Cats are like people; each one has his or her own individual personality, mannerisms, likes and dislikes and lovable quirks. Some cats love to be cuddled, snuggled and petted all day long; some prefer shorter petting sessions and others want to be petted only when they say so! Many cats like to be picked up and held, but others do not like or enjoy it. Usually, the reason a cat does not like to be held is because of his/her unique personality and preferences, which does not mean that the cat is not affectionate or loving. In fact, cats can be extremely loving, yet not love to be held. One of the joys of adopting a cat is learning to appreciate and love the cat as he or she is!
Sometimes, your cat’s life before s/he came to you may also determine whether or not s/he likes to be held. For example, a cat who was abandoned as a kitten, or one that did not socialize much with humans as a kitten, will be less likely to allow him/herself to be held than a cat who has been snuggled and held in a person’s arms since birth. Likewise, a cat who was abused or neglected may be less inclined to allow him/herself to be held because it is seen as giving up control and a possible escape route, because s/he still has a fear of people. If this is the case, don’t be discouraged! There are ways to teach your cat trust and to bond with you. Gifford has a free cat behavior hotline with Dr. Rachel Geller who is a certified cat behavior counselor, which you can call for assistance, free of charge.
There are some basic steps you can take to reassure your cat when picking him/her up and holding him/her. Always speak to the cat in a soothing, quiet voice. Keep it light, like it’s no big deal. Your cat will pick up on your stress. Let the cat sniff your hand before attempting any closer contact, and start off by petting the cat as the only physical contact. When your cat has become comfortable enough to accept this level of attention on a regular basis, try sitting next to the cat on a chair or couch when s/he is already sleeping or otherwise relaxed, and again speak to your cat in a low, soothing tone, let her sniff your hand, and then pet her. Gradually, work your way up to being able to pick up the cat from his/her sleeping position onto your lap or into your arms, always allowing the cat to escape immediately if s/he starts to meow or squirm. By repeating this ritual slowly and regularly, you will be able to relax the cat enough to pick him/her up. In addition, try to hold the cat for a pleasant purpose-bring him/her to her food bowl, give her a really yummy,special treat while holding her. The more the cat associates being picked up and held with something good, the more s/he may allow you to hold him from time to time. With cats, it’s all about forming positive associations.
But remember, it is the cat who will decide whether or not s/he will tolerate being picked up and held. Do not worry too much if your cat never gets comfortable with being picked up. Do not let it get it affect your relationship with your cat. Your cat will show you love and affection in his/her own special way.
By Dr. Rachel S. Geller, Ed.D.