Behavioral problems

My Cat Doesn't Want to Be Picked Up

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. Updated: February 28, 2024
My Cat Doesn't Want to Be Picked Up

See files for Cats

There are many reasons we adopt a cat into our family. Reciprocating affection with a beautiful animal is just one of them. One of our favorite ways to show our love is to pick up the cat and hold them in our arms. It brings us closer literally and metaphorically. Some cats really love being cradled in this way, but others don't and will show their displeasure pretty swiftly. This leads us to the question, is it OK to hold cats?

In this AnimalWised article, we learn about what happens when my cat doesn't want to be picked up. We look at why cats won't like to be picked up at all or why they have previously been OK with being held, but suddenly won't let us do it anymore.

You may also be interested in: My Dog Doesn't Want to Walk Outside


  1. Is it OK to hold cats?
  2. They are injured or sick
  3. They had trauma in the past
  4. Poor socialization
  5. You are taking them away from something important
  6. You are holding them wrong
  7. How to help a cat enjoy being held

Is it OK to hold cats?

When we ask whether it is OK to hold cats, we are also asking is it healthy to pick up a cat? If we look at some smaller rodents such as hedgehogs, many of them are so sensitive they don't like to be picked up. It can be unhealthy for them because the stress it causes affects their well-being. Delicate animals may also be hurt, especially if they try to wriggle away or fall out of our arms.

With cats, there are few situations where picking them up will hurt them physically. With very young or newborn kittens, dropping them from height can be very dangerous. An adult cat, however, should be sturdy enough to not hurt themselves if they fall. Their righting reflex means they will always land on their feet when they fall from a sufficient height.

Whether it is OK to hold a cat depends entirely on the individual. Some cats will love to be nestled in your arms and shown some love. Others will bite and scratch at you until you put them back down. There are some reasons why a cat does not like to be held and we discuss these in the sections below.

They are injured or sick

There are many different diseases which affect cats, some more common than others. Which such a diversity of illness comes a wide variety of symptoms. In some of the most threatening diseases, the initial stages are asymptomatic. This means we cannot see the signs of the disease until it is progressed or we are able to observe them in a different context.

If a cat has an internal disease or injury, they may not show any visible symptoms. However, when they are picked up or handled, we could put pressure on a pain point. Cats are stoic animals when it comes to pain and often will not show signs of pain unless it is acute. By picking them up, we might aggravate them and they will show it by trying to get away or even crying.

When your cat has previously enjoyed being held, but doesn't anymore, it is possible a physical problem has developed. In these cases, we need to take them to a veterinarian immediately for diagnosis.

My Cat Doesn't Want to Be Picked Up - They are injured or sick

They had trauma in the past

Some cats have been abused or neglected before they arrive in our home. This is especially the case with shelter cats as we might not know their exact history. Other cats may have had a one-off traumatic experience when someone harmed them while being picked up, whether intentionally or not. How they cope with this trauma depends on the individual cat. Some will be perfectly well-balanced, others can be hyperactive or even aggressive.

When a cat is picked up and held, it can feel suffocating for them. Since other humans in their past may have picked them up and abused them, they may not like us to pick them up in fear we will do the same. With cats which have suffered trauma in the past, they will likely never have enjoyed being picked up. It is less likely they will be OK with it and then suddenly stop liking to be held.

Poor socialization

Proper socialization of kittens is another vital key to their well-being. If we don't introduce them to other animals, environments and people early on, they may not know how to relate to them later in life. The extent to how poor socialization affects a domestic cat depends on the individual. Some of them may never really be able to bond with a person (although not likely), some may simply be a little aloof.

When a cat is poorly socialized, they may not know how to trust humans. Although their might be accepting of food and happily be in the same place as them, being picked up can be a step too far. A lack of trust can result in them not like being held.

You are taking them away from something important

We may think that cats simply sleep all day, but they have important business. Whether it is chasing shadows, following us around the house or investigating hidden spots, they have things to get on with. It is not our place to interrupt their tasks with our own.

This can happen when we pick up a cat. When we try to hold them, we might be taking them away from something important to them, even if we don't really know what it is they are doing. The cat might meow or try to scratch their way out of our hold. It is best to leave them to it and see if they might want some company later on.

You are holding them wrong

There are certain ways to pick up a cat which will be universally abhorred by the feline community. If you grab them under their shoulders, you can end up contorting their body into a painful position. While some of them will tolerate this position for a certain amount of time, most cats will soon find it very uncomfortable.

Some positions might be disliked due to personal preference. If you hold a cat cradled like a baby, you expose their belly, something many cats feel vulnerable doing. In these cases, the cat may try to get away as they think you are going to do something bad to them. Also, never pick up an adult cat by the scruff of the neck. It can cause them a lot of pain and they will hate it.

My Cat Doesn't Want to Be Picked Up - You are holding them wrong

How to help a cat enjoy being held

There are different ways you can help a cat like being picked up, but there is one surefire way to ensure they will never enjoy it. If you pick the cat up when they don't want to, hold them tight and force them to stay there against their will, it can traumatize the cat. Your actions will be counterproductive and they may even develop behavioral problems due to the stress.

To help a cat enjoy being picked up and held, you should:

  • Let them make the first step: wait until a time the cat is relaxed and comes over to you. If they rub against your leg, they are showing you affection and they may be in a better mood to be picked up.
  • Hold them properly: make sure you pick the cat up properly and support their entire body. Do not pick them up by the scruff or hold their legs in an awkward position. Don't cradle them unless they feel comfortable with you doing it.
  • Use positive reinforcement: if you gradually get a cat used to your presence, you can help them to feel more comfortable with you if you use positive reinforcement. By using treats, affection and encouraging words, you might be able to help them enjoy being held.
  • Observe them: look for times when the cat is happy and relaxed, do not try to pick them up when they are anxious. Get to know what they like and use this to encourage them to spend time with you.

Being picked up when they don't want to is only one of the many things we can do which cats hate. Learn what else you might be doing wrong with your cat in our video below:

If you want to read similar articles to My Cat Doesn't Want to Be Picked Up, we recommend you visit our Behavioral problems category.

Write a comment
Add an image
Click to attach a photo related to your comment
What did you think of this article?
1 of 3
My Cat Doesn't Want to Be Picked Up