kitten being held by scruffEvery cat breed has unique fur patterns and coat densities. There is the thick Persian’s fur coat, the wired hair of a Devon Rex, or the sleek hairless back of a Sphynx; however all felines have something in common: they carry extra skin around their necks. Cats have the unique habit of carrying their young by biting onto the skin at the nape of the neck. This practice is called “scruffing,” and may seem detrimental to the cat at first blush for those unfamiliar with this method of transportation. Fortunately, since taking hold of a cat by the neck is an action reflected in the animal kingdom, there is no health or safety risk in doing so, if executed properly. Though humans can indeed step out of line, depending on how often and in what way they lift a cat, practicing will help these mistakes be avoided.

What happens when you lift a cat by his neck?

The moment a kitty is held by the scruff of his neck, he thinks that the creature holding him is the more dominant figure. This causes them to relax into the hold, and allow their bodies to go entirely limp. Felines have always been carried by their mothers on the skin of their necks from the time they were born. The mother feline provides sustenance, shelter and protection to her kindle, making her the more powerful creature. Similarly, wild cats will often use this same dominant position to subdue their mates by holding them down and biting the nape of the neck. Carrying a cat in this position exerts authority that is respected in the animal kingdom, and translates effectively to your domestic pet.

How To Hold a Cat by the Scruff

Reaching behind the cat’s head, feel for a section of lose and thicker skin just at the nape of the neck. Clasp this skin firmly with your hand and lift in one continuous, gentle motion. The cat’s body will relax allowing you to move him, or interrupt whatever he was doing. Most pet owners use lifting a cat by his scruff as a method of training him about acceptable behaviors, starting at the time when a cat is relatively young. Veterinarians often hold cats this way to inspect parts of their body, or to help remind the cat that the vet is a protective authority. This practice is usually only appropriate in young cats, as older felines can become more anxious when held this way by a stranger. Bear in mind, if the vet chooses to hold your cat by the scruff, it should be done briefly and gently.

NOTE: When the cat’s owner is trying to connect with the cat or affectionately cuddle him, picking a feline up by the scruff of his neck is NOT the best method of carrying him. The best way to hold your cat is to scoop him up under the forearms with one hand, and support his rear with the other. Holding your cat by the scruff ought only to be done for specific correctional purposes.

Scruff Sparingly

Some cat owners misuse their privilege by incorrectly holding the scruff in a painful way, or by picking him up too often and for the wrong reasons. “Scruffing” a cat is only appropriately used when it mimics the behavior of a mother. Female cats will lift their young away when they are getting too rambunctious or maybe hurting another kitten. It is a corrective move to interrupt a bad behavior, and should be done when the cat is scratching someone or chewing a dangerous object, etc. It might also be used to remove a cat swiftly from harm’s way, or if a cat might be stuck in a tree. This should only be used in times of rescue or protection, as holding an adult cat by the scruff can be uncomfortable and may cause him to respond with agitation. The scruff hold should be firm and authoritative without being painful, too tight or lasting too long. Be gentle and determined in your behavior, and the cat will respect your authority without spurning your correction or fearing that you will hurt him in any way.