How To Hold A Cat Without Getting Scratched

comments-icon Fact checked by  Ma'ayan Gutbezahl
Share Email Pinterest Linkedin Twitter Facebook

Do you need to know how to safely hold a cat without getting scratched to shreds? Good news! You have come to the right place. Read on to find out how to save your hands and have a safe snuggle with your cat.

Most cat owners will be aware that there are certain places on our cats that we can and can’t touch. Cats are very sensitive creatures and they have strict rules about who they let touch them and where.

If you try to pick up a cat while touching somewhere they aren’t comfortable with, they will certainly let you know they aren’t happy. Usually, your cat will start with a warning swipe with those sharp claws of theirs. Cat scratches are very painful and can easily get infected so you want to avoid this cat behavior at all costs.

Some cats love being picked up and cuddled and carried about. Some of them absolutely despise this and will really object to any sort of human contact. You know your own cat better than anyone else. Sometimes there are scenarios where you have to hold your cat and it’s useful to know how to hold a cat without getting scratched.

Why Some Cats Dislike Being Picked Up

Cats are individuals and while some enjoy being held and carried, others hate it and will scratch their way free.

Cats take great comfort from having all four paws planted on the ground. For them, it means they can move in any direction very quickly and act on their feline instincts at the drop of a hat. Most pet cats have been handled by humans from a young age.

Usually, when cats are weaned from their mothers and move to their new home, this will involve lots of cuddles and them being picked up and carried about in various different ways.

Your cat will grow to learn that being picked up is a safe, usually fun activity where they come to no harm. If your new cat is a rescue from a shelter or a feral cat, they may not have ever been picked up before, so they don’t understand what you are trying to do when you manhandle them.

These cats may have not had the best pet care previously, had a very bad experience of being picked up, or possibly even been abused. Sadly, such cats will associate any physical contact with humans with trauma.

Your cat might have an injury or illness which means they experience pain when they are picked up. Things like a cat bite abscess from a fight with another cat may not be obvious or visible to us, but they will be extremely sore to touch. If you are at all concerned about your cat – seek advice from your veterinarian.

Also Read: Why Does My Cat Attack My Feet?

How To Get A Cat Used To Being Picked Up

It may take a while for some cats to come around to being held, but with patience and consistency, they can be trained.

Rest assured that even if your cat really hates being held, there are safe ways that you can hold a cat without getting scratched. The best thing to do is to slowly train them to allow you to hold them.

You can teach a cat that picking them up isn’t a scary or stressful activity. They need to be able to trust you.  If your cat really resists, it may take a little while longer – each individual cat is different.

Eventually though, with consistency and perseverance, your cat will learn that nothing bad happens to them when they are held and it is ok for you to do that to them. Below are some pointers to start with.

1. Get To Know Your Cat

Allow your cat to warm up to you and really get to know you while training them to allow you to hold them.

Reach out your hand and let your cat sniff it. Let them rub their cheeks on your hand if possible. This is a common feline behavior, where they will rub their scent onto objects or creatures to mark them as safe. If your cat does this, it’s a good sign that you can try to hold them.

If your cat starts to meow softly or purr this is also a sign that they are comfortable in your presence. Move slowly and steadily around your cat – sudden movements will alarm and startle them. Over time you will get better at gauging how your cat feels.

Also Read: Do Cats Have A Good Sense Of Smell?

2. Pick The Right Time

Timing is everything when it comes to holding a cat. When a cat is stressed, tired, or hungry, then it’s not a good time.

Cats are very sensitive to stress in their environment. If they are already anxious or frightened they will not react well to you trying something new with them. Choose a moment when they are calm and relaxed and seem content before picking them up.

If they are purring or being playful with you, then this is a good opportunity. Take into account what has happened to them and between the two of you that day. If there have been lots of positive interactions and they seem content then it will be a good opportunity.

If your cat is stressed or scared then leave them alone and bide your time. Cat body language is a complicated science at times!

Also Read: 10 Proven Ways To Show Your Cat You Love Her

3. Get Your Cat Used To Touch

When holding a cat, remember that they like to feel safe and secure, without feeling trapped.

If you want to hold a cat without getting scratched, train your cat to become familiar with being touched and handled. Areas of touch that cats usually respond well to include the chest, tummy, and their front and back legs. You can start by just stroking or tickling them in these areas when they are content and relaxed near you.

Again, it’s very important to pick a time when your cat is calm as they will be more receptive then. If they are hungry, stressed, or tired they might not respond as well. Approach with caution and carefully gauge their reaction. If they seem distressed or angry, stop immediately.

