When I pick my cat up he cries/meows, is this normal?

Alana Stevenson, cat behaviorist, answers questions from Life with Cats readers.

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Q: “My wife and I have two 2 yr old males, litter mates. One will let you pick him up and pet him but the other when you go to pick him up, he becomes very stiff, puts his ears back and meows/cries, is this normal?” – Adam

If your cat is unsettled or uncomfortable with being picked up, it could be behavioral or medical. Your cat may dislike being handled or picked up because he is in pain or physically uncomfortable. It’s important to rule out any medical issues by taking him to your veterinarian, especially if this is a new behavior.

More needs to be known about your kitty’s history and experiences with being touched and picked up. Even though the cats are litter mates, they still may have had different experiences with being handled. If your cat dislikes being picked up or seems uncomfortable, you can desensitize your kitty to being touched and picked up and counter-condition him to that handling. Touch him gently in the areas you know he likes. Stop before he looks uncomfortable, stiffens, puts his ears back or walks away. Then begin to touch him in ways that may approximate being picked up i.e., place both your hands on his waist, lumbar region or tummy area, but do not lift him. Touch him for a second and then give him a treat.

You can counter-condition your cat to being touched and picked up. This means pairing things your cat loves with being touched and handled. As you touch your cat – during and immediately afterwards – give your cat treats or feed your kitty. Stop before your cat is finished eating. Eventually you will be able to touch your cat and then give him treats afterwards. Gradually, when your kitty begins to like your touch, you can wean off treats. You can also pair touch and being picked up with non-food based rewards such as being placed on a perch to watch birds at a bird feeder.

How you pick up your cat may also influence his behaviors, as well as how you place him down. Unless cats enjoy handling, they are usually uncomfortable with being picked up from the front or with a person facing them directly or leaning over them. It’s important to place cats down gently so that all four paws are solidly on the ground or surface instead of letting them jump or drop from your arms.

Copyright © Alana Stevenson 2014


Alana Stevenson can be contacted through her website AlanaStevenson.com. She provides consultations by phone & Skype.


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5 thoughts on “When I pick my cat up he cries/meows, is this normal?

  1. My kitten is about 7 months old and she does not like anyone picking her up, it’s a bit upsetting because I’ve had other cats that loved being picked up, she shows affection in other ways, but she has always been like this, it’s not constant crying it’s just strong deep meows and just doesn’t like it, is there anything I can do to ease her into being liked to be picked up?

    1. Some cats just don’t like to be picked up and cuddled, even if that is what we want. Try encouraging your kitten to sit next to you and pet her. She may snuggle in her own way and eventually chose to move onto you lap. She may never want to be picked up, but appreciate her for her own personality and what she shares with you your other cats may never have. She special and unique.

  2. My 6 year old cat (we’ve had him since birth) was laying down on my bed, and when I picked him up to move him so I could fix it he meowed. I was startled because he only meows when he wants food or if he’s trying to come inside. I then tried to pick him up again but he meowed and swatted my hand away. He usually doesn’t do this, do you think he’s in pain??

  3. My cat yankee is about 3 and she might have gotten to her son before we could nuter him so she could ne prego but i dont think thats it. Shes not showing its been weeks nips look normal but shes been puking up the food she eats and she meows and trys to push away when i lift as if im hurting her stomach. I can life her under her front paws without a problem tho. Also parents wont take her to a vet they keep telling me shes fine or it will go away.

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