I recently adopted a cat from a shelter who does not seem to want to be picked up. She loves being petted on the head and scratched at the base of the tail but dislikes contact with the rest of her body. Even maneuvering my hands into position for picking her up will cause her to dodge out of the way. I don't want to be too aggressive in my attempts because she would probably not be above giving a warning bite if mishandled.

Any suggestions on how I can accustom her to being picked up?

  • Related: pets.stackexchange.com/q/2179/31 Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 0:23
  • I think u have to go with the action reward psychology . that's what I did with my cat. I taught her to sleep on my shoulders. If u pick him up then u give him a reward or a treat. After a while he will get used to it.
    – Hani Gotc
    Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 17:09

2 Answers 2


Some cats do not like being picked up and will not allow it ever. It may be that they had a bad experience early in their lives (someone picked them up and did not support them or did something bad to them), or it may be that they are just uncomfortable not having solid ground under their paws. So, first, accept that you may never be able to pick up your cat at will.

Also, keep in mind that if you just recently adopted her, she may not know you well enough to trust you yet, and she may naturally allow it once she trusts you more. In my experience, it generally takes 6-18 months for an adult cat to settle into a new home.

That said, sometimes you can ease into it.

First, find some kind of suitable reward that your cat loves. For some cats that's a specific treat, for other cats petting and affection will work. Sometimes, it's worthwhile to establish a clicker training program.

Once you have a good reward system established, then just take it slowly step by step and reward your cat at every step.

If putting your hands in position to pick her up spooks her, try putting one hand in position. If she allows that, then give her the reward. Switch hands until she's comfortable with either hand, then try both hands (again, rewarding her each time). Once she's comfortable with both hands, don't pick her up, just lift a small amount of weight off her paws and reward her for that. The goal is to take tiny, incremental steps that she's comfortable with and give her lots of praise and rewards.

Each training session should be short (10-15 minutes). This is a marathon, not a sprint.

Once you're able to pick her up, keep your hands soft and don't restrain her. If she wants to leave, let her. You don't want to wrestle with a cat to hold onto her, you want her to trust you enough to want to hang out with you. If she knows she can leave at any time, she will gradually learn to trust you more and not want to leave immediately.

  • Thanks, I will try this approach. My cat is very sweet and friendly, just shy, so I think she will come around in time.
    – augurar
    Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 7:25
  • 1
    Often a cat is frightened by being moved around while you carry them more than by just being picked up. A halfway "comfort zone" that might help is to pick them up, hold them for a moment or two, and put them right back down. Then when they are less fearful of that, move on to longer times and walking around.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 21:32

It's a process that requires much patience and gentleness. I adopted a stray (shelter approved, no owner cane forth, no microchip and pregnant) who went from eating the bowl of food I gave her and running away the first time we met, to sleeping next to me and letting me pick her up over about 15 months. When it came to being picked up I first let her get totally used to the feel of my open hand on her sides. Crouching down into a ball at the car's height really helps to overcome instinctive wariness. Next I very, very slowly picked her up with a very loose grip making sure she could jump away any moment. The slower, the better. When she let me hold her for more than 3 seconds, I would scratch her ears, kiss her and talk to her to let her know she was safe. I always did this right before dinner time so she came to associate being picked up and cuddled with being fed. She trusts me a lot now, though she's still wary sometimes. I have the honour of bring the only human on the planet who can approach her, pick her up and cuddle her.

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