Are You Still Scruffing Cats?

Kristin Brade
February 4, 2021

Whether you love it or hate it, there’s no denying that scruffing cats can be a divisive topic in the veterinary community. There are many understandable reasons why veterinarians and technicians have relied on it in the past, but research shows that it isn’t the best practice we can use for our feline friends, and there are techniques that can be employed to ensure that kitties have a less stressful visit to the clinic and, as an added benefit, a less stressful visit for staff as well.

What is scruffing?

“Scruffing” is a term used to describe the restraining of a cat by firmly gripping the loose skin at the back of the cat’s neck. This is sometimes accompanied by lifting the cat up or heavily restraining the cat in some other way. Originally, it was thought of as a “natural way” to handle cats since that’s how they are handled as kittens. However, queens tend to stop moving their kittens at around 3 weeks of age.

Scruffing kitten
Photo by Pranav Kumar Jain on Unsplash

Why do vets & techs scruff cats?

Scruffing is often used in the veterinary field when a tech or doctor is concerned that they may be bitten, scratched, or attacked by a cat and is often employed as a measure to prevent it, even if the cat shows no outward signs of aggression. Oftentimes, technicians feel an overwhelming responsibility to protect the doctor from cat bites and scratches when both parties need to be aware of feline body language and openly communicate with one another about behaviors they are experiencing. Protection is not the sole responsibility of the handler.

While it can be effective in restraining a cat, it may also cause fear and panic, thus making them more defensively aggressive, which is counterproductive and can result in injury to either the pet or staff. It can also potentially make a trip to the vet traumatic, making it more difficult for owners to bring their cats in for routine care.

How to better handle cats

Photo by Andrew Umansky on Unsplash

To provide cats with a sense of control and to ensure a less traumatic visit, gentler methods of restraint should be employed. In the clinic, we can use methods like towel-wrapping, treats, medications, or sedation if necessary. Another idea to help learn and improve technique, as silly as it sounds, is filming yourself and your co-workers practicing safe handling methods so you can assess your communication together, the behavior of the patient, and have tangible evidence that these things work. This also establishes action steps you can take to make the next patient experience even better. It’s all a learning process! The time it takes to practice and learn effective handling will pay off.

Click here for tips on cat handling that can be utilized by both owners and members of the veterinary field alike, it's a good resource of videos that cover many different scenarios. Our Roo4You blog is also a great source of continuing education material to improve upon best practices and stay up to date with the latest treatments and techniques.

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