I Can't Pick Up My Cat

CatChannel and CAT FANCY cat behaviorist Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, explains how to get a cat to relax and enjoy petting.

By Cat Behaviorist Marilyn Krieger, CCBC | Posted: October 28, 2011, 3 a.m. EDT

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Q: I was given a female Ragdoll cat. I have had her eight weeks and had her spayed nine days ago. She is perfect except I can only pet her if I am sitting down, and then only with one hand.  If I move, she flees. What should I do?

A: The age and history of your new Ragdoll cat will influence how long it will take until she feels secure enough to allow you to pick her up and to pet her. It will take longer if she wasn’t handled and socialized in her previous home. Additionally, it’s usually easier to socialize young kittens then shy, adult cats.

Regardless of the age of your new cat, you will have the best results by helping her feel safe and secure around you. Food, treats and play for cats are perfect social lubricators, influencing her to associate you with good things and fun activities. Start by giving your cat a small treat when she is sitting next to you and also when you pet her. Gradually increase the criteria, petting her for a little longer time while giving her a treat. If she runs away or is agitated by your attentions, stop interacting with her. Instead, have another session later when she is relaxed.

Do not force her to interact with you. As a willing participant, she will feel she is in control of the situation since she can leave if she wants. The freedom to choose will help build feelings of security and safety. After awhile, she will want to hang out next to you because she will realize that something wonderful always happens when she is near you or when you are petting her.

You can also earn cats' trust faster by the approach you take when you want to interact with them. Instead of walking up to your cat, sit a short distance away, taking care that she is not cornered. You can sit anywhere from a few feet to across the room from her. Extend your finger, at cat nose level towards her. If she wants to fraternize, she will come up to you, touch your finger with her nose, turn her head until your finger is on her cheek. That is the signal for you to pet her, starting with her neck and head.
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Reader Comments

Ben    St. Louis, MO

11/17/2011 7:47:40 PM

A couple years ago, I was able to house my nephew's cats until he was able to find an apartment that would allow him to keep them. One of his cats insisted on keeping her distance from me... until I went to bed. At that point, she'd come and sit on me and allow me to pet her.

I was glad when my nephew was able to take his cats back (and my own three were *very* relieved), but at the same time, I missed them - especially this sweet show of affection from "Ichi."

Sandra    Pasadena, CA

11/17/2011 6:44:16 PM

I have a ragdoll. He loves to play. WIth shy cats I have always started off with what I would call "distance" toys. I like the Cat Dancer as an inexpensive initial play toy because it is a wire that I can keep it down on the floor so it isn't threatening. I also have had great success with clicker training. I had a problem with one of my cats and a behavioralist introduced me to clicker training. All my cats love it. It is stimulating for their brain, and they also get treats. All that in addition to what was suggested with not forcing or going to quickly with your bonding is what I would suggest.

mj    Ottawa, ON

11/17/2011 1:57:35 PM

I don't think your cat is mad at you. She probably has a shy temperament. I would try clicker training her with treats. It can be a slow process, but a rewarding one for both parties. Also, you can try getting her used to petting by using an indirect object, such as a feather or pencil.

P-=    P, MA

11/11/2011 2:10:19 AM

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