Many of us scruff cats. We learned that scruffing cats is the way the mother cat carries her kittens or it’s what we’ve observed others do — at the groomer, vet, shelter, and even at home. Fortunately, there are other ways to pick up and handle cats.

supporting kitten instead of scruffing

© Catalina Zaharescu

Scruffing cats can exacerbate behavioral problems and make handling more awkward and even harmful in the future. Although mother cats will carry their newborn kittens by the back of the neck to relocate them, they only do this when their kittens are very young and mostly immobile. Mother cats are very sensitive to how hard their pressure is while they hold and carry kittens, and mother cats do not have any alternative.

It’s important to be supportive of kittens. Kittens should nurse in a natural position (on their stomach with their head slightly elevated, not upside down on their back). They  should be carried with their body and hind end being fully supported. It’s easy for us to pick kittens up by the middle and let their little legs dangle, but this is not pleasant or healthy for them. Kittens will become more wiggly next time and more fearful or apprehensive of handling.

Often we can use gentle touch, towels, and other handling techniques to control cats without scruffing them. Cats who are fearful in carriers can be covered with a towel and, if the carrier has multiple openings or the cover can be removed, stay in the carrier while being examined. Simply carrying cats supporting them in a football hold can prevent cats from wiggling or squirming. We can rest our hand on their head or back of their neck so they remain still as opposed to hanging them by the scruff.

By being gentler, many cats are less reactive or aggressive. Our body-language also affects cats. Approaching cats from slightly behind them or next to them, as opposed to facing them directly or approaching from the front can prevent cats from panicking. Touching the cat gently as opposed to heavy poking and prodding can prevent the cat from becoming overaroused or upset. Being quiet, moving calmly, and placing cats on soft, non-slip surfaces can also prevent cats from escalating in aggression or reactivity.

It’s important, too, when doing anything to a cat to save more stressful procedures for last, whether clipping nails, removing a mat, or cleaning ears. Counter-conditioning also works well to teach cats that touch isn’t so stressful or that procedures don’t have to be so painful and traumatic.

© Alana Stevenson, 2018.

Learn more about cats. Take Alana’s webinars Feline Fundamentals – Humane Handling Basics 1 & 2.
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The video provides some tips on alternatives to scruffing cats.