I have a two year old female cat called Mymble. Her brother Snufkin is very chilled and comes out for walks with me on a lead, but Mymble is terrified of everything. She loves strokes, but if I try to follow her or pick her up, she runs or dodges away. I'm quite good at picking her up anyway, and once in my arms she stays perfectly still but I know she is terrified. As soon as I put her back down, she runs away.

I think she was less scared before, but a week ago she got covered in some foul-smelling dirt because she ran down a hole to escape from another cat. So I took her for a bath in my arms: she was very well-behaved but so frightened and cried out (she is usually very quiet). She is also terrified once a month when I have to put the wormer on the back of her neck: I do it when she is eating her wet food but now she is scared when I come close if she is eating it.

I would just like to find a way to make things like being picked up or getting the wormer less of a big deal so she realises they aren't as scary as she thinks.

4 Answers 4


One approach that has helped me with some cats is gradual desensitisation. I start by lifting her ever so slightly, not enough so that her feet leave the floor, just enough to take some of the weight off. Once she's completely comfortable with that, I lift a little more so that the front paws come off the ground, but the back paws stay on the ground. When she's comfortable with that, I lift her entire body an inch or so off the ground, and then put her down immediately. Then I move on to lifting her into my arms.

Another thing that helps with skittish cats is to hold them with exaggerated gentleness, as if she were the most fragile and precious thing in the world. (Even cats who are completely comfortable with being picked up love this!)

For any treatment that you know she won't like (baths, worming, etc.), I use the "sandwich" technique. I give her a small treat before, and after the process is over, I give her another small treat. I believe that during the process they are anticipating the second treat that they know from experience is coming.

Another tip that I discovered by accident: reverse psychology. Sometimes I need to move my skittish cat from one room to another. The first time, I put my hands on her as if I were going to lift her, and she darted from the room. The second time I needed to move her, she had figured out what was happening. She wanted to stay put, so I actually had to lift her slightly before she left the room. Each time it took a little more lifting on my part to get her to move. She was gradually getting desensitised to being picked up.

Another tip for spot flea treatments and wormers. I think they feel cold to the cat; it's like having someone put an ice cube down the back of your neck. But I've found that applying the treatment slightly further back, just behind the shoulder blades, doesn't upset them as much.

  • 1
    With the wormer, I think she hates the smell of it (and it is pretty nasty) but I will definitely try your tip of putting it further back. I may also be jabbing it into her as I struggle to get it on her before she escapes.
    – IIM
    Commented Apr 13, 2020 at 21:14

It is quite usual for cats to be comfortable being touched and petted and at the same time to freak out at instant just when picked up because their feet lose contact with solid ground - they no longer have control over their bodies and it feels for them like suddenly losing balance or falling off a solid surface. For this reason, I'd suggest trying to pick her in a way that her feet aren't dangling loose in the air but instead are constantly touching and pressing against your body, if that makes sense.

As for the wormer, I don't really know if you mean applying deworming drug or a collar on her neck, but if it's really a big problem I would ask vet for tips, maybe they could give you a formula for calming herbs mixture or ultimately anti-anxiety medications but I hope medications wouldn't be needed.

Also you could try to make applying the wormer emotionally connected with some pleasurable experience, I mean, after applying give your cat lots of attention, petting, some special treats of food type she loves the most reserved for being given after applying the wormer.

Please note that I am not a professional vet and I am just trying to help by writing what would make sense to me. So I think vet's advice would surely be more valuable than my answer.

  • 1
    Thank you for the tips: I am not so sure it is that she is scared of being picked up, more that I might take her somewhere nasty, like a bath. I always hold her very close. I guess I should try taking her to look out the window or something more fun.
    – IIM
    Commented Apr 13, 2020 at 21:16

Maybe the cat isn’t comfortable being picked up maybe try and approaching slowly by petting it first and slowly picking it up.

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Being held is not a natural experience for cats +except as kittens) so it isn't surprising that they find it a confusing experience initially.

Sometimes it's a matter of finding how that cat would like to be held so they feel best supported.

Yes, building positive associations with the experience can help. Iff all else fails, bribery with the promise of a treat should work for many cats.

For Hazel, it's been a matter of gradual acclimation. We're still working on it. After 14 years, dhe would rather be on her own feet, but will put up with being held for a few minutes and isn't bothered by my walking while carrying her. But that did take an extended time, and she's still much less comfortable with it than with sitting on my lap.

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