How to Hold a Kitten or Cat (Securely and Safely)

Updated September 1, 2021
Man holding a ragdoll cat

How you handle your kitten or cat can make a huge difference in how they feel about interacting with you. Proper holding is also essential for safety. Learn how to support a cat of any age so they feel secure, comfortable, and can better enjoy your petting sessions and snuggles.

Scenarios When You May Need to Hold a Cat

Aside from strengthening the bond you have with your cat, learning how to correctly lift and hold them is a necessary skill for all owners. You'll need to understand how to do this in any number of future scenarios.

Common Methods for Lifting a Cat

There are several ways to handle your cat. You may want to try each one to see which works best for both you and your cat. Remember that each cat is an individual, so a method you used for a previous pet may not work for every cat.

If your cat is facing away from you, begin by placing one hand under the cat's chest and scoop under their rear with your other hand. Lift and gather them close to your body while holding them steadily against you as you support their rump. Then gently cross their front legs and rub their chin as you move their face away from you.

The approach when lifting cats out of a cage or from a waist-high surface is slightly different. If the cat's body is perpendicular to yours, simply reach around and along their body with one arm -- your elbow should be near their tail and your hand around the front of their chest. Bring them toward you slowly, then lift them gently against your body. Tuck their rear under your armpit and delicately cross their front legs or hold them together with your fingers. Comfort them with a chin scratch or an ear rub with your free hand.

The best way to pick up your cat or kitten is to support their hind legs securely with one hand and hold the upper part of your cat's torso with your other hand. If you have a frightened cat, you can use a thick towel or blanket to wrap the cat from the neck down, making sure to put their paws in the blanket or towel. This will prevent the cat from scratching you, plus you have them in a bundle to get to a safe place like their travel box.

How to Correctly Hold a Kitten

Holding or lifting a kitten can be slightly more challenging because they've smaller, more delicate, and notoriously wiggly. The process for picking up a kitten is similar to that of lifting a cat, with some additional considerations.

Unless a kitten has been abandoned by its mother, do not pick up or hold them until they are at least 2 weeks old. Ensure that a kitten's entire body is supported when picking them up. It's important to avoid holding a kitten too tightly, even if they struggle. Their developing bodies are fragile; therefore, restrictive restraint can cause injuries, particularly around the head, neck, and chest.

Always use two hands and hold a kitten close to your body to help them feel secure and prevent dropping. If a kitten becomes squirmy, hold them close to your body and try to immobilize their legs to prevent them from pushing off your body. You can gently hold their front arms and hold their bottom while supporting their body.

Wrapping a kitten in a towel or small blanket with their arms tucked within the cloth can help. This will prevent them from squirming and give them a sense of security.

Woman holding kitten wrapped in towel

Precautions When Lifting Any Cat or Kitten

Before you lift a cat, it's important to consider their body language. Lifting or holding a fractious cat can result in injury to you or the feline.

  • Allow a nervous cat to smell you or approach you before lifting them.
  • Never attempt to lift a cat that is exhibiting aggressive behavior, such as growling or flattening its ears.
  • Avoid scruffing cats and kittens.
  • Never pull or lift a cat by their tail or limbs.
  • Do not pick a cat up solely by lifting under their armpits.
  • Many cats dislike being held on their back like a baby.
  • Clipping your cat's nails frequently can prevent unintentional scratches when you lift or hold them.

Don't Underestimate the Dismount

After you've lifted your cat or kitten, the task isn't done -- you'll need to get them onto the floor safely, as well. Contrary to popular belief, cats do not always land on their feet; therefore, a cat can become severely injured if left to fall from your arms.

Try to lower your cat down until their paws touch the ground in order to dismount. The safest way to do this, for both you and your cat, is to slowly squat down and then release them. If this is not within your range of motion, you can gently place your cat onto an intermediate surface such as a sturdy desk or ottoman, then they can safely jump to the floor. Another effective method is to sit down while holding your cat, and allow them to safely leave your lap.

Start Handling Early

If you are lucky enough to get your cat as a kitten, start handling them on a daily basis -- several times a day -- so they become familiar with you and used to cuddling. Above all else, you want them to feel safe and secure in their new home. If you adopt a cat at a later age, start handling them early on, but proceed slowly. Be patient and understand that in time, you two will become family. An animal always knows when it has been rescued -- give them some time and all will come together.

How to Hold a Kitten or Cat (Securely and Safely)