How to Hold a Cat: Plus Approach, Pick Up, and Put Down a Cat

By Amanda Jondle, DVM May 06, 2019

The typical cat wants attention on their own terms. They usually decide when they want to sit on your lap, be held, and when and where they want pets. Usually they come for attention when they are not being beckoned, and it is considered by many cat owners an honor when their cat chooses to come and sit on their lap. Keep in mind that while some cats love attention and being held, many cats prefer solitude and are more nervous by nature. These cats are often nervous or scared of being picked up and held. There may be times when you want or need to pick up and hold your cat on your own terms. It is important when holding or carrying your cat that you make it a safe and comforting experience for both you and the cat. Here are some tips and tricks for holding and carrying your cat.

Before beginning, you will need to know the proper way to approach a cat.

How To Approach A Cat

Step 1: Approach In A Nonthreatening Manner

It is important to approach the cat in a non-threatening manner. Be calm, move slow, and don’t make any sudden noises or movements to startle the cat. Avoid approaching the cat in a direct manner from the front as this can be perceived as threatening and intimidating. You should never sneak up on a cat or surprise them by approaching them from the back. Make sure the cat knows where you are and isn’t threatened by you.

Step 2: Approach From The Side

If you’re walking toward the cat from the side, walk slowly with quiet steps. If the cat walks or runs away from you, don’t chase it. Stop and wait for it to come back toward you or stops running away. However, if approaching from the side is not working, the alternative method is to let the cat approach you.

Step 3: Let The Cat Approach You

Letting the cat approach you may take time and patience, but it is well worth it in the end.

Step 3a: Crouch Down

You can encourage the cat to come toward you by first sitting or crouching down in a still and non-threatening manner. A curious cat might walk right up to you and sniff you. A more nervous cat may take more time and patience.

Step 3b: Use Treats or Toys

Entice a cautious cat with treats or toys.

    • Place a few tasty treats in front of you or hold them out in your hand.
    • Use a feather toy attached to a wand or a toy attached to a string. Toss the toy out in front of you to engage the cat in play. Then pull the string towards you to encourage the cat to come closer.
    • Some cats will come to you for attention. This is a great way to make the cat feel comfortable around you.

Step 3c: Let The Cat Sniff Your Hand

    • While sitting, place your hand out in front of you for the cat to approach and sniff.
    • Gently pet the cat’s face; most cats like the sides of their faces or under their chins rubbed and scratched.
    • If the cat is comfortable with you petting their head or face, they will often let you stroke along their backs.

Step 4: If The Cat Is Showing Resistance

If the cat hisses, tries biting, or tries scratching you, it is best to stop and try these steps again later.

If you were successful in approaching your cat, let’s now learn the proper way to pick up a cat.

How To Pick Up A Cat

Once you are able to approach the cat with ease and the cat feels comfortable with you, you can consider picking them up. Remember: the more support you give the cat, the safer and more secure they will feel in your arms.

Step 1: Use Two Hands

Always pick up a cat using two hands.

Step 2: Position Hands Around The Cat

Put one hand around the cat’s side and under their chest, behind their front legs. With the second hand, support the cat around their back legs, securing them around their body.

Step 3: Lift Up And Hold The Cat

Lift up and hold the cat against your chest.

Now that you have picked up your cat, let’s learn the different ways to hold a cat.

How To Hold A Cat

Method 1: One Hand Under Chest And One Hand Around The Back Legs

Similar to picking the cat up, you can hold the cat with one arm around their side and under their chest, behind their front legs. Then use the other hand to provide support around their back legs. Hold the cat gently against your chest for support. Most cats like to be held by being supported under their chest so they can rest their front paws on your arm. This is an easy way to carry the cat as well.

Method 2: Front Paws On Your Shoulders

Some cats like to be held against your chest with their front paws up by your shoulders and you supporting their back legs and bottom with your arms.

Method 3: Holding The Cat While Sitting Down

If you are holding your cat and sitting down, simply place the cat in your lap and let them make themselves comfortable sitting or lying on you. This provides you with the freedom to pet them while they’re sitting in your lap.

Method 4: Holding A Cat In An Unsafe Environment

If you are holding or carrying the cat in an environment where it wouldn’t be safe to set them down, you can grasp their front and/or back legs with your fingers for extra support. In this case, hold them securely against your chest and support around and under the cat.

Method 5: Use A Carrier

Sometimes holding the cat inside a carrier is best for situations where you have to transport the cat long distances. Also, if the situation can become potentially dangerous for the cat if he or she slips away from you, then a carrier can also help. If you want to learn more about getting a cat in a carrier, then read our article here.

Now that you know the different ways to hold a cat, let’s put the cat back down.

How To Put A Cat Back Down

  • When you want to put the cat back down on the ground, gently place the cat back on the floor and give them time to get their footing if they need it.
  • Don’t let the cat jump down from your arms or drop it suddenly when you’re done.
  • If the cat starts to struggle, squirm, or become anxious, you should let them down.
  • Don’t try to force a cat to be held or carried against their will unless absolutely necessary. Forcing them to be held will only make it harder the next time you want or need to hold them.

What Not To Do When Holding A Cat

Never pick up a cat that is angry

Many cats are scared of being lifted off the ground, especially if they’re not used to being held. If the cat is already angry about something, picking them up could create a dangerous situation in which you may get scratched or bitten. It could also cause injury to the cat if they fall to the ground. If you have to pick up an upset or potentially injured cat, it is best to cover the cat with a thick towel or blanket first.

Don’t hold or pick up a cat by the scruff

While mother cats can safely carry their young kittens by the scruff, this is not an appropriate way to pick up or hold an adult cat. Holding a cat by the scruff doesn’t provide enough support. The cat will likely be terrified of hanging mid-air and not knowing where to place their feet.

Don’t pick a cat up by their legs

It is never okay to pick a cat up by their legs. This will cause an injury and can scare the cat from ever letting anyone pick them up again.

Don’t cradle the cat on its back like a baby

Some cats might like to be cradled like this but don’t do it if the cat is struggling or not used to you. It is a very vulnerable position for a cat to be on their back. If the cat becomes upset, it puts you in a position to get bit or scratched in the face.

Don’t hang on to a cat that is struggling to escape

As mentioned before, an angry cat can scratch or bite you. Pay close attention to the cat’s body language. If they become upset, uncomfortable, or start struggling while you’re holding them, it is safest to gently put them back down before someone gets hurt. You want holding the cat to be a good experience for both you and them. Know their limits.


With time, you’ll eventually learn what your cat likes and dislikes when it comes to being picked up and held. Once you develop trust between you and your cat, you will be able to sense their tolerance levels and know when they want to be picked up or put down. Make sure to use positive reinforcement when familiarizing your cat with being picked up and held. Make it a fun experience for all involved!

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