Ouch ? My Cat Bites When Picked Up

CatChannel behavior expert Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, talks about how to pick up a cat.

By Marilyn Krieger | Posted: October 8, 2010, 3 a.m. EDT

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Q: My cat Bubbles hates it when I pick her up. At all other times she’s wonderful, but when I pick her up she bites and scratches and growls. Maybe I’m not picking her up right. What’s the best way to pick up a cat?

A: Many friendly and well-socialized cats do not enjoy being picked up and held. Many reasons for this exist. The way the cat is approached before being picked up and how she is held often contributes to a cat having an unpleasant association with the experience.  Cats need to be approached in a way that doesn’t surprise or scare them and they also need to feel safe while being held.

Don’t startle Bubbles when you first approach her. Before picking her up, formally greet your cat by extending your finger towards her.  Bubbles will probably make the first overture by touching your finger with her nose. After her initial greeting, she will continue to greet you by turning her head until her cheek rubs your finger. Most cats will welcome your gently petting their cheek, neck and head. 

The next step is to pick her up in a way that will support her body and help her feel safe and secure. Place one hand under her front legs and position your other hand so that it supports her back legs and hind quarters. You can position her so that her hind quarters are supported by the crook of your arm. It is important that Bubble’s legs do not dangle.

When picking up Bubbles, take your time and don’t move too fast. Once you have her in your arms, hold her securely and close to your body. Don’t hold Bubbles against her wishes. Allowing her to feel she has some control over the situation will help her feel a little more secure about being picked up in the future. When releasing her from your hold, don’t let her drop. Instead place her gently down in a safe area.

Different approaches that keep both cats and people safe are used when working with unsocialized or frightened cats.

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Ouch ? My Cat Bites When Picked Up

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Reader Comments

kelsey    south padre island, TX

8/5/2013 9:29:47 AM

i tried the steps and all my cat did was hiss and try to bite me i dont know what to do about this sincerely kelsey

CatChannelEditor    Irvine, CA

9/17/2012 9:52:20 AM

Audrey -- Can you think of any signals your cat gives you before this behavior? You say it's out of nowhere, but even subtle signs might point the way. This article on biting tries to help curb the behavior by cutting out the triggers: LINK Perhaps a certain spot is sensitive for your cat, or moving your cat from your lap is a trigger for him. Observe your cat and eliminate these triggers as one way to help this situation.

Audrey    Grants Pass, OR

9/14/2012 2:14:04 PM

My foster kitty bites when happy. He will be snuggling down in my lap when, for no known reasons, he just bites my arm or face. It seems like it is out of friendship rather than aggression. The only problem is my skin is very fragile and his bites cut and draw blood. I immediately put him down with a sharp NO, but he continues to bite. Any solution?

Ines    Boca Raton, FL

10/28/2010 9:43:13 PM

The described method works for most cats. If the cat is struggling more than average or if the environment may have startling stimuli, then try locking the front elbows with one hand with index and middle finger between the cat's wrists and elbows in your palm, supported by your thumb, pinky and ring finger. Then, before lifting off from the ground/floor/whatever, make sure that the hind paws are locked in your other hand. Again, a finger or two should be between the cat's ankles and your thumb, ring finger, and pinky, should keep the hing legs and paws locked in place. I read this, and looked carefully at a picture of the holding method in a veterinarian authored home cat care guide book.

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