Many people, including veterinary technicians, were taught to grab a cat by
the scruff when they need to be restrained. Although long believed to be a
harmless way to provide restraint and mimic how a mother cat picks up her
kittens, scruffing is not a secure way to restrain a cat, is forceful, and induces
fear and anxiety in most cats.
What Is Scruffing?
Scruffing is a general term for a variety of holds on the skin of a cat’s neck.
Grasping the scruff of the neck varies from a gentle squeeze of skin to
grasping a larger fold of skin with varying amounts of pressure,
and sometimes is accompanied by lifting the cat up or heavily restraining the
cat in other ways.
The theory behind this restraint is that since kittens go limp when their
mothers carry them by the scruff, a tight grip on the loose skin over a cat’s
shoulders would trigger the same response. Mother cats grab kittens by their
scruff only in the first few weeks of life to transport them. A mother cat knows
the precise pressure to place on the skin at the back of the neck and cats
have pressure sensors on their teeth, which explains why they have the ability
to carry a mouse in their mouths without a scratch on the mouse.
What Is the Problem With Scruffing?
Cats are only grabbed by the scruff on their neck in limited
circumstances: during the first few weeks of life by their mother, during
mating, fighting, and when they are being attacked by a predator. 1 None
of these situations, which create stress, are helpful to mimic in a home,
veterinary or shelter setting.
Lifting a cat or suspending its body weight by its scruff is unnecessary
and could be painful. It is not a respectful way to pick up your cat.
Scruffing entirely removes the cat’s option to retreat and its sense of
control, causing potentially aggressive behavior.
How to Restrain a Cat Without Scruffing
There are many different ways of handling and restraining cats that do not
involve scruffing or heavy restraint. These feline-friendly methods take a less-
is-more approach while also assessing the cat's body language and using
restraint methods that allow for the cat to hide.
Using a considerate approach when approaching a cat: Avoid a
frontal approach and staring. Move calmly and speak in quiet tones, and
keep the carrier covered with a pheromone-infused towel and elevated
on high surface prior to exam. If the cat does not come out of carrier on
their own, remove the top to remove the cat from the carrier, rather than
tipping the carrier or straining to pull the cat out.
Towel handling techniques: Many towel restraint techniques can be
used for cats, including blanket wraps like the burrito, half-burrito, and
scarf wraps. The varied techniques allow accessibility to different areas
of the cat for different procedures. All towel restraint methods require
practice and patience.
Supporting the cat well: By having your hands, arms, and body
positioned appropriately, the cat should not feel as if they will fall or are
Adjusting your handling based on the cat and their response to
Creating an environment that consider the cat’s point-of-view: This
includes sights, smells and pheromones, sounds, touch, and tastes.
Distractions and rewards like food, brushing, and play
Examining the cat where they prefer (owners lap, cat carrier)
All cats are individuals and we need to assess the cats body language and be
flexible with handling techniques based on the cat’s individual preference.
Allow the cat to maintain its chosen position and vary your touch with the cat’s
Benefits of Feline-Friendly Handling
Travel is less stressful for cats and caregivers. Alleviate or reduce the
anxiety and fear that are associated with getting ready to come to the
By promoting safety, when a cat’s fear and anxiety is reduced, there is a
lower likelihood of bites, scratches, and other injuries to caregivers and
With better medicine, your veterinarian will have more accurate and
complete exams including more accurate blood tests, temperature, and