The way you pick up a cat depends upon their state of mind. Even cooperative cats might not like to be picked up. The caregiver should be aware of their cat’s preferences. They should always try and please their cat and not do what they want to do.
How to pick up a cooperative cat
I have a very good and full page on this topic on another website which you can read about by clicking on the link below.
Here is an infographic which illustrates the beginning of the process I have described.
In summary, I ensure that my cat is positioned correctly while he is standing on the floor. This means in a position whereby he is just in front of me, and I can place my right hand under his chest and my left hand under his belly and I lift him up. While doing it you can then rotate him to the point where he is in a vertical position (if this is your goal) and at the same time your left hand is then positioned underneath the feet of his hind legs thereby supporting him.
During this brief transitionary movement your other hand is supporting him under his chest. This should be a loving moment and your cat should enjoy it. If not don’t do it.
I always talk to him nicely while doing it. Actually, he asks for it. And when he is in my arms in that well-supported position, he likes to rub the side of his face and the back of his head on my face. And I apply a bit of pressure with my face onto his neck which is a kind of loving moment and a form of scent exchange.
Here is a cat named Hodge being held nicely after being picked up. Neat.
There will be variations concerning the end position and as long as the cat is well supported that’s fine. Your cat might end up over your shoulder or even curled around your neck. It’s all about support and doing things with a bit of precision and care.
I don’t believe in holding a domestic cat like a baby with their back facing the floor and their legs facing upwards towards the face of their caregiver. This might work for many cats, but some cats might not like the sense of vulnerability that it brings to them. Cats aren’t babies or little humans.
How to pick up an apprehensive cat
The experts would probably recommend that you start off the process by taking hold of the scruff of the cat’s neck. This is the loose skin of the neck below the back of the head where veterinarians normally inject cats with vaccines.
If the cat is small and young, he will probably go limp in what I call the ‘kitten reflex’. Kittens go limp because they are carried by their mother in this way, and it facilitates the mother travelling from one den to another in the interests of her family’s security.
With older cats you are going to have to take the scruff of the neck in the same way while at the same time, with the other hand, supporting the hind legs by applying upward pressure to the feet. This can be done as soon as the feet become free.
I feel, however, that it is essential that sub-adult and adult cats are not carried off the ground by the scruff of the neck because it is potentially harmful, and it may hurt them. There’s too much weight hanging from the neck for this to be anything but unhealthy. But carried out properly using both hands and arms it can be done and the pressure on the neck will help subdue an uncooperative and apprehensive adult cat.
You can use the scruff technique to subdue an adult cat in a range of circumstances such if the cat has grabbed your hand and you want to release it asap!
The picture in this section is a screenshot from a video on YouTube by a veterinarian.
How to pick up a frightened cat
You can cover the cat with a large towel. The towel should not be thrown at the cat because it probably wouldn’t work as cats have the speed to escape. It should be as near as possible placed over the cat and perhaps left there for a little while (if applicable) to see if he or she calms down at which point the rest of the towel can be slid underneath the cat and the cat lifted up as a bundle.
How to pick up an aggressive cat
You can use the same method for picking up a frightened cat with one addition: wearing thick protective gloves and protection to the arms and even to the face and eyes if you think them necessary. I think the eyes should be protected. Truly aggressive and frightened cats move very quickly and highly aggressively. And they can exhibit tremendous strength when in what they consider to be survival mode.
One well-known veterinarian in America suggests using a leash or loop of rope which is placed over the cat’s head and one front leg simultaneously. The cat is then lifted by the leash and placed into a carrier. They say that you should not “attempt to lift the cat simply with a loop around his neck. This method should be used only as a last resort when the other methods don’t work”. This is because it is going to agitate more an already agitated cat.
They also suggest using a small squeeze cage or squeezebox. The cat is lured into this box which can be tightened gently around the body. Squeeze boxes and squeeze cages can be used by veterinarians. They allow vets to, for example, vaccinate them when they are highly uncooperative.
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