Why Does My Cat Meow When I Pick Her Up?

Why do cats meow?

The cat’s meow. Behind purring, meowing is the most common sound cats make. While cats can’t speak, they use their meow to communicate with us. We have found adult cats don’t meow at each other, just people.

When born, cats are usually blind and deaf. They use purring and meowing to communicate with their mother. As their senses develop, cats communicate in their own secret language. As much as we try, it’s not something we can understand.

Cats are smart enough to know we’re different than them, but they think of us as large, dumb cats, which gives a lot of insight into why they meow at us. They think we’re babies with dull senses.

When a cat meows, they want to communicate something with you. You should listen!

Meowing when getting picked up–is this behavior normal?

Meowing when getting picked up

Cats are adorable creatures. Those triangular ears and soft fur. It’s hard to resist the urge to pick them up and cuddle them. But cats are not strangers or afraid to let us know what they think. If a cat meows when getting picked up, they are trying to tell you something.

Luckily, this behavior is normal. It’s a sign your cat is comfortable enough to communicate a need or want with you. Now, you have to figure out why they’re meowing.

Why do cats meow when picked up?

Cats meow when picked up

Our Certified Cat Behavioralist, Katenna Jones, explains why cats may meow when picked up.


Your cat may meow when picked up because they like it. Dr. Jones says, “The vast majority of the time, your cat wants your attention. They like it and have learned meowing gets your attention.”

Cats enjoy attention, especially positive attention. Picking them up is an enjoyable experience, especially if paired with treats or petting. Dr. Jones adds, “When you pick them up, you usually do something they enjoy.”

You can tell if your cat is meowing because they want attention through body language. If they show positive body language, such as ears in an upright position, half-closed eyes, and relaxed posture, it’s more likely they are enjoying the experience.


When we pick them up, a pained meow is not something we want to hear from our cat. Dr. Jones says, “In some cases, especially with elderly cats, they may meow out of sickness or pain, causing discomfort when you pick them up.”

It’s disheartening to think we’re causing pain to our cat when picking them up, but luckily there are ways to tell if that’s the issue. Look for negative body language, such as shying away from touch or tender areas. Additionally, there is a distinct meow. Dr. Jones clarifies, “This type of meow is a more long and drawn out sound, like a yowl or even growl with a possible hiss.”

If your cat shows signs of negative body language and the pained meowing, it is advised to take your furry friend to the vet to get them checked out.


While it may seem stressful, being picked up can be stressful. Imagine walking around your home, and suddenly, two giant arms pick you up away from the activity you were enjoying. That might be a little annoying!

Human contact can be stressful for cats, especially in sensitive areas. Cats can become overstimulated with too much touch, which can cause a negative association with being picked up.

Dr. Jones adds, “Perhaps it’s the uncomfortable or even painful way you picked her up. Or perhaps your cat doesn’t like how you smell or doesn’t want to be held at that moment. They may rather do something else.”

No matter the reason, you can recognize this body language through a swishing tail, dilated pupils, or even hair standing on end. If your cat is communicating stress to you, it’s better to place them down and give them some space.


When should I be concerned?

None of us want our cats to be stressed or in pain. It can be hard to pinpoint exactly what is causing the feline’s behavior, as cats are experts at hiding pain or discomfort. We have to be observant, watching for the signs to catch them.

If your cat suddenly has a long-drawn-out meow, you should look closer to see whether your furry friend has underlying issues.

According to the VCA Animal Hospitals, sick cats may have lower energy levels, changes in their sociability, and changes in their hunger or thirst levels. These are not the only signs of illness but may be the more outward ones.

If you see changes in your cat’s habits, you should make an appointment with your veterinarian to rule out any issues.


What other noises do cats make when picked up?

Cats have a wide array of noises they can make. Purina has a great guide on the types of sounds cats make and what they mean!

  • A low-pitched meow is not usually a demand for attention. It can signify a complaint or grumble.
  • Chirping or chattering is like a stuttered meow. It usually has to do with natural hunting instincts, like watching birds or other prey.
  • A caterwaul is a shrill, wailing noise. It sounds like your cat is pained, but it usually means they are in heat.
  • Hissing is elicited when your cat pet is threatened, angry, or in pain.



What is the correct way to pick up a cat or kitten?

the correct way to pick up a cat or kitten

Consent is the biggest factor in picking up your cat or kitten correctly. Without their “permission,” it’ll be hard to pull off the right technique.

The best way to pick up a cat is to place one hand under their front legs and the other under their back legs. Their hind quarters should be in the crook of your arm. Your cat’s legs shouldn’t dangle because this can make them feel unsafe.

Why does my cat run away when I try to pick her up?

If your cat tries to run away when you pick her up, they may not want to be picked up. While this can be discouraging, you should respect your cat’s wishes, or it could decay the relationship.

What can I do if my cat doesn’t like to be picked up?

Holding your cat shouldn’t be stressful. If they don’t like being picked up, it could be due to an unpleasant experience as a kitten. It would help if you got your cat used to being picked up.

How can I get my cat used to being picked up? 

You can get them used to picked up by going at it slowly. Focus on putting one hand on their side and then releasing. Then work up to both hands on either side. The biggest part is them letting you pick them up. It may take a while before your cat agrees to it, but it takes time.


  • Elizabeth Lasley

    Elizabeth is an animal lover who is owned by three cats: Vivan, Burr, and Puck. Her passion for writing started in the 9th grade when she began writing her novel. She hasn't stopped since.

  • Katenna Jones, Cat Behaviorist

    Katenna Jones is an Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (ACAAB) and Certified Cat Behavior Consultant. Katenna works with families and their cats and dogs in person or virtually with her company Jones Animal Behavior in Rhode Island. She earned a Master's in Psychology, with a focus on animal behavior, from Brown University.