26

We have a 18 month old male, neutered cat. (His full name is Mr Sid Cuffuffle- Sid to his friends - no lie!)

A mother cat carries her kittens by the scruff of the neck, as the skin is very loose. I am wondering if it is ok to pick a full grown adult cat up by the scruff of the neck. Our cat is only a young adult, so is it ok for younger adults, is there some cut off point.

This post recommends holding a cat by the scruff of the neck, but I can imagine that there would be a difference between this and holding a cat up in the air by the scruff of the neck.

What are the facts about picking up or holding adults cats by the scruff of the neck?

Sid
Mr Sid Cuffuffle (aka Sid)

  • I certainly hope so, because I do it all the time. – MikeTheLiar Oct 29 '13 at 14:19
  • I find that gripping my cat's scruff (but lifting him with my other arm as I normally do) is an effective way of keeping him calm when he's fussy. Then again, he's a 14 pound beast and I don't think I could "scruff" him if I tried (too heavy!) – Kwuz Jul 23 '14 at 20:21
  • Don't do it for very heavy cats as it can cause neckpain or possibly an injury. However it would be perfectly fine to lift then both by the scruff of the neck and an arm under their belly. That way they are both supported and held. – Justin Jul 12 '17 at 16:40
18

Of course, there is a huge difference. I'd never condone holding an 8 kg cat in the air by the scruff of the neck : always keep his back paws on ground, and as far as the answer linked in the question is concerned, release him as soon as he has swallowed his pill. And don't use scruffing when not necessary.

That being said, having tried to pill my cat without scruffing him, I feel it's much more comfortable for a cat to be scruffed during a few seconds than to be gently tortured during 5 minutes or more. That's a fact. ;)

Now, no other facts, but experts advices (the bold weighting is from me) :

Traditionally, scruffing (grasping the cat by the scruff of the neck) has been considered an acceptable way to maintain control of a cat because it does not harm the cat if done properly, and it is effective in many cases. However, scruffing has become a controversial issue. Some cats react negatively to scruffing and actually fight harder instead of holding still. Also, some overweight cats have very little loose tissue to scruff, so the hold will be less effective.

In general, scruffing should be used only if minimal restraint techniques are not working. If scruffing seems necessary, try it for a few seconds. If the cat gets worse, discontinue and try something else. When scruffing a cat, use the minimum amount of force necessary and take care to avoid injuring the cat's neck. A cat should not be lifted or suspended by the scruff because this is uncomfortable and may make the cat's behavior worse.

(Joanna M. Bassert & John A. Thomas, Clinical Textbook for Veterinary Technicians, 8th Edition, McCurnin's 2013, ISBN 978-1437726800 — p.186.)

‘Scruffing’ is a general term for a variety of holds on the skin of the cat's neck. Grasping the scruff of the neck varies from a gentle squeeze of skin, to grasping a larger fold of skin with varying amounts of pressure. Consideration of natural feline behavior can help put this technique into perspective. Cats grasp the scruff of the neck of other cats in only limited circumstances. During the first few weeks of life the mother cat may lift kittens by the scruff of the neck using her mouth. This is a method of transport and immobilization, and not a form of discipline. During mating, the tomcat grasps the scruff of the queen.

Some veterinarians and veterinary behaviorists do not use scruffing and do not condone its use. They find that using other gentle handling techniques is less stressful, more time efficient, provides greater safety for personnel, and allows the cat to have a sense of control. They prefer other methods to manage situations where feline welfare or personnel safety are at stake.

Other veterinarians handle cats gently and use scruffing only if it is necessary to protect the welfare of the cat or for the physical protection of personnel. Still others think that scruffing a cat is acceptable for short procedures, in an emergency, and to prevent the cat from escaping or injuring someone.

If you think this technique is the only alternative, carefully evaluate the cat for any signs of fear or anxiety. The cat may become immobile but may not be comfortable, or may become aggressive. Handle the cat as gently as possible and guard against using aggressive handling techniques out of anger or frustration. The panel does not condone lifting the cat or suspending its body weight with a scruffing technique because it is unnecessary and potentially painful.

(Ilona Rodan et al., AAFP and ISFM Feline-Friendly Handling Guidelines, Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, Volume 13, Issue 5, May 2011, Pages 364-375, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jfms.2011.03.012.)

Having a sense of control, even if it is not exerted, makes the cat more comfortable and reduces stress. Importantly, using the minimal amount of handling gives the cat a greater sense of control, so the cat is less likely to be aggressive.

[…]

Most of us have been taught to scruff cats, but scruffing often only increases a cat's arousal and fear, because scruffing removes the cat's sense of control. Many cats become fearfully aggressive when scruffed in an attempt to protect themselves. Some veterinarians, especially in Europe, find “clipnosis”¹ helpful for restraint. This procedure is also controversial, again because it removes the cat's sense of control. In the author's experience (at least 5 years without scruffing or clipnosis), cats are usually calmer and easier to handle if they are not scruffed.

(Ilona Rodan, Understanding Feline Behavior and Application for Appropriate Handling and Management, Topics in Companion Animal Medicine, Volume 25, Issue 4, November 2010, Pages 178-188, ISSN 1938-9736, http://dx.doi.org/10.1053/j.tcam.2010.09.001.)

¹ IIUC, clipnosis consists in pinching the scruff of the neck with a clip in order to induce behavioral inhibition — hence the term "clipnosis", deriving from "clip" and "hypnosis".

