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Touching and Holding Cats

Touch is one of the most powerful tools you have to prolong the health and well-being of your cat. Your hands can heal, soothe, teach trust, and stimulate appetite. But if you try to handle a cat at the wrong time or in the wrong way, you could get hurt. This section is about how to hold, pet, and massage a cat in ways that can benefit both cat and owner.

How to Pick Up, Hold, and Let Go of a Cat

Pay attention to your cat’s likes and dislikes. A cat may not like being picked up, but doesn’t mind being held. Or there may be certain times of each day when he may not like to be touched, yet at other times he will.

Never handle an angry cat; you could get hurt.

Approach your cat slowly. Let him sniff you. Spend a second or two petting him. Then, very gently and slowly, pick him up.

Once he’s in your arms, speak softly and gently say his name. While he’s in your arms, give support to both the front of the body and the hindquarters. Cradle him so that he doesn’t feel confined. Cats usually like to stay upright in your arms, though a few will lie on their backs.

Let him go when he wants to leave. Be very gentle. Let him down slowly. Never hold a cat against his will. As soon as he shows signs of being fussy, wait until he’s calmed for a second or two, then let him go. Don’t keep holding on to him until he gets too antsy to hold. If your cat knows that he can get away at will, he’ll be more comfortable the next time he’s held.

Do not hold a cat when he’s likely to be suddenly frightened, such as when he’s meeting a new cat or dog or walking near an appliance that makes noise. A suddenly frightened cat can accidentally hurt you while he’s trying to get away or is overwhelmed with fear.

If you have to pick him up when he doesn’t want to be, don’t call him. Go to him instead.

Touch Techniques

Start with short sessions to build up his trust in you. Gradually increase the time you pet or massage him.


Cats love being scratched and rubbed under the chin, on the face and neck, on top of the head—places they can’t lick themselves. And you can find special places, too, maybe his shoulders or at the base of his tail. Besides scratching and petting with your fingers, try full, open hands with purposeful strokes, like the way cat moms use their tongues to caress their young.


Massage is a potent relaxant and pain reliever. Massage is basically some serious petting for the whole body. Muscular cats tend to prefer deep massage, while kittens, old, or declawed cats usually prefer a light touch.

Place a towel under your cat during the massage, because a lot of hair usually comes off in the process. Speak softly and use slow, gentle movements. Explore different parts of your cat’s body. Many cats enjoy having their feet, shoulders, stomach, face, and thighs massaged.

When you touch a cat’s foot he may pull it toward his body. Go with it. Let his foot stay wherever he wants it while you massage it. If he gets a little fussy, move back into an area that he likes.

Give him a chance to appreciate your touch but stop before he gets upset or agitated from excessive handling. He may cry first and then bite, when he gets over-handled. It’s good to end with success and with him being good, not agitated. If he’s likely to meow before biting you, stop petting when he asks politely (meows) for you to stop petting. Don’t wait until he has to bite you to get your attention that the massage is over.

Some cats may like only fifteen-second massages; some prefer five, ten or fifteen minutes. Some cats enjoy having their feet mas­saged. They’ll spread wide the toes on their hind feet so you can rub between each one.

When it’s time to end the massage, stroke him on his head a few times, gently tell him he’s a good boy, and walk away slowly, as if leaving a baby in a crib for his nap.

Special Considerations

Handle kittens as much as possible. Scientific tests have shown that kittens with just twenty minutes of daily handling are more likely to be better companions.

Massage is especially valuable for an only cat, because he gets no grooming or physical contact from another cat.

Declawed cats get an additional benefit from massage. The muscles in their shoulders and forelegs are likely to be sore from compensating for missing toes.

Very gentle, daily massage for sick or elderly cats can help relieve stress and pain. Holding an infirm cat or laying your hands gently on or under him while using soothing words may be enough.

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