Why Do Some Cats Not Like to be Held?

If you’ve got a feline friend in the house odds are you’ve attempted to pick her up at least a few times in your life.  You might have one of those cats that absolutely loves it, my cat Lexi doesn’t seem to mind it one bit. You can rock her like a baby and lip her upside down and she just rolls with it. When she wants down she’ll let you know by starting to push against you, but for the most part she’s pretty accepting.

On the other hand you might have a cat like my cat Beast as well. She tenses up immediately the second your hand hovers over her neck for more than a second and will bolt if possible. Even though I use the vet recommended method of sliding one hand under her chest and one under her hind to hold her up she still is wound up like a spring the entire time you hold her. You can tell she is not happy about the situation and wants out as soon as possible.

So why is that Lexi loves being picked up and Beast is absolutely horrified of it? Why do some cats not like to be held? Let’s look at a few potential reasons why this might happen and then point you to some resources to try to change this behavior.


You Don’t Know What They Know

Lexi and Beast are both adopted and both were several years old when adopted. Unfortunately the shelters really didn’t know much about them so they didn’t have anything to share other than Beast came from a hoarding situation and was mostly locked in a room on her own her entire first two years of her life. Beast is a little socially awkward if you can imagine, but she’s a total sweetheart! If you’ve adopted a cat you’ve probably heard similar stories or even far worse ones, but unfortunately without know the whole past of your cat it is difficult to determine if it was some experience that caused this or if it is just their personality.

clock what happened in the pastThat being said, one of the most likely reasons your cat doesn’t like being picked up is that she may have had a negative experience while being held in the past. Perhaps she was dropped as a kitten a few times, or someone pulled on her ears and her tail, who really knows? All it takes is one nasty experience to make it a very uncomfortable experience for them.

On the same token it could come from an experience we might not register as traumatic as humans, but your cat might. Key examples are visits to the vet and the groomer. Your cat is typically restrained in these situations and often has a negative experience (you probably didn’t like a thermometer up your butt as a kid either).  It is pretty easy to see how a cat might start to see being picked up for one of these activities and being picked up in general as negative things.


cat hiding under the bedIt is simply scary for your cat

You’ve probably never seen a cat pick another cat up if both cats are adults. The only time you see this happen is with a mother moving her kittens from place to place and the kittens biologically know to go limp when mom picks them up.

Adult cats on the other hand tend to very slowly approach one another and if they are both friendly you might see some sniffing at an initial introduction. We humans on the other hand are not only much much larger than our feline friends (even you Maine Coon owners) but we often go straight to picking them up.

Imagine yourself in a situation where someone 10 or more times your size showed up and simply picked you up and rubbed the hair on your head when they ran across you. You might freak out too! They could easily crush you on accident or on purpose if they had any inclination.


A potential sickness or injury is afoot!

If your cat used to like being picked up but bolts every time you attempt to get near her then two things are possible. We’ve already discussed a bad experience, but if you can rule that out then your cat might be sick or have an injury.

At this point it is probably worth setting some time aside with your vet to check for injuries or medical conditions that could be causing pain when you pick your cat up. Even after the condition is treated it’s possible that your cat will still avoid being picked up because they might associate the feeling with the pain they experienced in the past.


cat feeling trappedNowhere to Run

Similar to my article regarding cat carriers and why cats often don’t like them, being picked up is a form of being restrained. Even if it isn’t true every time a cat is picked up, cats don’t have a hard time drawing the conclusion that restraint means the humans are going to do something I don’t like: clip my nails, bathe me, take my temperature, stick me in the carrier, etc.


Knowing How to Pick a Cat Up

If you’re not sure how to pick a cat up then you should definitely learn the appropriate way. You should not be scruffing your cat, it is far too easy to permanently injure your cat if you’re not properly trained on how to do this. Instead you should focus on the standard two point pick up method. Check out this video below from VetStreet to ensure you’re pick up your cat in a safe manner!


Wrapping It Up:

At the end of the day, answering the question why do some cats not like to be held up is pretty tough unless you’ve known your cat since they were a kitten. Even then it might not be easy to identify the specific reason as it could be their personality or it could be driven by some experience they had when you weren’t home.  Your cat might also simply be scared of being picked up because of your size or because they know being picked up sometimes results in a trip to the vet or the groomer.

