Q: My cat Bubbles hates it when I pick her up. At all other times she’s wonderful, but when I pick her up she bites and scratches and growls. Maybe I’m not picking her up right. What’s the best way to pick up a cat?
A: Many friendly and well-socialized cats do not enjoy being picked up and held. Many reasons for this exist. The way the cat is approached before being picked up and how she is held often contributes to a cat having an unpleasant association with the experience. Cats need to be approached in a way that doesn’t surprise or scare them and they also need to feel safe while being held.
Don’t startle Bubbles when you first approach her. Before picking her up, formally greet your cat by extending your finger towards her. Bubbles will probably make the first overture by touching your finger with her nose. After her initial greeting, she will continue to greet you by turning her head until her cheek rubs your finger. Most cats will welcome your gently petting their cheek, neck and head.
The next step is to pick her up in a way that will support her body and help her feel safe and secure. Place one hand under her front legs and position your other hand so that it supports her back legs and hind quarters. You can position her so that her hind quarters are supported by the crook of your arm. It is important that Bubble’s legs do not dangle.
When picking up Bubbles, take your time and don’t move too fast. Once you have her in your arms, hold her securely and close to your body. Don’t hold Bubbles against her wishes. Allowing her to feel she has some control over the situation will help her feel a little more secure about being picked up in the future. When releasing her from your hold, don’t let her drop. Instead place her gently down in a safe area.
Different approaches that keep both cats and people safe are used when working with unsocialized or frightened cats.