Joseph H. Kinnarney, DVM, immediate past president of the American Veterinary Medical Association. He is a practicing vet at the Reidsville Veterinary Hospital in Reidsville, North Carolina. ReidsvilleVet.com
Pet owners often lift their dogs and cats in ways that are uncomfortable or unsafe—for the pet and/or the owner. What to do instead…
Lifting and carrying a small dog: Kneel or stoop facing one side of the dog. Reach over the dog with the arm that is toward the dog’s back end, and then arrange that hand and forearm so that they are parallel to the dog’s body, on the opposite side of the dog from your body. Position that hand under the dog’s chest between its front legs. The rear legs of the dog should still be between your arm and your body. While holding the dog’s chest, gently move your elbow toward your body, scooping up and supporting the dog’s rear legs on your arm. Position your other hand along the side of the dog that’s away from your body to prevent it from falling or scrambling away and/or to provide additional support to the animal’s front end if necessary. If you ever played football, picture how your coach taught you to carry the ball.
Important: Periodically confirm that the dog’s rear legs still are supported by your arm, not dangling, which is bad for the dog’s spine. (It’s fine if the front legs dangle.)
Lifting and carrying a larger dog: If your dog is too big to be comfortably supported on one forearm, instead position the dog on a dog bed, blanket or stretcher and have several people carry this. (Or put the dog in a wagon that you can pull.)
When you have no choice but to lift a large dog by yourself, kneel facing one side of the dog. Wrap one arm behind the dog’s rear legs, and place that hand against the far side of the dog. Wrap your other arm around the dog’s chest—right in front of the top of its front legs, not up by the throat. Scoop in and up so that the arm around the front end of the dog supports the chest as much as possible without forcing the front legs backward and the arm around the back end supports both the upper rear legs and hips. Some people instead lift the rear end of a large dog by placing one arm under the abdomen, in front of the rear legs. That’s acceptable for quick lifts, but it’s not preferred for extended carrying—it leaves the rear legs dangling, which places stress on the dog’s spine.
Lifting and carrying a cat: The small-dog directions are appropriate for cats as well. But when carrying a cat that’s prone to scratching, also secure one of its front legs between the thumb and forefinger of your carrying hand and the other front leg between the forefinger and middle finger of your other hand so that the cat can’t scratch you.