How to Pick Up a Cat Safely & More Cat Handling Tips

18 Minute Read
Updated February 22, 2024

Are you a proud new cat parent? Picking up your furry friend may seem like a simple task, but there are certain dos and don'ts that every cat owner should be aware of to keep their feline friend happy and comfortable.

In this guide, we'll share valuable tips on how to properly pick up a cat and avoid any potential mishaps or injuries. Whether you're a novice or an experienced cat owner, approaching and picking up your cat safely will help you build a positive and trusting relationship with your kitty.

From understanding your cat's body language to creating a calm environment, we'll cover all the essentials to ensure a stress-free experience for both you and your furry companion. So, if you're ready to become a pro at picking up your cat, keep reading for our top dos and don'ts to create lasting bonds with your kitty.


Why is it Important to Handle a Cat Properly?

How you approach and interact with your cat can have a significant impact on how they act towards you. Many cats are independent creatures and may only want physical affection from you on their terms. 

Properly handling a cat is essential for their well-being and the overall quality of your relationship with them. If a cat feels uncomfortable or scared during the picking-up process, it can lead to a breakdown of trust between you and your feline companion.

Handling a cat properly also reduces the risk of injury. Cats have delicate bodies, and improper handling can lead to accidents or physical discomfort. By learning the correct techniques and understanding a cat's body language, you can minimize the chances of any mishaps occurring and keep your cat safe and happy.

Lastly, proper handling sets a positive example for others who may interact with your cat. Whether it's children, friends, or family members, teaching them the dos and don'ts of picking up a cat ensures that everyone understands how to approach your cat and when appropriate, how to pick up a cat in a way that respects their boundaries.

You should not approach a cat that is actively trying to get away from you, hissing or growling, or approach someone else's cat without consent. That neighbourhood cat may look irresistibly cute, but you have no way of knowing if that cat is aggressive or just wants to be left alone.


How to Build Trust with a New or Nervous Cat

Building trust with your cat is the foundation for successful handling. They need to feel safe in your presence and their environment before you can approach them, let alone pick them up. 

Pushing your pet for affection too quickly can break trust and prompt fearful reactions that can get both you and your cat hurt. 

Whether you are bringing home a new cat, trying to form a bond with an older cat, or teaching safe introductions with friends and family, getting your cat to trust you and feel safe is the best place to start.

Here are some tips to help you gain your cat's trust before attempting to pick them up:

  1. Create a safe space: Provide your cat with a dedicated safe space where they can retreat and feel secure. This can be a cozy cat bed, a hiding spot, or a quiet room with their favourite toys. Having a safe space allows your cat to relax and build confidence, which will make them more receptive to being picked up.
  2. Establish a routine: Cats thrive on routine, and predictable patterns help them feel secure. Establish a consistent schedule for feeding, playtime, and social interaction. By sticking to a routine, your cat will learn to trust that their needs will be met, reducing anxiety and fear.
  3. Use positive reinforcement: Reward your cat with tasty treats, praise, or affection when they display calm and relaxed behaviour. Positive reinforcement helps create a positive association with you and your interactions, making it easier for your cat to trust and feel comfortable around you.
  4. Avoid punishment: Cats do not respond well to punishment. Avoid yelling, hitting, or any form of physical or verbal aggression. Punishment only damages the bond between you and your cat, leading to fear and mistrust.
  5. Allow your cat to approach you: Instead of constantly approaching your cat, allow them to come to you. This empowers your cat and allows them to control the level of interaction, helping them feel more secure in your presence.

Building trust takes time and patience, but the effort is worth it for a strong and loving relationship with your cat.


How to Approach a Cat


Before you even think about picking them up, consider how the way you approach them can affect their enthusiasm for pets and cuddles. Approaching a cat requires a gentle and cautious approach to ensure the cat feels safe and secure. 

Start by slowly extending your hand toward the cat, allowing them to sniff and inspect you. Avoid sudden movements or loud noises that could startle the cat. 

