your experience picking up cats? Have some loved it? Have some hated it? Did you “turn a corner” where you were able to confidently hold your cat? Or does the skill elude you still? Tell me in the comments.

Hand in hand is the only way to land, says the Cat Dandy:

About Keith Bowers: This broad-shouldered, bald-headed, leather-clad motorcyclist also has passions for sharp clothing, silver accessories, great writing, the arts, and cats. This career journalist loves painting, sculpting, photographing, and getting on stage. He once was called “a high-powered mutant,” which also describes his cat, Thomas. He is associate editor at Catster and Dogster.

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