If they do let you stroke them, you can reward your cat with gentle soothing verbal praise, treats, or a toy with some catnip. Try this over a period of a few weeks and gradually your cat should get used to you touching them without lashing out and scratching you.

Also Read: Why Do Cats Scratch?

4. Get Your Cat Used To Being Lifted

As you show your cat that it’s safe for you to hold them, your bond with them will deepen, as they will view you as safe and familiar.

The next step, once your cat is allowing you to touch them on their chest and tummy, is to start gently lifting them up. You can start by just taking the weight off their front paws so they are standing on their hind legs. Do this for a few seconds to get them used to the sensation, then gently place them back down again.

Repeat this maneuver and gradually increase the length of time you hold your cat up. Remember to reward them with lots of verbal praise and treats too! Once they allow you to lift them up at the front happily, you can do exactly the same process but at the other end. Put your hand under their tummy and gently lift their hind legs off the floor for a few seconds.

They may not like their tummy being touched so a very soft approach is required here! If your cat looks uncomfortable or starts to panic, stop immediately and reassure them with lots of soothing words and treats.

Also Read: Cats And Kids – Rules For Safe Play

How To Pick Your Cat Up

Allow your cat’s reactions to guide you. If they seem nervous or panicky, it’s best to let them go.

So now that you have got your cat used to being touched and handled in the places you need to hold them, you can attempt to pick them up.

  • Start by putting one hand under your cat’s chest, and the other hand over their back and under their belly.
  • Now that you have picked them up, you need to change positions slightly as your cat will feel most secure when their hindlimbs are supported.
  • Scoop your cat’s hindquarters so they are in the crook of your arm and hold your cat’s body close to yours.
  • Keep your grip soft but firm; cats like to feel secure. If you are not confident or feel nervous, your cat will sense this.
  • If your cat starts to struggle or show signs of discomfort, let them go. If they feel trapped they are way more likely to bite or scratch to protect themselves as their survival instinct will kick in.

Also Read: Why Does My Cat Lick Me Then Bite Me?


When your cat is treated as an individual with individual needs, they will respond better to training to be held.

If your cat is the type to shy away from physical contact, there are still ways you can train them to allow you to pick them up safely. It will take time and effort but it will be worth it in the end. It is also very useful for any trips to the veterinary clinic. Be mindful that they may have had a past bad experience which makes them suspicious.

You will have to gain the trust of your cat. Treat each cat as an individual as they will all react differently. Over time, you will get to learn what your cat likes. If you are willing to put the hard work in, you will eventually have a cat that you will be able to scoop up and hold without them using you as a human scratching post!

Also Read: Do Cats Like Hugs?

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the safest way to hold a cat without getting scratched?

The safest way to hold a cat without getting scratched is by using two hands. One hand should be under the cat's chest by their front legs and the other should be supporting the hindlegs.

Have a soft but firm grip so that the cat feels secure. Talk to them in a soothing voice while you are holding them.

How do you pick up a cat that doesn't like being picked up?

You should approach the cat slowly and calmly. Be aware of your cat's boundaries and respect them. Approach them from the side, never from the front or the back. Let them sniff your hand before you try to touch them. If your cat will not tolerate any sort of handling, you can seek advice from your veterinarian or feline behaviorist.

Is it OK to lift a cat by the scruff?

Lifting and holding your cat by the scruff of their neck is unnecessarily stressful. It can be extremely painful for your cat. When cats are at a very young age, the mother cat will carry them like this, by biting the scruff of their neck. At this age, they have a reflex that makes their bodies go limp.

They may still do this as a new kitten, but when they are older they grow out of this. If they are scruffed as an adult cat they tense up and it can be distressing and painful for them.

Where should you not hold a cat?

Cats need to feel supported when being held. You shouldn't pick up a cat by their legs or tail. You should never scruff them to pick them up. Some cats hate being touched in their groin area or under their armpits so bear this in mind when placing your hands in them to pick them up too.

Help us do better! Was this article helpful and relevant?
What can you say about this article?
I am completely satisfied, I found useful information and tips in this article
Article was somewhat helpful, but could be improved
Want to share more?
Thank You for the feedback! We work to make the world a better place for cats, and we're getting better for you.
Avatar photo

About Dr. Emma Chandley BVetMed PGCertSAS MRCVS

Emma graduated from the Royal Vet College in London in 2011. An expert in cat behavior and nutrition, she also has a keen interest in surgery. Emma went on to do a post-graduate certificate in small animal surgery and was then awarded advanced practitioner status in the same discipline.