I give my cat loving all the time but don’t understand why she won’t let me hold her

The question in the title was asked by a cat owner. I want to answer it. Holding her means picking her up and this is where humans and domestic cats can clash on what they want to do.

It won’t matter how much loving a cat owner gives to their cat if their cat does not like being picked up (and a lot don’t). There are two issues here for me: (1) some humans regard domestic cats as little humans to be picked up like a person picks up a baby and cuddles her and (2) the recipient might not like it because it is unnatural for most domestic cats to be picked up.

Cat enjoys being held like a baby
Photo in public domain
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That said most domestic cats learn to live with it and some like it. However, to be picked up is not part of a domestic cats repertoire of behaviours. And the majority of cats will feel slightly uneasy and a smallish percentage reject it completely. It depends on the cat and how well socialised he is and his character.

There may also be an issue with how the person picks up and cuddles her cat. If she does it often and in a way which makes her cat feel more vulnerable it won’t help to make her cat get used to it. She may be over-loving her cat and cuddling him too much. Cats have individual preferences as to how much cuddling and petting they like or tolerate.

Her cat might allow someone else to pick him up because it is done in a more sympathetic way which respects the cat’s emotions and vulnerability.

I pick up my cat. He asks for it now because I do it at certain times and in certain places such as walking around the garden. But I do it with great respect for him. I do it gently and I keep him vertical so he feels that he has control over his actions. I don’t want him to feel vulnerable and when I sense he wants to get down I do it immediately. He’s in charge.

The underlying message is that cat owners need to do what their cat likes to do rather than the opposite. I know it is a boring thing to say but it is about respecting the domestic cat as a cat and an animal which is genuinely very close to her wild cat cousin.

There is this disconnect among some (not many hopefully) cat owners between their perception of what they think their cat is and what he truly is. Below the surface is a wild cat which gets out if he is allowed outside, free to roam or when he is playing rough. The ‘raw cat’ wants to hunt, catch, kill, eat, groom and sleep and then restart that sequence. They see us as large creatures which may create a default minor anxiety in some cats.

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