Approaching a cat correctly is crucial for setting a positive tone for the picking-up process. Here's 5 steps for how to approach a cat without scaring it:

  1. Approach slowly and calmly: Cats are cautious by nature, so approach your cat slowly and calmly. Avoid sudden movements or loud noises that could spook them. Give them time to observe and sniff you before attempting any physical contact.
  2. Get down to their level: Crouch down to your cat's level to make yourself less intimidating. This helps your cat feel more comfortable and in control during the interaction.
  3. Extend a hand for sniffing: Offer your hand, palm down, for your cat to sniff. This allows them to become familiar with your scent and gauge your intentions. Avoid reaching towards your cat's face or making sudden movements during this process.
  4. Observe their reaction: Pay attention to your cat's body language and vocalizations during the approach. If they show signs of fear or discomfort, back off and give them more time to warm up to you. Respect their boundaries and let them decide when they are ready for physical contact.
  5. Reward: Even baby steps should be celebrated, so if you are working on helping your cat get comfortable sharing a close space with you, then a tasty treat is a great way to encourage good behaviours and help your cat build confidence.

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Taking Hints from Cat Body Language

Take note of their body language too. Cats who are showing signs of fear, anxiety, or aggression should not be approached if it's not necessary. Even cats who typically don't mind human contact, may sometimes just want to be left alone.

Being able to recognize common cat body language can help you learn when it's ok to approach, and when it's a good idea to back away. Here are a few visual cues that your cat needs some space:

    • Ears low and flat against the head is a sign of anxiety or stress.
    • An upright and rigid tail could indicate your cat is scared.
    • Crouching or leaning away from you can also tell you that your cat is feeling nervous.

Learn more about Reading Cat Body Language to help keep both your and your feline friend safe.


If your cat is new to you, or if you are introducing them to new people, it's important to know how to gain their trust and make them feel comfortable before you try to approach them.

By approaching your cat with respect and patience, you lay the foundation for a positive interaction and a smoother picking-up experience.

It's important to take your time and let the cat come to you whenever possible. Rubbing against your leg or jumping on your lap are typically green lights for being able to move on to the next step: Petting a Cat.


How to Pet a Cat


The next step in building a strong relationship with your cat is learning how to pet cats correctly. It's not just about how you pet a cat, but where and when too. 

Many cats are open to a gentle pat on the head or a soft swipe down their back, but if you touch the wrong area or pet them for too long, your cat might show you some attitude.

Common no-go zones for cats are the tummy and the tail. Unwanted petting in these areas could get you a quick slice with a claw and might even make your cat uncomfortable with physical interaction going forward.

Tips for Petting a Cat

Every cat has their own level of comfort with human interaction, and it will take time to learn your cat's unique preferences, but there are a few universal rules for petting a cat that can help any new cat parents, kids, and guests get off on the right paw.

Slow and Gentle Movements

No matter where on their body they allow you to pet them, keep your hand movements slow and soft. More enthusiastic petting can be shocking to the cat or could trigger them to "rough play" which is not desirable for new interactions, especially with kids.

Short Session to Start

Even if your cat is enjoying being petted, the physical stimulation can become overwhelming if it goes on for too long. Start by petting them for a few seconds at a time, stopping immediately if they try to move away from your hand.

Don't Hold Them

Trapping the cat, holding them in place, or making them feel like they are stuck in any way is a recipe for a bad experience for both you and the cat. Petting should always be open-handed and in a way that your cat can calmly walk away when they have had enough.


Do Cats Like Being Pet and Other Common Questions


Even with the tips in place, you might still have some questions about petting a cat. We put together a list of the most common questions that new cat owners have about petting cats to help you do it the right way.

Do Cats Like Being Pet?

Many cats enjoy being petted, but it depends on the individual cat and their preferences. Some cats may prefer not to be touched or have specific areas they do not like being petted, like the tummy or tail.

Where Do Cats Like Being Pet?

Cats generally enjoy being petted on the head, chin, and neck. Some cats also like being stroked along the back, especially near the base of the tail. Every cat is different though, so you'll have to take your time and learn your cat's preferences.

How Can I Tell If My Cat Likes Being Petted?

Pay attention to their body language and responses to determine their preferences and comfort level. Sometimes cats will show their preferred spot for petting, by turning their body into your hand. If your cat shows relaxed body language, purs, and doesn't try to escape, then chances are your cat likes some physical affection from you.

What About the Best Way to Pet a Cat?

Pet the cat gently with an open hand and in the direction of their fur. Avoid petting too roughly or pulling on their fur. Let the cat guide you by responding to their body language.

Do Cats Like Belly Rubs?

Some cats enjoy belly rubs, but not all do. It's important to let the cat show you if they enjoy it or not. If a cat exposes their belly, it can be a sign of trust, but it doesn't always mean they want a belly rub.

Why Don't Cats Like Belly Rubs?

