Due to anatomy and predisposition, cats predictably do certain things at certain times. The predictability makes it possible to handle most of them, even though they have claws and teeth. Note: predictably does not mean 100% of the time.
Scenario. Cat-scratch sequence activated.
Goal: Pick up cat without being scratched.
Cat laying on side, eyes wide with dilated pupils, focused on you, part or all of belly visible, tail may be moving back and forth. Defensive fighting position. Cat’s short-term goal — keep person from touching body. End goal — run away and hide. In this position, cat’s front paws can’t reach further than a few inches. Stay out of range.
Front legs are a cat’s knives. Used to inflict damage. (Back legs are a cat’s hammers. More powerful than front paws. Used for “rabbit-kicking”, not scratching.)
Wrap towel around hand or wear a glove unless you have a tolerance for risk. Very quickly put hand on cat’s rear and spin cat so that cat’s rear end faces you, if you can reach cat’s rear without putting your hand in front of cat. If you can’t, use a wrapped towel (tube shape) to prod cat into position where you can reach rear. (Can use your other hand to distract cat.)
Place your hand on cat’s shoulder blades, press down enough to keep cat from moving. Roll cat onto its belly, while maintaining firm hold. Cat’s stomach should be flat against table/ground, no longer exposed. Cat’s rear legs should be under the cat, so the cat is in a “loaf” position.
If you can’t do this, distract cat with towel and grab scruff with hand. Gently hoist cat up a few inches, then plop cat down so cat is on belly, legs underneath in cat loaf position.
Cat-scratch launch sequence de-activated.
If cat is determined to scratch, I wear the Bite Buster glove.