Picking Up a Cat That Doesn’t Enjoy Being Held

Most people want a cat they can pick up, be it to show affection, administer medication or to groom.

Unfortunately, some felines most certainly do not appreciate being picked up or held at the whim of their cooing owners.

There are a lot of reasons for this which we’ll go into later on.

But let’s begin our latest treatise by looking at how to approach this potentially delicate task.

So how do you pick up a ‘difficult’ cat?

How to Pick Up a Cat That Doesn’t Want to Be Picked Up

Picking up a cat that doesn’t want to be picked up or held requires you to observe the cat’s body language, approach with care and to use the correct lifting technique. In some cases, a pair of gardening gloves may be required as well as a welder’s mask (kidding).

  • Observe Your Cat’s Body Language
  • Approach Slowly and Calmly
  • Gently Interact
  • Use the Correct Lifting Technique

Observe Your Cat’s Body Language

Before making your move, look out for negative body language. Understanding tail communication and feline warning signs is very important here.

A thrashing, swishing or thumping tail often indicates frustration. If the tail is puffed up, back-off – your cat likely feels threatened.

Also look out for flattened ears – this is often a sign of anxiety.

Should your cat exhibit any of these signals, you’ll probably want to find something else with which to occupy your time.

Otherwise, an attempted lift may result in a visit to the local ER. Cats have pretty sharp claws!

Approach Slowly and Calmly

If you’re satisfied that your cat is receptive to your advances, approach in a calm and measured way.

Don’t approach from behind though. This may cause alarm, resulting in him either taking flight or scramming you.

Instead, let the cat see that you’re coming. Perhaps accompany your approach with some reassuring sounds.

Gently Interact

Once you’ve settled next to the cat, gently pet him so that he feels reassured and safe.

Stroking alongside the mouth and rub under the chin. Most felines also enjoy being stroked along their back too.

If you’re training a cat to be held, pet him with one or two strokes in one sitting, then move away.

Gradually work up to slower strokes so that your cat feels more comfortable with longer contact.

Use the Correct Lifting Technique

Always use two hands when picking up a cat. Never pick a cat up with one hand.

His weight wont’ be evenly distributed and the process may be uncomfortable for him.

The correct technique is to put one hand on the chest, just behind the front legs.

Use the other hand to cradle the hindquarters and hind legs.

Then bring your cat close in to you so that he’s able to lean on your chest and his front paws can rest on your forearm.

This allows the cat to feel unrestricted and supported.

Video – How to Pick Up a Cat Like a Pro

How to Hold a Cat Properly

One of the best ways to hold a cat is to brace the cat’s hind end against your side with one arm.

This leaves the rear legs free underneath your forearm and against your hip.

The hand of the bracing arm is then placed under the chest grasping the forelegs.

Your other hand comes over the top of your cat’s head enabling you to pet him or provide gentle restraint.

Lots of vets employ this technique because it helps to ensure that the cat won’t jump out of your arms.

With that said, if your cat wants out let him go and don’t restrain him!

Letting Your Cat Down Properly

After a holding session, slowly and gently lower your cat to the floor.

Don’t let him jump out of your arms though.  Otherwise, he’ll eventually assume this is the only way to escape your clutches.

Avoid keeping hold of your cat, if he starts pushing with his legs or vocalizing his displeasure.

Instead, let him down slowly. The key is here is to put him down before he starts struggling.

Keep hold of him too long and there’s a danger that he’ll associate being held with confinement.

How Not to Hold a Cat

The key to holding a cat properly is to make him feel secure.

So don’t let the hind legs dangle and most definitely don’t hold the cat with one arm.

In addition, don’t hold your cat like a baby. This is an unnatural position for a feline that will make him feel restricted and trapped.

Why Do Some Cats Dislike Being Picked Up?

Some cats dislike being picked up for a variety of reasons. These include a lack of socialization, trauma and breed type.

  • Lack of Socialization
  • Lack of Control or Stability
  • Trauma
  • Negative Previous Experience of Being Held
  • Type of Breed

If your cat isn’t the demonstrative type, don’t take it personally! Instead, try to understand why. It’ll save you heartache and frustration

You might also be able to actually change the behavior, although there’s no guarantee that socialization methods will work.

Lack of Socialization

Lack of socialization is the most common reason why cats dislike or refuse to be picked up.

Socialization activities such as play and petting are very important during kitten-hood, helping young felines to get used to human contact.

Unfortunately, cats that haven’t had much or any human contact tend to be scared and distrustful of human beings and sometimes outright hostile.

Lack of Control or Stability

Cats like to be in control of their environment. Unfortunately, the act of picking one up can take a way this sense of control.

Physical stability is also important to cats with pretty much all felines preferring to have four paws on the ground.

In this respect, then it’s quite easy to see why a lot of cats don’t want to be grabbed by their bumbling owners.


If you’ve adopted an adult cat and he doesn’t like being picked up or held, it could be because of trauma.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the previous owners were unkind.

An extended period being confined to a shelter is often enough to make a cat feel withdrawn and mistrustful.

It’s absolutely essential in such cases to show patience. You’ll need to build trust with your cat before trying to pick him up.

Negative Previous Experience of Being Held

It may be that your cat had a negative experience of being held in the past.

Maybe he was dropped or forcibly restrained. Should this be the case, you’ll need to gain his trust first.

Type of Breed

Some breeds just aren’t affectionate. So if you own an American Wirehair, a Persian or Siberian, don’t expect him to come leaping into your arms every time you enter the room!

Here’s a list of the least affectionate cat breeds.

Why Does My Cat Freak Out When I Pick Him Up?

Should you try to pick your cat up only for him to struggle violently and/or cry out, he may be experiencing pain due to illness or injury.

Ailments such as infections, arthritis, abscesses and broken bones are obviously going to be very uncomfortable.

So it stands to reason that a cat enduring any of these is going to want be left in peace.

Contact your vet if your cat reacts in this way when you try to pick him up.

Final Thoughts

As we’ve seen, there are many reasons why some cats don’t like being picked up or held.

Past experience and a lack of socialization can play a part, as can the nature of certain breeds.

But there are many circumstances in which it’s perfectly feasible to train a reluctant cat to at least endure being picked up and cuddled.

Just be sure that the reason for your cat’s disdain for being picked up and cuddled is not because of injury, illness or infection.

Video – Teach Your Cat to Enjoy Being Picked Up

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