BTW, thanks for asking, I didn't thought about such behavioral implications.

  • I accepted this, as you differentiate between taking the animals body weight and using scruffing as a technique to handle the cat. It is perfectly acceptable to scruff a cat, as you outline in giving a pill, but NOT to take the body weight – In loving memory of Dyani Nov 6 '13 at 13:51
  • Great answer. One funny thing I have noticed is cats will scruff each other in play and possibly to control behavior. One of my rescued cats gets very aggressive just before feeding time. One of the older cats will scruff her and/or lay on her, seemingly to quiet her her down. – Beo May 29 '14 at 17:21
21

From a behavioral perspective, picking up an adult cat by the scruff is not recommended because the cat has already outgrown it's kitten reflex to go limp when their scruff is held.

This behavior is typically used by a dominant cat (the mother) on a subordinate cat (the kitten). If you use this technique to lift your cat when they've done nothing wrong, they will (rightfully) be confused. Over time, it can contribute to unsociable behavior (why would the cat want to socialize with someone who's going to punish them for nothing?).

Additionally, it's scary to be up in the air unsupported! Adult cats generally have been picked up by the scruff when they were kittens, but that was when they were babies and YEARS ago. To suddenly have it happen again is frightening. Again, some cats don't have the go limp reflex (our youngest doesn't), and may lash out (bite/claw) at you.

Source for behavioral piece:

Avoid scruffing cats as a routine restraint method. Scruffing actually is not a secure way to restraint a cat, and it aggravates many cats more than necessary. There is no magical "limpness" button on a cat's scruff and the analogy of a mother cat carrying her kittens is inaccurate. This flexor reflex occurs only in kittens and they outgrow this as they mature. Adult cats are grabbed by the back of the neck in only 4 natural situations: fighting, play fighting, reproduction, and predatory attack – none of which are desirable to mimic in a clinic setting. Alternative methods can be more successful. Safe Humane Restraint

Additionally, an adult cat is heavier than a kitten, so there are health risks associated with being held by essentially just a handful of skin, including damage to internal organs, muscles, or other soft tissue.

Source:

You should not pick up a cat over a few months of age by the scruff of the neck. Yes, this is now mother cats pick up and move her kittens, but they are small and light. A fully grown cat can range in weight from 4kg to 8kg and picking up by the scruff without providing additional support is going to place enormous strain on the spine and muscles. How to Safely Pick Up a Cat by the Neck

For cats who find the scruffing reassuring, it's fine to hold their scruff WHILE SUPPORTING THEIR REAR END, but I would never pick my cat up with just the scruff unless it was some kind of emergency.

  • I like most of this answer and I agree with supporting the cat's rear end. Not sure if I buy choking the cat, though. At the pet store I worked at, we'd scruff cats all the time to get them in and out of carriers without any problems (aside from getting clawed by a nervous cat). We'd always use two hands because cats are heavy. I won't downvote yet, but can you provide a source on the choking part? I've just never heard of that being a problem. – Cuthbert Oct 29 '13 at 19:00
  • 2
    Hmm, I can't find a reliable source (just more answer sites like this one). I did once cause one of my cats to cough while I was trying to give him a pill, but whether that was from the holding technique or something else I can't be 100% sure. I edited the answer to be a bit more general about the health risks. They're pretty rare, the behavioral risks I think are more important. – Zaralynda Oct 29 '13 at 19:14
  • I had a hard time deciding which answer to choose, ty for a beautiful answer +1 – In loving memory of Dyani Nov 6 '13 at 13:50
4

We scruff our cat once a night to place her in her holding crate since we would be up all night by our very active cat; she has a litter box, cuddle bed, water bowl and a small amount of food in her large dog size crate. She was adopted less then a week ago and uses the litter box all day long in this crate with door open all day long.

Our girl seems comfortable with being scruffed and is always carried to the crate with her hind end supported in our arms (never with her 10 lbs unsupported). She seems totally unruffled at this method of transport.

We praise her and give her treats once she is in the crate. She seems comfortable once in and settles down to sleep soon after. Her name is Missty, she was housed in the shelter in a crate of the same size with similar bed and litter box. Missty also has a another litter box in another room that she has not yet used. She has the run of the house all day and a window perch as well.

4

I work at a cat shelter and some of the cats actually prefer to be picked up by the scruff than normally. Granted it's usually with kittens or small adult cats, but its less about the age and more about the size/weight of the cat. If you can't easily lift the cat by the scruff with one hand, you shouldn't pick them up like that but its okay to hold them that way if they aren't completely off the ground. Ive also heard that it releases endorphins and relaxes the cat. Im sure if one was to do it incorrectly it could hurt the cat, but in general as long as you do it correctly it is an effective way to keep the cat still while medicating or to relax an agitated cat.

3

This post, How to Hold a Cat by the Scruff (wikihow.com) talks about how to hold a cat by the scruff. It mentions that you may want to support an adult cat with the other hand to lighten the weight of the animal.

The degree of discomfort is likely to vary from cat to cat ... big ones obviously won't appreciate being picked up like this. I would recommend observing your cat's behavior, if he/she doesn't like that treatment, you'll know about it

  • Please try to expand on your answer, currently it seems to be a bit short to address the concerns posed in the question. – Baarn Nov 7 '13 at 13:05

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.