Welcome to our regular “Ask the Cat Doc With Dr. Lynn Bahr” segment! Once a month, Dr. Bahr answers as many of your questions as she can, and you can leave new questions for her in a comment.

Dr. Bahr graduated from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine in 1991. Unlike most veterinarians, she did not grow up knowing that she would become a veterinarian. “It was a cat who got me interested in the practice and I am forever grateful to him,” said Dr. Bahr. Over the course of her veterinary career, Dr. Bahr found that the lifestyle of cats has changed dramatically. As the lifestyle of cats has changed, so did Dr. Bahr’s client education. In addition to finding medical solutions, she also encourages owners to enrich their home environments so that their cats can live long, happy, and healthy lives.

This new understanding led Dr. Bahr to combine her passion for strengthening the human-animal bond with her veterinary background and knowledge of what animals need and want to start her own solution-based cat product company, Dezi & Roo, inspired by two cats of the same names.

For more information about Dezi & Roo and their unique and innovative cat toys, please visit Dezi and Roo on Etsy.

Do you have a question for Dr. Bahr?
Leave it in a comment and she’ll answer it in next month’s column!

Cats don’t like to be picked up or held

I have two female (spayed) DSH rescue cats, Lily & Emily, approx 7 & 8 y.o. respectively, who were seized from a hoarder by the County. They were vetted in the County shelter, where we adopted them over 3 years ago. Both cats had numerous issues ranging from malnutrition/starvation, parasite infestation & flee bite anemia, and severe gingivo & caudal stomatitis (both have now been in full remission for over 2 years (full mouth extractions). We have solved all of these issues & they have doubled their weights from under 5 lbs to approx 9 lbs. They are are loving companions, sleep with us, enjoy interacting with their humans (to whom they have bonded), and love to be handled & petted…..except, they resist being picked up or restrained in any way and are definitely NOT lap kitties. They constantly head bonk & scent us, and talk to us.

How can we add cuddling & lap laying to their agenda, or are those unattainable behaviors due to the likelihood that they led horrible lives & were abused in some way(s) before they came to us?

We are extraordinarily patient with these two little darlings & have accepted them on their terms & don’t wish to force the issue.

Is there any hope to convert them to being lap kitties? We adore them just as they are, but we’d like to add even more enrichment to their lives if possible. – Dick Weavil

Hi Dick,

Your kitties are so lucky to have been rescued from a bad situation and then adopted by you. I am thrilled to hear they are thriving in your home and doing so well medically and emotionally. You are pawsome!

Many cats, like yours, resist being picked up or restrained and view those actions as being dangerous. Cats are seen as prey by coyotes, large birds, and other menacing critters who lift them off the ground as they are carrying them away in their mouths or talons. So, the act of being lifted off the ground or being restrained is scary for cats (and rightfully so) and a good reason for them to protest being handled that way.

Cats enjoy living life on their terms (who doesn’t?) and as you have noticed, will let you know what they like or don’t like. If cuddling is not your cats’ favorite activity, then trying to add that in for enrichment would be more for your benefit than for theirs.

However, there are ways in which to encourage them to spend more time in closer proximity to you. Try putting  a cat bed or a heated pad on the couch next to where you sit, or start clicker training to station on a mat near you or to accept a brief period of handling. For cats that enjoy being groomed, brushing them or using a back scratcher to deliver pets is another way in which to share mutual contact.

If either of your cats is comfortable with petting, but is hesitant to be picked up, you can start by placing your hand on your cat’s side and immediately releasing, and gradually work your way up to placing hands on both of her sides. Do this several time before attempting to pick her up and be sure to praise and reward her with a favorite toy or delicious treat. The first few times you pick your cat up, keep it very brief. Pick her up and immediately put her back down. With consistent practice – and lots of positive reinforcement – some cats may get accustomed to being held for short periods of time.

Hopefully, some of these suggestions prove helpful to you. Let me know if any work out.

5 Comments on Ask the Cat Doc: Can You Encourage a Cat to Cuddle and Be a Lap Cat?

  1. My rescue cat was like that, too. She liked petting & would even sit on my lap, but wouldn’t let me hold her. That’s a big deal for me. So, I worked w/ her, slowly. After 3 years of this, she finally let me hold her. She became a cat who loved to be held & who would tell me when she wanted to be picked up. So awesome! Best wishes for you to have the success that I have had!!

  2. I have two cats i adopted recently (about 8 months ago and 2 months ago) who i am letting be outside during the day. I live in a residential area of a small city. The problem is they are starting to go in the street. I’m terrified of them getting hit by a car and so feel a lot of anxiety when they are outside now. There’s not a lot of traffic but i still think it’s dangerous. Being indoor-only is not an option as my house is about 350 sq-ft; and that was never the plan. Can they be trained to not go into the street? Otherwise I”m thinking of trying to find a home for them in a more rural area, although it would break my heart to give them up. (I know a lot of people feel very strongly about indoor-only, i know that argument very well, so please don’t repeat it. thank you)

  3. Most of my cats are okay with me picking them up. However, my brother tried to pick Tiger up and Tiger was like “NO!!!!!!!!!” I converted his brother Blacky to lap sitting by picking him up and putting him on my lap, then just giving him attention (Tiger was ALWAYS a lap cat). Blacky eventually got to enjoying lap sitting and even hopped up on his own.

  4. Hello Dr. Bahr,
    my (male) cat is probably 14 years old (I’ve had him since October 2019, was told he is 12 years). I loie alone, 2 bedroom condo, balcony). I’ve noticed respiratory problems months ago, but they were no more than an almost unnoticeable sound when he was purring. The vet of course couldn’t do anything, couldn’t hear it and said his lungs were fine. Now it has advanced to sneezing , breathing through his mouth and is rather obvious, sometimes includes a nose drip. Now the vet says, that his lungs are still clear, it is most likely a virus and the only thing I could possible do is, to put him a in steam filled bathroom for 10 minutes once or twice a day. Do you have anything else I could do? He also has FIC every 3 weeks and I try to keep any kind of stressful situation away from him. That’s why I have not done the steam-filled bathroom yet – it would be adding to his stress to be locked in my bathroom, even if I stay with him. Hope to hear from you and thank you in advance to have taken the time to read about my BoBo and his issues.
    Ina Holthaus

  5. Thank you for answering the question about cats not liking to be picked up. It could be why one of mine doesn’t like it. I have no idea what happened to her prior to us getting her, but she was most likely abused. She was actually tossed out of a car driving down a busy road in front of the place my husband worked. He ran out to save her from getting hit by cars. She was less than 2 months old at the time. She will be 11 this year and still only likes to be near my husband. I guess she sees him as her protector.

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