The Art of Holding Your Cat

A feline behavior expert explains the appropriate way to hold your cat.

By Pam Johnson-Bennett

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Q. Why is it that cats usually do not like it when we pick them up? Yet, they will jump up on our laps with no problem? Is it just because of their independent nature?


Pam Johnson-Bennett explains how to gradually introduce a cat to being heldFeline behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett, author of Think Like a Cat, says:
There are several factors to consider. First, it depends on how you trained your cat to accept being held. Next, it depends on the technique you use, and third, you need to read the cat's body language to see whether he is in "affection mode" or "play mode".

How you hold a cat plays a big part in whether he is going to enjoy it. You should always announce your presence first so your approach doesn't startle him. Next, scoop him up so one hand is supporting his hind legs and the bulk of his weight and let him rest his front paws on your other arm. This is the technique to use for in-house holding. This method allows the cat to feel supportive yet not restrained. This holding method is for use indoors. If you were a vet tech or at a cat show or in an unfamiliar place you would hold the cat differently to prevent an escape. But for owners at home, you want the cat to feel as at-ease as possible.

It's also important to get the cat used to being held by doing it gradually. You start by picking him up gently and then putting him down and then praising him. The mistake too many owners make is that they force the cat to accept holding so the kitty learns that the only way to escape is by squirming, scratching, biting or leaping to the floor. In training, you want the cat to see that the holding experience is over before he even knows what happens.

Another common mistake I see some owners make is that they misread the cat's body language. Your kitty may be in "play mode" and not want to be cuddled and confined. Choose your cuddle times appropriately.

The reason why some cats jump on our laps when we're reading, watching TV, working on the computer or even sleeping, is because they feel they have more freedom to come and go as they please. You have to remember that cats are very tuned into the environment and as hunters, they want the ability to be able to go after prey if the opportunity presents itself. Even your indoor cat feels that same desire to always be ready for the hunt.

Pam Johnson-Bennett, CABC
IAABC-Certified Animal Behavior Consultant

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The Art of Holding Your Cat

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Reader Comments

Kaitlin    sterling, CO

6/15/2009 7:40:29 PM

I think this is a very need to know thing thank you for sharing this intreging story <:)

janet    bethlehem, PA

5/25/2008 3:40:58 AM

very interesting thanks for the information

Ruth    Lancaster, CA

9/27/2007 7:38:04 PM

Hello Doctor,
I hope you don't mind but this is not really a comment but a question (since I could not find a field for questions). I hope you can indulge me.
I have a female maine coon and has been manifesting a "scratching behavior". She did not mess outside of her box until she got FLUTD. But I have observed for a long time that:
> after using the litter box, she scratches on the sides of the box and not cover her feces
> she scratches on the wall and/or around her food dish as if scooping sand to cover an area, either after using the box or before and after eating.

She has not been sprayed (she's turning 4 y.o. this Oct. but her mate has been neutered for 11 months now. She is currently undergoing treatment for FLUTD (day 2) but note that she has manifested the above behavior even long before that (about 1.5 mos)

I hope you can accomodate this? I'd really appreciate it very much.

D    Hopkinsville, KY

7/7/2007 8:37:28 AM


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