It is rare to find a cat who enjoys being held. This is due to two factors. First, it is not natural. Wild cats spend their whole nine lives on their own four paws unless they are being carried by a predator. Since this usually means they are about to be eaten, cats religiously try to avoid being held. Second, the way in which many of us pick up and hold a cat causes them to feel insecure or even to experience pain.
With a bit of practice it’s easy to help even the most reticent cat feel more at ease when being held. Follow these steps and you’ll be on your way to kitty snuggles in no time.
When you pick your cat up use two hands and be gentle. Never, ever put your hands under your cat’s ribs or stomach to pick him up. Instead, place one hand on the back of his front legs and another under his butt on his back legs. Lift him smoothly. No one likes to be snatched.
Next, transfer his front paws to your shoulder. Use your near side hand to scratch his ears. This will calm and steady him. Use your opposite hand to support his weight. Always place this hand under his back paws. He will feel like he has control and stability this way, much like he is laying on the branch of a tree.
While he is on your shoulder, keep him calm by scratching his ears and talking softly to him. Never make a “shhh” sound. He’ll think you’re hissing and that’s counterproductive, especially when his claws and teeth are so close to your face. Keep the initial sessions short. Hold your cat only a few seconds until his confidence grows.
The dismount is the most important part. With support under the legs like you did when you lifted him, gently set your cat on the floor. Never drop your cat even if he can land on his feet. Pay attention to this next step. If you allow your cat to immediately dart away you’ve made no progress. Gently put pressure on his shoulder or hold him under his front legs with one hand while scratching him with your other hand. When you feel him completely relax, let go, but keep petting for a few more seconds. Don’t be afraid to offer a few treats. Cats can be bought – but not cheaply so consider offering a few pieces of chicken and skip the dry crunchies you bought at the grocery store.
Continue practicing and gradually lengthening the time you hold your cat. By following these steps you can gain your cat’s confidence. I don’t promise that your cat will love to be held, only that you can improve his attitude towards it. Remember, there may come a time in your cat’s life, such as in an emergency, where you will need to be able to hold him. Practice when he is healthy and in a safe environment could save his life! And for the non-emergencies there’s no better remedy for a bad day than a purr-filled snuggle when you return home.