3 Words to Say to Your Cat

Story at-a-glance -

  • In this hugely popular video, a Vancouver veterinarian demonstrates how to pick up a cat
  • With help from his kitty assistant, Clawdia, Dr. Burstyn shows you how to “squish that cat” to make her feel secure
  • He also demonstrates the best way to pick up, carry and put down a shoulder cat like Mr. Pirate

By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

The video above (which you really need to watch if you haven’t yet) is a surprise viral hit, scoring over 4 million views on YouTube as of this writing. It’s pretty cute, and obviously hugely popular, so I thought I’d share it with you.

According to Global News, it’s the combination of veterinarian Dr. Uri Burstyn’s soothing voice and the calm demeanor of his two kitty co-stars — Clawdia and Mr. Pirate — that appeals to cat lovers and non-cat lovers alike.1 At The A.V. Club, a pop culture website, blogger Clayton Purdom (yes, that’s really his name!) offers this hilarious take on Dr. Burstyn’s how-to video:

“There is an entire separate ecosystem that exists within the internet that is designed to calm you. There are ‘oddly satisfying’ GIFs on Reddit and hour-long ASMR videos on YouTube and entire fleets of websites that serve as weighted blankets against the shrieking terror of the rest of the internet.

These things can all be nice — they are designed to be nice — but none of them are as nice as this [seven]-minute informational video about how to properly pick up a cat. I am not being sarcastic. Sarcasm has been drained from my body like water from a sponge after viewing the fourth YouTube video by 'Helpful Vancouver Vet,' a Vancouver-based veterinarian who is very helpful.”2

As for Dr. Burstyn, he’s surprised and flattered by all the attention his video has received.

“A lot of people have commented on the fact that they find it very soothing, watching the way I handle the cat,” he told Global news. “A lot of people commented that the cat really seems to enjoy the interaction. That’s something that people find very compelling, watching a cat and a human interact in a positive manner.”

Carrying a Cat in a Way That Makes Her Feel Safe and Supported

In his video, Burstyn first demonstrates how many people carry their cats, holding the kitties under the front legs, away from their bodies, sort of swinging them around. Cringe-worthy, not to mention unsafe!

He suggests first making friends with the cat. Let her sniff your hand, give her a little scratch on the side of the face and use a light touch as you stroke her. When you go to pick her up, it’s important to make her feel supported. Burstyn puts one hand under Clawdia’s chest, and one hand under her abdomen, and gently lifts her. No part of her body is hanging down or flopping around.

He explains that when you carry a cat with your hands under the front legs and the body hanging down, she will naturally try to gain purchase with her back feet, which can result in scratches. Next, Burstyn demonstrates how to carry a cat by holding Clawdia close to his body with one arm and “squishing” her into him so she feels nice and supported. He places his free hand under her front paws for a little extra support.

Squish That Cat!

Now, if you have a cat who’s trying to escape, Burstyn recommends that you “squish that cat.” (Please note: If the idea of “squishing” your cat makes you uncomfortable, you really need to watch the video!) What he’s actually doing with Clawdia, who is resting on her tummy on the exam table, is placing one hand over her upper back near her neck and the other hand over her lower back near the tail, and applying very gentle pressure. The best form of cat restraint is to “squish that cat,” he says.

Burstyn believes this makes kitties feel very secure — even cats who come into his clinic very scared get gently squished so they can’t hurt themselves or anyone else. If you have a towel handy, you can also drape the towel over the kitty and then squish. Burstyn says generally speaking, cats are very happy to be squished as he demonstrates.

Next Up: The Football Carry

This maneuver is for when you need to carry a cat somewhere in a hurry. Clawdia is standing on the exam table, and Burstyn “scoops” her up by sliding his left hand over her body and under her tummy while placing his right hand over her backend and lifting so that her head is sort of under his arm and her body is arched and pulled into his chest. Then he squishes her tight to his body, and that’s the football carry!

While the “football carry” is convenient and safe for vets and their staffs, I suspect Clawdia does not love it all that much. I doubt this is a hold most cat parents would or should use except in an emergency.

Mr. Pirate the Shoulder Cat

Mr. Pirate, who’s a 14-year-old-boy, is a bit chunky, which we can see by his broad back as he rests facing away from us on Burstyn’s shoulder. Mr. Pirate, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, loves to be on shoulders. Which is impossibly adorable.

Burstyn says shoulder cats are very easy to carry around, but some people are put off by them. (Burstyn has put the cat down on the exam table to show him off, but Mr. Pirate would really like to get back up on that shoulder!) So, people who aren’t accustomed to shoulder cats can be a little afraid of them — afraid of a cat climbing or leaping toward their shoulder, and afraid they’ll be scratched.

But Burstyn says all you have to do is learn the cat’s “I want to get on your shoulder” signal, lean over toward him and he’ll scramble right up while you support his bottom. It’s important to be a little careful so that you don’t get scratched, and also so kitty doesn’t go up and over your shoulder and shoot off your back. Shoulder cats can also be squished, according to Burstyn, to help them feel secure.

Now, putting a shoulder cat down is a bit tricky, because number one, he often doesn’t want to be put down! Burstyn offers two choices, the first of which is to lean back until the cat jumps off. He points out this isn’t the safest option, and I definitely agree. Let’s nix that one. The better choice is to support kitty’s back with your hand and keep leaning forward over a stable surface until kitty sees the writing on the wall and maneuvers himself off your shoulder. Dr. Burstyn’s final word of advice: Just remember to have fun with your cat!