Belly rubs can be overstimulating for some cats, as it exposes their vulnerable belly. Cats may also interpret belly rubs as a form of aggression, especially if they are not used to being touched in that way.

Why Don't Cats Like Their Paws Touched?

Cats are sensitive about their paws because they use them for balance, grooming, and defence. Some cats may not like their paws touched due to these reasons.

Why Does My Cat Show Me Their Belly and Then Bite Me When I Pet It?

Showing you their belly is often a sign of trust in cats, but doesn't necessarily translate to an invitation. While some cats are perfectly comfortable with belly rubs, others have a look but a no-touch policy that you should always respect.

How to Pet a Kitten?

Petting a kitten is similar to petting an adult cat, but kittens may be more energetic and playful. Use gentle and slow movements to avoid overstimulating them. If you don't respect your kitten's boundaries when it comes to where and when to pet them, they could develop some bad habits, like biting, that may be cute in kittens, but unpleasant and dangerous in adult cats.

Why Do Cats Like Being Pet Under the Chin?

Cats have scent glands under their chin, so when you pet them there, it can help spread their scent, which they find comforting. Plus, it's an area that's often hard for them to reach for grooming, so they appreciate the help.


How to Pick Up a Cat Safely


You know how to approach your cat and have spent time building trust and getting them comfortable with physical contact, so now it's time to learn how to properly pick up a cat.

Picking up a cat requires care and understanding of their preferences, and considering other factors that may affect their physical comfort and even their breed.

It's important to support their body with both hands to avoid holding them at awkward angles or squeezing them too hard. Much to our disappointment, cats don't like being held like babies. Instead, hold them upright so they can see their surroundings and never at a height too dangerous for them to jump from.

Understand their physical limitations too. Bigger cats and old cats may require a different type of hold to help protect their hips and joints. Fat cats may be more comfortable on your lap, rather than being held in the air. Typically if you pick up your cat and they try to escape, you are either holding them wrong, or they don't want to be held at all.

Lifting them the wrong way or forcing them to be held can lead to injury and could damage any trust that you've built with your cat. Learn the dos and don'ts of how to pick up a cat:

The Dos of Picking Up a Cat

To pick up a cat in a way that is comfortable and safe for both you and your furry friend, it's important to follow these dos:

DO create a calm environment: Cats are sensitive creatures, and they thrive in peaceful surroundings. Before attempting to pick up your cat, make sure you are in a quiet and calm space. Avoid sudden movements or loud noises that may startle your cat.

DO gain your cat's trust: Building trust with your cat is crucial for successful handling. Spend time bonding with your cat through gentle petting, playing, and offering treats. When your cat feels comfortable and trusts you, they will be more likely to allow you to pick them up without resistance.

DO approach your cat slowly: Cats prefer slow and deliberate movements. Approach your cat with caution, allowing them to see and smell you before attempting to pick them up. This gradual approach helps your cat feel more at ease and reduces the chances of them becoming fearful or defensive.

DO support your cat's body: When picking up a cat, it's important to provide adequate support for their body. Place one hand under their chest, just behind their front legs, and use the other hand to support their hindquarters. This ensures that your cat feels secure and prevents any unnecessary strain on their body.

DO be gentle: Cats have delicate bones and muscles, so it's crucial to handle them with care. Avoid squeezing or applying too much pressure when picking up your cat. Instead, use a gentle but secure grip that supports their body while allowing them to feel comfortable and secure in your arms. Too loose of a grip they may try to jump from an unsafe height. 

DO reward your cat: Positive reinforcement goes a long way in building a trusting relationship with your cat. After successfully picking up your cat, offer them praise, treats, or a favourite toy to associate the experience with something positive. This helps create a positive association with being picked up, making future handling easier.

Remember, every cat is unique, and it may take time for them to become comfortable with being picked up. Be patient, observe your cat's reactions, and adjust your approach accordingly.

The Don'ts of Picking Up a Cat

While there are several dos to keep in mind, it's equally important to be aware of the don'ts when it comes to picking up a cat. Avoiding these common mistakes will help prevent stress and discomfort for your furry friend:

DON'T force your cat: Never force your cat to be picked up if they are showing signs of resistance or fear. Forcing them can cause them to become anxious or aggressive, damaging the trust you've worked hard to build. Instead, give your cat space and time to come to you on their terms. If they allow you to hold them, be prepared to safely let them down when they've had enough. Holding them against their will can lead to anxiety and aggression.

