Why You Should Avoid Grabbing a Cat by the Scruff


Grabbing a cat by the scruff is often considered a proper way to handle them. People believe that since mother cats carry their kittens by the scruff, it is normal to do the same to lift and move adult cats. However, experts agree that grabbing a cat by the scruff is a poor practice and should not be used as a method to restrain any cat.

What is Scruffing a Cat?

Scruffing a cat involves gripping the loose skin at the nape of their neck. Some people use this technique to handle cats, as the skin in that area is looser. The level of grip can range from gently holding the skin to grabbing a larger fold of skin with varying pressure. Sometimes, it is accompanied by lifting or restraining the cat in different ways.

Why Does Scruffing Make Cats Go Immobilized?

When a cat is grabbed by the scruff, it triggers a fear and stress response in their body. It makes them anxious because being scruffed is similar to how they are caught by predators or when mating males scruff females. When a cat is scruffed, they activate a fear and stress reflex, causing them to “freeze” and shift into a defensive position. To cope with the stress, cats immobilize their limbs and appear paralyzed.

This behavior is a natural instinct. When they were kittens, their mother would use her mouth to grasp their necks and carry them around, and they instinctively become immobile to facilitate safe and easy transportation.

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Why You Should Not Grab a Cat by the Scruff

When a kitten is born, the skin on the back of their neck is very soft. This allows their mother to grasp their neck without causing harm. After a few weeks, even the mother stops scruffing the kittens as the skin in that area becomes less pliable.

Mother cats know how much pressure to apply and when to let go to avoid injuring their kittens. We, as humans, don’t always know how much pressure to use to avoid harming the cat. In adult cats, scruffing can induce fear and anxiety. Cats should only be scruffed in certain situations:

  • During the first few weeks of life by their mother
  • During mating
  • During fights
  • When they are attacked by a perceived threat.

Forcing a cat to fight or flee when being scruffed will trigger a state of panic and cause them to stop functioning. These situations only serve to stress the cat unnecessarily, and there is no need to imitate them.

Why You Should Not Grab a Cat by the Scruff:

  • It makes cats fearful and stressed
  • It can lead to negative associations and experiences
  • It can make cats feel uncomfortable and scared
  • It can make cats feel powerless and potentially cause psychological and physical harm
  • It can damage your relationship with your cat, leading to fear or hostility
  • It is generally considered a form of mistreatment.

However, although not recommended, there are some instances where you can use scruffing to establish dominance if you have a new kitten and you are training them.

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To scruff a cat correctly, gently hold the loose skin on the back of their neck and squeeze. This should only be used if your kitten is exhibiting aggressive or disruptive behavior.

It is crucial to remember that when a cat is stressed, the last thing you should do is scruff them, as it does not help them relax and may worsen the situation. Instead, try wrapping the cat in a soft blanket or towel, commonly known as “burritoing,” while keeping their paws outside. This helps them relax, stay calm, and still maintain a sense of control.

If your cat is anxious, you can try the following stress reduction techniques.

Handling Cats Without Scruffing

There are various ways to handle and restrain a cat without resorting to scruffing. These cat-friendly methods involve less direct approaches and consider the individual cat’s response.

  • Approach the cat calmly, avoiding direct approaches and prolonged eye contact.
  • When visiting the veterinarian, if the cat doesn’t come out of the carrier on their own, remove the carrier’s top instead of forcefully pulling or restraining them.
  • Allow the cat to approach you instead of chasing after them.
  • Gently stroke their head and face, avoiding touching their belly or (sometimes) the base of their tail.
  • Read and understand the cat’s body language. Adjust your handling based on the cat’s mood and reaction. It is recommended to learn more about cat body language to understand their emotions and thoughts. Do not continue interacting with the cat if they are stimulated or aggressive. Try again when the cat has calmed down (about an hour later).
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Benefits of Cat-Friendly Handling

  • Reduced stress for both the cat and the caregiver during transportation and visits to the veterinarian.
  • Decreased risk of bites, scratches, and other injuries to the caregiver.
  • Improved accuracy of veterinary exams, including more precise blood tests, temperature readings, and blood pressure measurements.


Cats are highly sensitive when grabbed by the scruff. While newborn kittens are naturally programmed to go immobilized and relaxed when scruffed, larger adult cats are not. They will experience anxiety, tension, and fear. Cat experts emphasize that you should not grab a cat by the scruff as it can cause physical and psychological harm.

Instead of resorting to scruffing, there are gentler ways to handle and restrain cats. You can stroke them, burrito them in a soft blanket, read their body language, handle them where they feel comfortable, and provide engaging activities like food, treats, or toys.

Remember, all cats are individuals, and it is important to assess a cat’s body language and be flexible with handling techniques based on their preferences. Limit scruffing to the least possible extent.

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