Our cats aren’t all that big on being picked up. They’ll come over for petting and sometimes even play at being lap cats, but it has to be when they want it.
My cat Phoenix was an exception. He gloried in being picked up and carried around. He’d stand up on his hind legs, put his front paws on my chest and gaze into my eyes until I picked him up and draped him over my shoulder.
The Best Pickup Moves
Most cats like to take their time about getting up close and personal. “You have to let them come to you,” my mom used to say about children, and the same is true for cats.
“Touch is one of the most powerful tools you have to prolong the health and well-being of your cat,” according to Cat Be Good. “Your hands can heal, soothe, teach trust and stimulate appetite. But if you try to handle a cat at the wrong time or in the wrong way, you could get hurt.”
A few things to keep in mind:
1. Go slowly.
Don’t try to pick the cat up right away. Let him become familiar with you and your scent first. Hold out your fingers for him to sniff. Wait for him to roll onto his back and present his belly for stroking.
2. Hold on loosely, but don’t let go.
A cat needs to feel that she’s being held securely with your hands firmly supporting both her upper body and hind quarters. It’s a fine line between “firmly supporting” and “holding hostage.”
When Phoebe first came to us, she was a really friendly stray. Still, she had mixed feelings about being held. So, when I picked her up, I cradled her in my arms but didn’t hold her as closely as I would a baby.
3. I can get down any time I want to.
If you feel your cat getting squirmy, ease her down onto the floor. Knowing that she can get down whenever she wants to will make her more likely to let you pick her up again.
Handle With Care
The earlier you begin handling your kitten, the better. Pick him up, gently play with his paws and clip his nails. Check the ears and mouth. Doing all these things will make it easier when you have to medicate or even — brace yourself — bathe him later. More important, it will go a long way toward socializing him.
What if you’ve adopted an older cat or one who has lost socialization through abuse or neglect?
When Merlin the Bombay came here as a foster, he was 9, and nobody had held him in a long time. After a while, he let me pet him.
One evening, I gently picked him up and held him on my lap. He kind of liked it, but I didn’t want to push it. So, after a few moments, I put him back down on his fleecy bed. I repeated this a few more times.
Merlin lives in Seattle now with Lori. Last I heard, he couldn’t get enough petting and is “purring, rubbing [and] kneading.” My guess is he’ll be making the transition to lap cat soon.
“Scruffing” Isn’t Great for Older Cats
We see mom cats pick their kittens up by the scruffs of their necks all the time. But the writers at Cat World warn us against doing this with any “cat over a few months of age…. A fully grown cat can range in weight from 4 kg to 8 kg, and picking up by the scruff of the neck without providing adequate support is going to place enormous strain on the spine and muscles.”
This adorable cat makes it pretty easy for his human to pick him up:
It’s OK to scruff a cat if you need to restrain and/or medicate him. But in these cases, you simply hold on to his scruff while he is on the examination table at the veterinarian. Scruffing in and of itself “doesn’t hurt your cat but it does help to immobilize him.”
Cats Have Individual Preferences
“Some felines have unique — and unusual — preferences,” sayss writer Mikkel Becker. “My family had Siamese cats who were instantly calmed when cradled on their backs like infants.”
Phoenix, my shoulder rider, is long gone. But another cat recently joined the household. Titan likes being picked up, too. But he prefers sitting on my lap in an upright position, looking like some friendly, furry toddler.