DON'T pick up a cat by their scruff: Contrary to popular belief, picking up a cat by their scruff is not recommended. This method is only suitable for very young kittens and should never be done with adult cats. It can cause pain and discomfort, potentially leading to injury or a negative reaction from your cat. 

DON'T surprise your cat: Cats prefer predictability and routine. Surprising them by suddenly swooping in to pick them up can startle and scare them. Instead, give your cat a gentle warning by speaking softly or tapping the surface next to them before attempting to lift them.

DON'T pick up a cat when they are eating or sleeping: Cats value their personal space, especially during meal times and sleep. Avoid picking up your cat when they are in the middle of eating or resting, as this can cause them to feel vulnerable and defensive.

DON'T handle a cat roughly: Cats are delicate creatures, and rough handling can lead to physical discomfort and injury. Avoid pulling or tugging on your cat's limbs, tail, or ears. Don't throw them in the air or hold them above your head. Absolutely no spider-catting. Treat them with the same gentleness and respect you would expect in return.

DON'T ignore a cat's body language: Cats communicate through body language, and it's essential to pay attention to their signals. If your cat is exhibiting signs of fear, such as flattened ears, dilated pupils, or a swishing tail, it's best to give them space and try again later. Ignoring these signals can result in a negative experience for both you and your cat.

By avoiding these don'ts and focusing on the dos, you can create a positive and stress-free environment for picking up your cat.

Picking up a cat may seem like a simple task, but it requires understanding and respecting their unique needs and preferences. By following the dos and don'ts outlined in this guide, you can establish a trusting and loving relationship with your feline friend.

Remember to observe their body language, create a calm environment, and always prioritize their comfort and well-being. With patience and practice, you'll become a pro at picking up your cat and enjoying precious moments together. Happy picking!

Kids and Cats

Kids love cats, but the feeling is often not mutual. This is because young children don't have the ability to read your cat's body language and look for cues that your cat is getting upset. Children under 2 also don't have the best understanding of gentle touching and have a tendency to just grab and pull. 

For these reasons, it's not uncommon for cats to run away or avoid kids. All it takes is one bad experience to sew the seeds of distrust. If you don't take the time to properly teach your kids how to interact with your cat in a way that's safe for both of them, then you are almost surely going to have an unhappy cat. 

Here are a few things to teach your children about approaching your cat:

    • Always be gentle and don't grab or pull. Babies won't get this memo, so it's vital that you closely monitor all interactions.
    • Never chase the cat. If the cat wants to walk away, let them.
    • Don't pick up the cat without adult supervision. This is for the safety of both the child and the cat.

Don't assume all kids know these rules. When your friends or family bring their children over for a visit, it's important to go over the rules, monitor all interactions with the cat, or give your cat a safe and quiet room to stay in until your company leaves.

Cats and kids can be unpredictable, so it's always better to be proactive to help keep everyone safe.


Frequently Asked Questions About Picking Up Cats


Why Does My Cat Meow When I Pick Her Up?

Some cats may meow when picked up as a form of communication. They might be expressing discomfort, fear, or simply seeking attention. It's essential to pay attention to their body language and vocalizations to understand their needs better.

Can You Pick Up a Cat by the Scruff?

Don't. Adult cats are too heavy to be lifted by their scruff safely. Scruffing a cat should only be done to restrain them when necessary, but never off the ground. Lifting a cat by the scruff is not only painful but could make your cat fearful of you.

How To Pick Up a Cat That Bites?

If you need to pick up a cat that bites, it's crucial to approach with caution. Use a towel or blanket to gently cover the cat, then lift them while ensuring their head is secured to prevent biting.

How Do I Pick Up a Cat That Doesn't Want to be Picked Up?

If it's not necessary to pick up the cat, then don't. If you must pick them up, stay calm and move slowly. If the cat shows signs of aggression, use a towel to cover the cat and keep both you and the cat safe. Treats can be used to help them stay calm during the experience and help to minimize some of their fear.

Do Cats like Kisses?

Nope. It's very unlikely that your cat likes to be kissed by you, but cats with a strong bond with their owners will happily tolerate the occasional (or daily) kisses if it means they get some attention and cuddles. Don't force it though. If your cat chooses violence, your face will be the first target.

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Written by

Krystn Janisse

Krystn is a passionate pet nutrition enthusiast. She has worked in the pet industry for over a decade and loves to share her passion for animal welfare with others. She is currently working for one very rebellious cat, Jack, and hanging out with a goofy but loveable doggo named Roxy.


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