Why You Should Never Scruff Your Cat

Scruff No More

You may have seen a mama cat carrying around her kitten with her teeth clasped into the back of its neck. That loose skin on the back of a kitty’s neck is known as the "scruff". When you lift a kitten like this, you suspend them by their body weight, which usually causes them to become limp and submissive.  

As well as mother cats doing it to their babies, many vets also pick up kitties in this way when carrying out medical examinations or providing treatment. Furthermore, many cat owners will scruff their kitties as a way to restrain them or remove them from a dangerous situation. But is this method an acceptable way to be handling a cat or kitten? 

4 reasons why you should NEVER scruff your cat 

Just because you see a vet do this does not mean that you should make a habit of scruffing your feline. Here are four reasons why you may want to reconsider.

It’s not relaxing 

Why you should never scruff your cat 

Newborn kittens have a reflex in which their bodies become limp when scruffed. When a mother carries her baby by the scruff, it promotes relaxation in the kitten. However, many cat owners don’t know that kittens only have this response in the first few weeks of their lives. 

You may think scruffing your cat mimics what a mother cat does. However, by adolescence, many cats find it more aggressive or even painful. Even if your kitty still becomes submissive when you do it, it's certainly not an enjoyable experience for them. Scruffing will distress your cat and result in agitation. 

It’s dangerous

Why you should never scruff your cat 

Carrying an adult cat by the scruff can cause more harm than good. This is because, with scruffing, you are supporting their whole body weight using the loose skin of their neck. This is an improper way to handle a full grown cat. Prolonged handling or dangling can be very painful and can potentially even rip their skin if they're heavy enough. 

It doesn’t correct bad behavior 

Why you should never scruff your cat

Along with shouting and physical harm, scruffing is no way to deal with behavioral issues with your cat. Unlike dogs, cats do not learn their lesson from commands. Scruffing is equally ineffective in reprimanding your pet. Physical reinforcement is never acceptable when managing behavior problems at home.

It could ruin your bond  

Why you should never scruff your cat

It’s safe to say if you do this to your kitty, chances are they won't be too happy with you. While it might restrain your cat from dangerous or destructive situations, scruffing will scare and distress them. If they panic they may act out aggressively against you to defend themselves.  

Remember that our feline friends rely on us to take care of them. Therefore, it’s our responsibility to deal with their behavioral problems in a compassionate way. Focus on treating the core issue rather than aggressively correcting the behavior at the moment.  

The proper way to pick up a cat 

No matter their size, you should lift and carry all cats with two hands. To pick up a cat safely: 

  • Put one hand under their front legs near the chest and place your other hand under their back legs and tail to support the weight.  
  • Bring them close to your body to cradle them. You can shift your position so that your arm supports the bottom.  
  • Their legs should not be dangling as this could make them feel unsafe and unsupported. 
  • Make sure to do the action gently and slowly so you do not startle or frighten them. It helps to stroke them a little bit beforehand to announce your presence.  

How to restrain your cat without causing stress or harm 

Sometimes as cat owners, we do need to restrain our pets physically to keep them out of harm's way or prevent them from hurting someone or another animal. 

  • If you do need to take control of your feline and pull them away from something quickly, it’s better to wrap their body in a towel in a gentle but firm way. This will restrict your cat's range of movement without distressing them.  
  • Be cautious of the amount of pressure you give. Your kitty might try to wriggle and kick their way out, so you will need to take a firm hold. But, make sure you don’t grip them too tight or squeeze their chest, as this could impact their ability to breathe. 
  • Another safe way to restrain a cat is to use distraction to divert their attention. Pick them up in a safe manner and divert their attention to something they like, such as a tasty treat. 
  • If you need to keep your cat still for something like giving medication or trimming their nails, and they become stressed or aggressive, it may be tempting to scruff them. However, the best way to deal with it is by letting them calm down and then trying again a bit later. Scruffing will only heighten their distress and make the situation worse.  

Promoting better behavior  

If your cat is exhibiting unwanted behavior, it’s essential to get to the root of the problem first to correct it effectively. Figuring out what your fur baby needs and then providing that to them is the only way to put an end to destructive or frustrating behavior successfully.  

Final thoughts 

Cats should only be scruffed by their mama or by a vet based on their age. Try to avoid this restraining method as much as possible, and instead, try the alternative methods above. As our kitties’ caregivers, we should strive to minimize their stress as much as possible and look for a peaceful and considerate way to handle and care for them.