Cat being held


Q. Does picking cats up by the scruff hurt them?

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

The best way to pick up your cat under normal circumstances is to spread your hand under his chest, and as you lift, slide your other hand and forearm under his hind end to support his weight. Then pull him against your chest for more support. Holding your cat this way makes him feel less vulnerable. Your grip should be loose, but with enough contact to feel any tension.

If your cat starts to squirm, put him down the opposite way you picked him up: Put his front paws on the ground and support his rear as he steps fluidly out of your arms. If your cat ever freaks in your arms, don’t fight to hold him: Just open your arms and let him blast off. (And then work with him slowly to build his trust and confidence, through an understanding of feline body language.)

Why Your Vet Might Scruff Your Cat

Veterinarians have traditionally been taught to hold a prone cat’s scruff in order to control them for examinations and procedures. 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, and some behaviorists now say gripping the skin in “mother cat fashion” causes stress and can make the cat more fearful. That’s not what you want in the exam room. Cat-friendly practices are now using or experimenting with ways to allow a cat to relax in an exam room, such as having cubbies for hiding in, or breaking open a carrier to allow the cat to rest in the bottom half. And when it comes to handling a cat, vets don’t scruff automatically, because some cats react better to a looser hold.

In any event, restraining cats by the scruff is a last-resort move best performed by a veterinary professional in a hospital setting; not for the routine lifting of your cat. For everyday handling, lift your cat with support and respect, and your relationship will be better for it.