There are many good ways to hold a cat, some of which might surprise you, says friendly veterinarian Dr. Uri Burstyn in his most popular YouTube video. But holding your cat wrong could hurt it and stress it out, even if it doesn’t visibly complain. The differences between a good hold and a bad hold aren’t always obvious. We’ve drawn all of the poses that Dr. Burstyn demonstrates, so you can hold your cat right — and show guests and kids how to hold it too.
The most important thing is to support the cat’s torso. Keep at least one hand under the cat’s chest, pushing up on its body and not on its legs or joints.
In the leftmost drawing below, the cat’s weight is hanging from its shoulders. “That’s not comfortable for the cat,” says Dr. Burstyn. “Or that safe, to be honest.”
In the two other holds, even if the cat is relatively vertical, its chest and belly are supported by your hands. You’ll feel the difference, and so will the cat. You can give its front paws something to rest on, or let its paws hang. But in general, cats like to be held close and well-supported.
Even when holding it in these correct positions, a nervous cat still has room to scratch you with its hind legs. To keep its legs still, bring the back of the cat in toward your torso, as in the middle drawing. Tuck its butt between your arm and body, while still supporting its chest with your hand.
Those aren’t the only ways to hold your cat. As shown below, plenty of less obvious poses are still perfectly fine, as long as the cat wants to cooperate.
On the left is the baby pose, which Dr. Burstyn demonstrates in a follow-up video. This is safe and comfortable if you have a good relationship with the cat. But, he warns, “I would not do this with any cat that I don’t completely trust.” Holding a cat like a baby opens you up to scratches from its front claws, so if your cat resists, gently put it down and try a more traditional hold.
In the middle is a football pose. Dr. Burstyn recommends this for quickly scooping up a resistant cat. By pulling the front of the cat in toward your body, and holding in its hind legs, you reduce the cat’s range of movement (and thus its ability to scratch you or escape), while still supporting the body. Squish the cat close, says Dr. Burstyn. “It’s never going to do them any harm; in fact, they tend to feel more safe and secure when they’re being held tightly.”
Finally, there’s the shoulder hold. This is another pose reserved for cats and humans who have a trusting relationship. To get your cat on your shoulder, get your cat on a surface near waist level, then lean down toward it and allow it to climb up onto you. (You’ll risk a little scratching as the cat puts its claws out to climb.) Support the cat’s butt with your hand.
If the cat is comfortable on one shoulder, it might try to lie across both shoulders, behind your neck. You can let it (while risking some more inadvertent scratches), or you can keep it still by squishing its back into your shoulder with your other hand.
To let down a shoulder cat, don’t pull it off or let it leap behind you. Get to a waist-high surface and lean forward until the cat relents and rights itself. (When Dr. Burstyn demonstrates with his cat Mr. Pirate, he has to lean all the way down to the exam table before the cat finally lets go.)