6 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Scruff Your Cat

Breaking the myths about scruffing your cat

by London Cat Behaviourist – Anita Kelsey

This type of scruffing could be very painful for a cat. Notice how the feet are not even being supported.

This type of scruffing could be very painful for a cat. Notice how the feet are not even being supported.

 

I’m not a big advocate on scruffing cats and during my work days I often hear clients tell me that, as a way to get their cats to obey them when they have been ‘naughty’, they scruff them ‘”because that’s what their mummies would have done when they were kittens”

These are some of the facts below to highlight why scruffing is never a good idea in most circumstances.

  1. Many cats react adversely to scuffing resulting in aggressive behaviour

  2. A kittens relationship with its mother is based on a different set of principles. A mother cat knows the precise pressure to place on the skin at the back of the neck. She scruffs her kittens mainly to carry them. For an adult cat the action of a human scruffing it is frightening and puts the cat into an un-relaxed and guarded state.

  3. Cats have pressure sensors on their teeth which explains why they have the ability to, as my cat did, carry a baby mouse in their mouths without so much as a scratch on the mouse and then the next minute ripping another unlucky soul to shreds.

  4. Lifting a cat or suspending its body weight by its scruff (the skin on the back of its neck) is unnecessary and could be potentially painful. It’s certainly not the most respectful or appropriate way to pick up or handle your cat.

  5. The theory was 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. But this “flexor reflex” occurs only in very young kittens. It is now thought that gripping the skin in “mother cat fashion” causes stress and can make a cat more fearful.

  6. Scruffing should only ever be used in a situation whereby you need to restrain a cat quickly because of adverse circumstances. Apart from this scruffing should never be used as a training action or reprimand. Reprimanding a cat in this way, after it has performed an un-wanted behaviour (but natural behaviour to the cat), will result in a cat who is now pissed off and still having no idea why you have just scruffed it!

Treat your cat with respect and train it in a proper manner. Forceful actions such as scruffing should never be anyone’s choice of action.

I see many photo’s on the net of people holding their cats in mid-air, by the scruff of their necks, and seeing this as funny. It’s amazing how ignorant these people are. Laughing at their cats’ expression and body posturing when all I could see was a cat probably in pain.

A big thank you to the people below for their knowledge and expertise with cats.

Dr Marty Becker

Dr Sophia Yin

Karen L Overall

G Landsberg

W Hunthausen

L Ackerman

Should you wish to discuss further please do not hesitate to contact info@catbehaviourist.com

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About Anita Kelsey - Cat Behaviour Consultant

Anita Kelsey holds a first class honours degree in Feline Behaviour and Psychology (work based BA Hons) and runs a vet referral service dedicated strictly to the diagnosis and treatment of behaviour problems in cats. She is also a qualified cat groomer and specialises in grooming aggressive or phobic cats. Anita writes for Your Cat Magazine and is on their experts panel answering readers questions on cat grooming. She also advises on feline behaviour for the CFBA (Canine and Feline Behaviour) magazine as well as being a full member. Anita is based in Notting Hill, London but consults all over the UK as well as international requests. She lives with her husband, a music producer, and two Norwegian Forest cats, Kiki and Zaza. Anita's debut book, Claws, Confessions Of A Cat Groomer is published by John Blake Publishers and is out on 7th September 2017 (available for pre-orders on Amazon UK)
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20 Responses to 6 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Scruff Your Cat

  1. Informative and well written. Thank you for writing and sharing.

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  2. Sheryl says:

    Well said & quite true! Just want to point out that an adult cat is only grabbed on the neck in situations you wouldn’t want to emulate, such as fighting & mating. Unless the cat’s life was in imminent danger, I wouldn’t scruff at all.

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  3. bubblegumbutt says:

    That’s interesting. I was looking this up, my last cat responded very well to very light scruffing. She would submit and learn that a behavior was bad or simply that I was trying to do something and that the sooner she stopped wiggling I would let her go (she’s a big female ragdoll). I have a 4 month old bengal kitten who is the exact opposite. He gets furious if you scruff him, will thrash about wildly and do the stomach rip hind leg thing at your hands and when you let him go he’ll run about wildly making cat fighting noises for 10 minutes or so. Really weird contrast of the two. he’s not a crazy cat, he’s very smart and sweet, but im finding the little things like washing his paws after he fails to bury his bathroom properly or giving him medicine that he needed to take are all very stressful for both of us because he does not react well to scruffing and cannot be held still any other way. I was lucky the ragdoll would become so submissive when scruffed but then i guess thats kind of in the whole reason they call them ragdoll.

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  4. Simmo says:

    Never heard of a riffing being used as a form of punishment – I always thought it was quite relaxing for the cat. Our cat was feral and for the first 4 months we weren’t even allowed to touch her. Now, a year and a half down the line, she’s affectionate and loves being stroked, but not restrained. If we need to put a collar on her, or look at her teeth, the only way we can do this is by scruffing. I do this by lightly squeezing the loose skin at the back of her neck between two fingers, and not lifting. She usually, just freezes. If I persist, she will end up crouching down and purring, but does not struggle. I don’t think she’s putting from contentment – I think she’d rather I let her go – but when I do she just turns and looks at me, and then carries on with whatever she was doing. She does not run away, and is perfectly happy to be stroked again.

