5 Reasons to NOT Scruff a Cat To Restrain Them

Very annoyed gray adult cat with both paws up, while being grabbed by its scruff.
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Picture this: you’re a cat, minding your own business, when suddenly someone grabs you by the scruff like a miniature superhero. Not exactly the best feeling, right? Some folks swear by it as the easiest way to control their feline friends. Hold your catnip, because there’s a growing chorus of experts who say, “Not so fast!” Turns out, scruffing a cat takes away its control and can lead to negative associations with human interactions. We don’t want kitty to ghost us, do we?

The Scruffing Origin: A Look Back in Time

Scruffing involves grabbing a cat by the loose skin on the back of its neck. Through the corridors of feline history, it all started with mama cats and their adorable bundles of joy. As most few-week-old kittens are unable to move by themselves, mama cats scruff their little ones using their mouths to safely carry them from place to place. It is also common in adult cats to resort to scruffing during mating or to assert dominance in a fight.

When kittens get scruffed by their moms, they turn into little balls of fluff, tucking their legs and becoming purrfectly immobile. It’s like their own magical transformation into adorable cat statues!

Brown mama tabby cat grabbing her kitten by its scruff, while walking outdoors in the sunlight.

If you own a kitten, it is highly encouraged to not scruff them if you don’t know the right way to do it without injuring them. It’s best to avoid scruffing older or adult cats altogether, as the added weight can strain their necks excessively.

The Potential Risks and Drawbacks of Scruffing

Close-up of a man wearing a blue sleeved shirt scruffing an annoyed gray cat.

#1. Scruffing hurts cats physically

If someone picks you up by your necklace or chokes you, it would be a painful and dangerous experience. The same thing happens when cats are grabbed by the scruff of their necks. This can cause discomfort, strain their muscles, and potentially hurt them. As cats use their necks for balance, agility, and communication, subjecting them to such physical stress can severely harm their long-term health.

#2. Scruffing causes fear and stress in cats

Similar to humans, cats go through afraid and stressed feelings when they encounter uncomfortable or threatening circumstances. Handling them in a certain way called “scruffing” can cause a feeling of fear in cats, making them feel defenseless and susceptible. As a result, the stress of such situations can lead to increased anxiety, retreat, and behavioral changes. 

#3. It is associated with negative emotions

Handling a cat by scruffing can have a detrimental effect on your relationship with them as their caregiver. Cats may interpret this action as aggressive or dominant behavior, causing them to become fearful and untrusting of you, and/or the environment that they are being scruffed.

#4. It may cause unintended aggressive behavior

If a cat senses danger or becomes stressed, it might display defensive actions, such as aggression. Handling a cat by the scruff of the neck could trigger an aggressive response, such as hissing, biting, or scratching, specifically if the cat views it as a hostile act.

Close-up of cat scratches on fair, adult woman's side of hands.

#5. Scruffing may ruin your relationship with your cat

Building a strong bond with your cat is based on trust, love, and mutual respect. Scruffing can destroy this foundation by causing fright, tension, and negative associations. According to PetMD, these bad memories are stored in the brain “and can be retrieved at will.”

The relationship between you and your cat may worsen over time if your cat associates its negative emotions with these past traumas, resulting in avoidance, seclusion, and potentially aggressive behavior. They might stop being your loyal shadow, so no more marathon bathroom sessions for extra cuddle time with your furball!

Embracing Safe & Gentle Cat Handling Ways

Embracing practices such as positive reinforcement and gentle carrying and handling methods can be much more successful in fostering a harmonious connection with your feline companion. We’re talking positive reinforcement, treats, and rewards galore!

Brown cat reaching out its paw to get treat wedged between his owner's fingers.

A calm and quiet environment is sure to make our kitties purr with delight – try a pheromone spray or diffuser like Feliway, and give them lots of hiding spots that they can retreat to. Bonding with your cat daily by playing, grooming, and feeding them, helps create a more trusting and confident cat.

If you’ve been wondering about the right way to handle a cat without resorting to scruffing, fear not! We’ve got you covered with some cat-friendly techniques.

Calmly Approach & Lift

It’s important to approach the cat calmly and call her to you or gently reach out to her, by making yourself compact (think squatting) and reaching your hand out. Once she’s comfortable, you can lift her up by placing your arms and hands underneath her front and back legs, providing full support for her weight.

Lady carrying white and gray cat, while supporting cat's bottom and legs with her hands.

The Kitty Burrito Method

Another humane way to restrain a cat is by using a large towel, often referred to as the “kitty burrito.” This technique, commonly used in veterinary clinics, involves wrapping a towel loosely around the cat, and gently securing her while leaving her head free.

Cute gray kitten wrapped securely-with a towel, carried in her owner's arms.

For a more comprehensive way of how to properly pick up a cat, check out our other articles: How to Properly Carry A Cat Without Hurting Them, or, if you’re bringing them traveling or to see a vet, How to Get a Cat Safely in a Carrier.

Final Thoughts: Stop The Scruff!

Are you guilty of scruffing your cat, thinking you can handle them better? With the truth revealed, let’s toss scruffing out the window now and welcome a new era of safe and gentle cat handling. With a little knowledge and a whole lot of love, we can create a bond with our whiskered pals that’s built on trust and respect, instead of fear.

"Please handle with love - FRAGILE - thank you" sticker on cute cat's head with paw up.

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