How to Pick Up and Hold a Cat

How to get all the snuggles and none of the scratches.

If your cat doesn't like how she's being held, she'll let you know. (Photo: Stacey Newman/Shutterstock).

You’ve likely seen cats handled a variety of ways: lifted by the scruff of their necks, cradled like infants, grabbed around the middle by excited children.

And while every feline has different preferences on how it likes to be touched and held (believe it or not, some cats even like belly rubs), there's a right way to pick up a cat, according to the ASPCA.

How to Pick up a Cat

girl snuggling cat

First, keep in mind that not all cats like to be held, and even those that do enjoy a good snuggle may not want to be picked up all the time.

Before attempting to hold a cat, check out its body language. A kitty with a low tail and flattened ears isn’t asking to be cuddled.

Approach the cat slowly and let it sniff you so it can get used to your smell and presence.

If the cat seems receptive to being held, use one hand to grip the feline behind its front legs, resting the animal’s chest on that arm. With your other hand, gently scoop up the back legs, and lift with both hands, keeping the cat level. Then pull the cat in close so it touches your chest.

“The more points on a cat’s body that are touching your body, the more comfortable and relaxed your cat will be,” says Mikkel Becker, a cat training consultant.

Never pick up a cat by the scruff of the neck or by the front legs. Picking up a cat the wrong way can cause the animal discomfort or even injury.

Keep in mind that every cat is different so some may enjoy resting their paws on your shoulder (as pictured below) or being cradled on their back, but don’t try to force a feline into a position it’s not comfortable with. The kitty will likely make its discomfort known — and that will be uncomfortable for both of you.

You’ll know your kitty is happy when he relaxes or even purrs, so go ahead and keep hugging that cat. But when he gets agitated or starts squirming, let the animal down.

hugging a black cat
Cody Wellons

No Hugs Please

Just because you know how to properly handle a cat, doesn’t necessarily mean the kitty wants to be picked up and snuggled. Cats can become very anxious or frightened when they’re not in control and have a limited ability to escape, so don’t try to hold one against its will.

child cuddling unhappy cat

Some cats may feel unstable when they’re held, while others may associate being picked up with being taken to the vet.

Others may have been picked up — and dropped — by children in the past, so encourage kids to sit down and let the cat come to them instead of scooping up the cat.

It’s possible to help your kitty become more comfortable with being held by using rewards and positive reinforcement, but first make sure you understand what kind and how much affection your cat likes. There are right ways to pet a cat.

"Being held or stroked for too long can be very stressful for some cats," said Nicky Trevorrow, behavior manager at Cats Protection. "Space and peace is often what they need.

As your cat gets more comfortable being petted, practice picking him up for short periods of time and reinforcing good behavior with a treat or playtime.

However, working with cat to help him feel more comfortable being handled doesn’t necessarily mean the animal will ever enjoy being picked up.

Why Pets Matter to Treehugger

At Treehugger, we are advocates of animal welfare, including our pets and other domestic animals. The better we understand our cats, the better we can support their wellbeing. We hope our readers will adopt rescue pets instead of shopping from breeders or pet stores, and will also consider supporting local animal shelters.