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My Pet World: How to handle a cat who hates being picked up

Cathy M. Rosenthal, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Cathy,

We have an 18-month-old tabby. When we brought her home from the shelter, she had an upper respiratory infection and chlamydia, which was passed on from her mother. For six months, we had to “burrito” her to give her eye drops. Now, if we pick her up, she only allows us to hold her for literally 10 seconds before she starts to hiss, bite and scratch, which makes it impossible to give her routine nail cuts or get her into her cat carrier for a trip to the vet.

Our vet prescribed a tranquilizer for vet visits, but even under the influence, she becomes a devil cat at the vet, escaping and running around the office, hissing and biting. We tried the same tranquilizers at home for her nail clipping with the same results.

We think this behavior developed from her earlier medication routine. She is otherwise a sweet cat and will brush up against us and allow us to pet her. What can we do to regain her trust? – Frances, Levittown, New York

Dear Frances,

While some cats simply don’t like to be held, early experiences can shape behaviors. Let’s replace an unhappy memory with a new experience associated with food. Here’s what you can do.


Get her a feline pheromone collar to wear. These have a calming effect on cats. Let her wear the collar for a few days so she is in the proper mindset for the training.

When you start training, pick her up — but only a few feet off the floor and only for a few seconds. Talk to her in a sweet voice, and then immediately put her down in front of a tempting treat or special wet cat food. It’s important you put her down before she reacts. Essentially, you are rewiring her brain to associate being held with a special treat. For the next few weeks, pick her up only to give her the special treat or food, increasing how long you hold her and how high off the floor.

After a few weeks, re-introduce nail trims, but only do a paw a day, followed by a treat. When taking her to the vet, drop a towel over her to pick her up and put her in the crate. With time, you can build up her tolerance to these things. But remember, some cats simply don’t like to be held and prefer to sit on your lap instead.

Dear Cathy,


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