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  5. Thanks for the information! My friends are cat owners, so they often talk to each other about things like lifting a cat by the scruff. I’ve heard that there are some cat owners who will lift their cat as a way to discipline their cats since that’s how their mother carried them around when they were kittens. It never occurred to me that doing that to an adult cat would cause stress. I agree that it’s best to only grab an adult cat by the scruff only if your need to restrain them very quickly.

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  6. andreaallennyc says:

    I think there is a big difference between scruffing a cat in place and lifting a cat by the scruff with no support. I would never do the latter, but consider the former useful in situations where a cat is freaking out or being aggressive. These are not common situations, but they do happen. Also, my vet has his vet techs gently hold cats by their scruff with one hand while they are lying on the table (and hold a rear leg or whatever part is approppriate given the procedure) for blood draws, etc. They have never even gotten upset by it. One of my cats once rolled over for a belly rub while he was giving her an injection, so now he makes sure they are held still.

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  7. found this very disturbing.

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  8. I have adopted a main coon and don’t know her history but I do know she was in a house with about ten other cats. I have her with two other cats and she would pee in her litter box when I’m home but would pee in the corner on the rug in another room sometimes when I’m not home and sometimes in front of me. When I see her do the I say in a very loud, authoritative voice, “go to litter box” and she does. So, she knows the litter box and uses it, but sometimes she doesn’t and I can’t figure out why. Any advice?

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    • Talk to your vet to get her checked out for any medical issues. Once this has been done contact a feline behaviourist in your area to do a home visit and assess your cat’s behaviour. You don’t state where you live but if you are in London or slightly further afield I can assist you. In you are further away or abroad it is best to seek a behaviourist in your area. Good luck and keep off of the scruffing.

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  9. Arena says:

    Please, I need help with my 12 wk. old feral but partly tamed kitten!..he is sweet but a ruff Houser that won’t leave anything alone. I have been training him with “no” and he responds to that now sometimes, depending on what it is that I am trying to stop him from doing. My Christmas tree that I bought is now a major issue.. when I try saying no its not working spraying with water bottles as the vet has told me to do only deters him for seconds and then he seems to get pissed and becomes more defiant, the curtains also are an issue. I cannot seem to get him to stop! The Christmas tree does not have lights on it yet but potentially will be dangerous once they are there. I had to scruff him and lay him on his side as some say this is the way mother cats repremand their kittens to get him to stop, then just at my wits end put him in the bathroom.🙀 I can’t keep him there, he’s used to being able to be free around the house but the rough play and running all over everything and wanting to play and knocked down everything has to be stopped what should I do to train him properly?

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    • Talk to your vet to get her checked out for any medical issues. Once this has been done contact a feline behaviourist in your area to do a home visit and assess your cat’s behaviour. You don’t state where you live but if you are in London or slightly further afield I can assist you. In you are further away or abroad it is best to seek a behaviourist in your area. Good luck and keep off of the scruffing.

      Like

  10. Brandon says:

    My cat responds well to scruffing, he remains calm and affectionate. I am very gentle when doing it and know to never pick him up like that as it is dangerous to his health. For some reason, though, it doesn’t cause him to go limp of freeze like other cats. I had warned the vet about this, as my cat gets extremely aggressive at the vet office, and the vet didn’t believe me at first. I offered to help hold him down for an exam and the vet waved me off, scruffed him, and then had a shock when my cat tried to swat at him. The vet was much more willing to be assisted at that point, but remained confused as to why the reflex didn’t work on my cat. I still perform it on my cat, but as a gentle behavior reminder or I incorporate it into a massage as it calms him considerably. Most people are far too rough, and do it to cats that aren’t used to it, so the poor cats don’t handle it well. It should only be used by vets and mother cats if you can’t do it properly.

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  11. Karuna says:

    my cat is about 2 months old, i found her when she was maybe 2-3 weeks old. she’s been biting me a lot and i have been trying various ways to stop the biting. I read about scruffing and tried it today and she rolled around hissed, spit and bit me so hard it drew blood.
    I’ve been looking at scruffing and everyone says it should work on kittens and not cats…I am so at a loss as to what to do next…

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    • Do not scruff as this will be hurting your kitten. Talk to your vet to get her checked out for any medical issues. Once this has been done contact a feline behaviourist in your area to do a home visit and assess your kittens behaviour. You don’t state where you live but if you are in London or slightly further afield I can assist you. In you are further away or abroad it is best to seek a behaviourist in your area. Good luck and keep off of the scruffing.

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    • Paul says:

      Hi

      When you say you “found” her, do you mean she was a stray/abandoned?

      Many cats (and dogs) especially when young, will “mouth”. This feels a bit like biting, but shouldn’t draw blood. It is part of their natural behaviour.

      Of course, a natural reaction when a cat clamps its jaws on you is to withdraw your hand quickly. This can sometime cause it to be more injurious than it would otherwise have been. I’m not saying this is what you are doing – just a suggestion. Try going in with the back of your hand as well, this appears less threatening – an open hand can resemble a claw.

      Also remember that if the kitten was abandoned, it may not have learned all the social graces it might otherwise have done. I would suggest maybe googling how to socialise feral/stray cats. We took in a three year old, and it was four months before we could even touch her for the first time. Sometimes, all you need is a whole heap of patience!

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