This article isn’t aimed at modifying this particular behavior and I would encourage you to simply respect your cat’s preferences as much as you can. I know we all get the desire to pick our cats up from time to time and just can’t resist. If you are interested in getting your cat to enjoy being picked up you can check out this article, but my experience has been mixed with it being effective.

If you’ve got any other thoughts on holding your cat and why some cats do not like to be held please do share them below!  If you have any additional items you’d like to see added to this post then please comment below or directly email me at Craig@StuffCatsWant.com so I can update the information here.

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14 thoughts on “Why Do Some Cats Not Like to be Held?

  • July 28, 2017 at 5:41 am
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    Awww.. It’s always sad and heartbreaking to know of cruel animal stories. You bring up a great point that our cat’s experiences and perception of things might not be equivalent to OUR perception of things as humans. Some things might appear traumatic to them but not to us. You bring up some really good points about why cats get scared! 😀 And I can feel that you have a desire and passion for caring cats.. Thanks for this post! I learned some things. ^_^

    Reply
    • July 29, 2017 at 3:41 am
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      Hahaha, glad you like it! I do my best to find cute pictures to accompany my posts!

      Reply
  • July 28, 2017 at 7:25 am
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    You draw on some good points. I’ve had my cat since it was a kitten so he got use to me picking him up and holding him. When my good friend adopted a cat from a shelter he was almost always running and hiding when guest came over. She’s not 100% sure why her cat is always so scared of being picked up, but we can kind of assume it was from some sort of bad experience. In your experience, at what point could she expect to notice a difference in guest interactions?

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    • July 29, 2017 at 3:40 am
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      I’ve had my cat Beastling now for over two years and we’ve been working wither her constantly to try and drive a change in her behavior. I don’t have any specific recommendation unfortunately. I would assume that if you keep working with your cat that eventually he or she will adjust, but there are no guarantees sadly.

      Reply
  • July 28, 2017 at 2:35 pm
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    I never really thought about these reasons for why a cat doesn’t like being picked up. When I am at my friend’s house, her cat constantly scratches or hisses at me when I try to pick her up. I figured the cat didn’t like me. That could still be the reason, or maybe it’s one of the ones you stated above. I’ll definitely have her make sure that her cat isn’t ill.

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    • July 29, 2017 at 3:38 am
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      I would guess that the cat simply doesn’t like being picked up. I would recommend you simply try to pet your friend’s cat on the top of the head or near the side of the mouth. While it seems counter intuitive to humans because it is so close to the teeth this is the best place to pet most cats with minimal danger.

      Reply
  • July 29, 2017 at 2:36 am
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    Very interesting read, I didn’t know this about cats! I have noticed that most cats that I try to pick up are quite squirmy and do not like it, so I just put them down if I can tell that they don’t like it. I will definitely keep this in mind next time I am around someone’s cat!

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    • July 29, 2017 at 3:37 am
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      Good call! It is interesting how many of our feline friends are just not interested in being held.

      Reply
  • July 30, 2017 at 2:45 pm
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    Thanks for all the great information, I didn’t think about the potential situations my cat might have run into in the past.

    Reply
  • July 31, 2017 at 9:57 pm
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    Great site, I have a cat I rescued from my neighbors yard she was only about 2 weeks old and the Mother abandoned her. So I took her in and bottle fed her. She is now 1 year old and doing great.
    I’m really a dog person but when I saw how helpless she was my heart went out to her I couldn’t help it.
    I love animals.

    Reply
    • July 31, 2017 at 10:09 pm
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      That’s wonderful of you, she must be lucky to have you as an owner! I’m sure she knows she landed well :).

      Thanks for stopping by my site and let me know if you run into any questions about your cat!

      Reply
  • August 2, 2017 at 7:03 am
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    Hi Craig,

    Great post buddy! It’s funny when I go to my daughter’s her cat comes straight over lol! I have no doubt cats have a 6th sense. This cat basically begs me to pick her up. She obviously knows I am a nice person I think so in the end I pick her up and give her a cuddle. Old softy me.

    What are your thoughts on cat’s just knowing things?

    Cheers,
    Kev

    Reply
    • August 2, 2017 at 8:28 pm
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      Thanks for stopping in and telling your story about your daughter’s cat. I find that they seem to pick up on a lot of social queues that we humans can be oblivious too as well. Most animals seem to be able to sense changes we don’t notice at all, it is quite perplexing, but also incredible!

      Reply

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