The Truth About Scruffing Cats

An article by cat behaviour expert Anita Kelsey 

I’m not a big advocate on scruffing cats and during my cat behaviour consultations I often hear clients tell me that, as a way to get their cats to obey them when they have been ‘naughty’, they scruff them ‘ because that’s what their mummies would have done when they were kittens”. The truth about scruffing cats starts now!

These are some of the facts below to highlight why scruffing is never a good idea in most circumstances.

  1. Many cats react adversely to scruffing resulting in aggressive behaviour

  1. A kitten’s relationship with its mother is based on a different set of principles. A mother cat knows the precise pressure to place on the skin at the back of the neck. She scruffs her kittens not to reprimand them (as many people over quote) but to carry them or move them from danger. For an adult cat the action of a human scruffing it is frightening and puts the cat into an un-relaxed and guarded state.
  2. Lifting a cat or suspending its body weight by its scruff (the skin on the back of its neck) is unnecessary and could be potentially painful. It’s certainly not the most respectful or appropriate way to pick up or handle your cat.
  3. 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. It is now thought that gripping the skin in “mother cat fashion” causes stress and can make a cat more fearful.
  4. Scruffing should only ever be used in a situation whereby you need to restrain a cat quickly because of adverse circumstances. Apart from this scruffing should never be used as a training action or reprimand.

Treat your cat with respect and train in a proper manner. Forceful actions such as scruffing should never be anyone’s choice of action.

We hope you have enjoyed this article on the truth about scruffing cats.


Dr Marty Becker, Karen L Overall, G Landsberg, W Hunthausen, L Ackerman


Anita Kelsey holds a first class honours degree in Feline Behaviour and Psychology (work based BA Hons) and runs a vet referral service dedicated strictly to the diagnosis and treatment of behaviour problems in cats. Middlesex University also awarded Anita the Gerry Fowler Prize for achievement in recognition of her work and final result.
Anita is also a specialist mobile cat groomer who works closely with vets on aggressive or phobic cats. She writes for Your Cat magazine and is on their experts panel for cat grooming. Visit


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9 thoughts on “The Truth About Scruffing Cats

  1. helentastic67 says:

    I thankfully rarely did it to my Jamima. Only if I was attempting to get her off a fence (one-handed) to stop her escaping the safety of our backyard. She normally otherwise responded to my very gru,pay tone. Not her name mind you but my tone! Cheers,H

  2. chrisscatmeow says:

    I always thought it wasn’t the right thing to do. I know some people still think it’s alright as in your article that’s the way their mum would carry them. When you really think about it a tiny kitten is much much lighter than a grown cat. I hope your article helps change minds about scruffing.

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  4. franhunne4u says:

    As the loose fur from kittenhood is not loose anymore when a cat is adult, the scruffing is indeed painful and you should not lift your cat by the neck. If you need to contain a cat quickly, it has its uses, but do not pull the weight of the cat with that skin.

  5. colonialist says:

    Anyone who doesn’t take this to heart, let me scruff you for your misdemeanors and see how you enjoy itl You need a cat like my pride and joy who loves humans but makes them bleed profusely if they step out of line.

  6. simon7banks says:

    I never even knew about this practice. Maybe it’s a cultural difference (human not feline)? It does though recall my former cat who adopted me and was very loving and generally confident, but showed fear as soon as my hand came above her head. She had a problem with downing food and was quite often sick; I suspect someone in her former home reacted by smacking the top of her head – or possibly, now I realise, scruffing. After years, she gradually lost her fear of a hand above her head.

  7. Srishti Ahuja says:

    I totally agree with your points. I never scruff my cats and do not like at all when at the vet’s place people do. Based on cat’s reaction anyone can make out that they do not appreciate it at all!

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