How To Pick Up a Cat (And Not Hurt Yourself)

Many cat parents enjoy picking up their cats to cuddle, but is there a correct way to do it?

While many cats enjoy being picked up and held, others are still skeptical and skittish of the practice. This is sometimes due to the temperament of different cat breeds and sometimes due to not being properly socialized as kittens. Some cats will never grow to appreciate being held, but it is still important to learn how to correctly pick a cat up comfortably (even wild cats) and especially in emergency situations.

Observe Body Language

Watch for the appropriate cat behavior first; if they are shying away from you with a low tail and flat ears, they are not receptive to being picked up. If the cat isn't familiar with you, allow them to sniff your fingers first. Then look for signs your feline friend is ready to cuddle, such as purring, rubbing against your legs, or licking your fingers. Try petting them first to see if they are receptive to being touched or held. Do not make any sudden movements and observe the cat's body language before continuing.

How to Pick Up a Cat The Right Way

In a popular YouTube tutorial, Dr. Burstyn explains the correct way to pick up a cat: Place one hand behind the cat's front legs and rest their chest on that arm. Gently scoop up their back legs with the other hand and lift the cat evenly with both hands. Quickly bring them to your chest for additional support. Do not pick the cat up by wrapping your hands around their ribs and lifting under their front legs. This is the wrong way and will put all of the cat's weight on their shoulders, and is not comfortable or safe for the cat.

Holding a Cat Correctly

Typically, cats like to feel stable and snuggle close when they are being held. If this is the case, bring the back of the cat towards your chest and tuck its rear end between your arm and your body, but do not squish them. If the cat prefers to be slightly away from your body, make sure that they are being supported by their chest and belly. Some cats will want to have something to put their front paws on, or they may like to let them hang. You can experiment with several different positions until you find something that the cat feels comfortable in. You will know if they start to purr or rub against you that they are comfortable. Put them down immediately if they start to squirm or meow unhappily.

Should You Scruff a Cat?

Scruffing a cat involves lifting and suspending a cat by their scruff (the skin on the back of their neck). It's often unnecessary and potentially painful. In the past, vets were under the assumption that scruffing adult cats would trigger the same response as when kitten go limp when they are scruffed and carried by their mothers. However, according to, "this 'flexor reflex' occurs only in very young kittens, and some behaviorists now say gripping the skin in 'mother cat fashion' causes stress and can make the cat more fearful." Therefore, scruffing should only be used in emergency situations.

Picking Up a Cat in an Emergency

Sometimes it is necessary for cat owners to pick up a cat that is not comfortable being held. This is typically in an emergency or potentially dangerous situation. To prevent cat bites and scratches, pick them up as quickly and safety as possible by placing your hand behind their front paws, scooping them up by their hind legs, and letting their chest rest on the hand behind their front legs. Set them down immediately in a safe place.

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