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How to Pick Up a Cat: Vet Approved Step-by-Step Guide, Handling Tips & FAQs

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By Nicole Cosgrove

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Vet approved

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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Luqman Javed

DVM (Veterinarian)

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

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There are some cats that beg to be picked up every time they see you, and others that refuse to be held no matter what. If you’re lucky enough to have the former, it’s important to know how to pick them up in a way that is comfortable and safe for the cat. To help you do this, we have created 11 steps for you to follow when picking up your cat.

The Steps for Picking Up a Cat

  • Gently approach the cat from the side or front so that they don’t feel threatened.
  • Speak in a calm, soothing voice and make sure the cat can see you.
  • Gently stroke the top of your cat’s head or body to help them become more relaxed.
  • Place one hand under their chest, just behind their front legs, and use your other hand to support their hindquarters.
  • Make sure you keep the cat close to your body as you pick it up, and hold them securely, but not too tightly.
  • Hold their rear end in one hand and their front legs in the other so that they are facing away from you. This will help keep them secure while being picked up.
  • Once they are securely in your arms, move slowly to help them adjust to the motion.
  • If your cat is feeling particularly anxious or nervous, you can talk soothingly or gently scratch their head to calm them down.
  • Keep the cat close to your body as you carry them and be sure to support their hindquarters with your arm or hand.
  • Place the cat down gently and in a familiar spot so that they feel safe and secure.
  • Offer your cat treats or praise for being gentle during the process and provide them with extra love and attention after the pick-up is complete.
cat owner talking to his pet
Image Credit: Aziz Acharki, Unsplash

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.

Image Credit: Nataliabiruk, Shutterstock

Tips for Holding Your Cat Successfully

While picking your cat up or holding them, there are some things to keep in mind and things to avoid to keep your cat comfortable.

  • Always pick up your cat with two hands for stability and support.
  • Never carry your cat by the scruff of their neck as this can cause them pain.
  • Avoid jerking or sudden movements as it can frighten your cat.
  • Take extra care when picking up cats that are elderly, ill, or recovering from an injury, as they may be more sensitive.
  • If your cat starts to squirm and become agitated, let them down gently and try again later.
woman holding cute kitten
Image Credit: Nattakorn_Maneerat, Shutterstock

Signs Your Cat Doesn’t Want to Be Held

Remember that not all cats like to be held, as much as you want to pick them up. That being said, even cats that are used to being held may not want to be held every time you want to hold them. There are some signs that indicate that a cat doesn’t want to be held, including:

  • Hissing or growling
  • Flattening of the ears against their head
  • Twitching their tail rapidly
  • Running away from you when you approach
  • Constantly trying to jump out of your arms

Trying to hold your cat when they don’t want you to can lead to aggression and scratches, and may cause your cat to become fearful or distrusting of you if you’re trying to force them to be held.

owner petting a hissing angry tabby cat
Image Credit: Anna Kraynova, Shutterstock

Signs Your Cat Is Content Being Held

On the other hand, there are some cats that love being held or that, at the very least, don’t mind you picking them up. If your cat is happy with you holding them, they might:

  • Purr or meow softly
  • Blink their eyes slowly
  • Softly knead your body with their paws
  • Curl up in your arms and take a nap
  • Rub their face against yours
orange cat sleeping in owner's lap
Image Credit: Piqsels

FAQs About Holding a Cat

Q: Is it okay to pick up a cat by their scruff?

A: No, it is not recommended that you pick up your cat by the scruff as this can be painful and cause them distress.

Q: How tight should I hold my cat when picking them up?

A: You should hold your cat securely but loosely enough so that they can wiggle if needed. Make sure you keep one hand under their chest for extra support.

Q: What should I do if my cat becomes agitated while being held?

A: If your cat starts to become agitated or anxious, it is best to put them down gently and try again later. You can also try speaking softly to them or gently scratching their head to help calm them down.

Q: How often should I pick up my cat?

A: If your cat is okay with being held, it’s important to pick up your cat regularly so that they become familiar with being held and handled. However, it’s best to let them choose when they want to be picked up by approaching you or sitting in a comfortable spot. And remember that some cats may not like being held, and that’s okay. Don’t try to force it.

cat snuggling with owner, scottish fold
Image Credit: cottonbro, Pexels

Q: What is the best way to hold a kitten?

A: The best way to hold a kitten is by cradling them gently against your chest in one hand while supporting their hind legs and bottom with your other hand. Make sure you keep them close to your body for extra comfort and security.

Q: Is it okay to pick my cat up off the ground?

A: Yes, it is usually okay to pick up cats off the ground, especially those that are used to being handled. However, cats with injuries or illnesses should be handled gently and extra care should be taken when lifting them off the floor.

Q: How long can I hold my cat for?

A: It’s best to keep the holding time short so as not to overwhelm your cat. They may start to squirm after a few minutes, and it is important to let them down gently if they become agitated.

Q: Is it okay to hold my cat upside down?

A: No, it is not recommended that you hold your cat in an inverted position as this can be uncomfortable and even dangerous. It is best to keep both hands supporting the cat’s chest and bottom when picking them up.

Q: How can I get my cat used to being picked up?

A: The best way to get a cat used to being picked up is through positive reinforcement such as providing treats and praise. It is also important to start with short holding times before gradually increasing the duration.

maine coon cat having treat
Image Credit: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock

Q: Is it okay if I carry my cat around the house?

A: Yes, it is usually fine to carry your cat around the house as long as your cat is comfortable. Pay attention to their body language, though, and put them down if they start to become agitated. It’s also important to keep them away from stairs and other potential hazards when carrying them.

Q: What should I do if my cat won’t let me pick them up?

A: If your cat does not want to be picked up, it’s important to respect their wishes. You can try to make the process more enjoyable by giving them treats or playing with them before and after picking them up. It is also important to be gentle and patient when handling cats that are scared of being held.

Q: Is it okay for small children to hold cats?

A: Yes, it is usually okay for small children to hold cats as long as they are supervised by an adult and instructed on how to do so properly. It is important to ensure that the child understands the cat’s comfort levels and respects their boundaries. Additionally, it is important for children to use gentle hands when picking up a cat.

Persian cat cuddling owner
Image Credit: ANURAK PONGPATIMET, Shutterstock


If you follow the steps and the advice in this article, you should be able to pick up your cat safely and securely. Remember to always be gentle, talk softly, and move slowly so that your cat feels safe and secure in your arms. Happy cuddling!

Featured Image Credit: Pressmaster, Shutterstock

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