Should I scruff a cat for grooming?
It’s the controversial question that everyone has an opinion over.
I’m going to share mine!
What is ‘scruffing’?
Scruffing includes using a hand behind the cat’s neck to hold a large amount of skin, aiming to imitate the way a kitten’s mother transports kittens, causing a cat to ‘relax’. Scruffing is also used by tom cats when mating with queens and during fighting. This is no longer a positive hold after a few weeks of age, as the reflex that causes relaxation disappears.
It should not be mimicked in a grooming salon unless there are extreme circumstances, such as where a cat needs to be removed from a high-risk situation. There are usually alternatives such as using a towel.
Look, back when I started, yes, that’s what you did! 15 years ago, you scruffed cats as it made them limp. right?
Yeah, well, I’m not too sure about that. Over the last 15 years I have met many cats that are scruff sensitive; and if you reach for that neck, you will never gain their trust again.
I believe that in cat grooming you need to build trust with a cat, so that they know you are not going to hold them down or hurt them in any way.
Why would a cat become scruff sensitive?
- Scruffing can cause discomfort or pain, for the cat, and therefore elevate aggression or increase sensitivity.
- Scruffing can be interpreted by a cat as a negative association to grooming. Especially if used previously.
- It can increase the likelihood of the groomer being injured while attempting to scruff.
- It may exaggerate feeling of fear, stress, frustration, loss of control. and this will affect future grooms.
- Scruffing a cat can cause it to become aggressive, from a fearful state.
- Using the technique can increase stress, increasing cortisol, heart rate and temperature which can have adverse medical effects.
- Scruffing will hurt the relationship between cat and groomer, where trust is important.
Scruffing removes a cat’s sense of control in the situation and limits their options, causing stress.
What can I do instead of scruffing?
There are many, many ways to restrain a cat. Many types of towel wrap can be used instead of scruffing and other stressful holds.
Here are a few ideas I have used:
- Upside down e-collar: Using an Elizabethan collar upside down can stop paws scratching you when trimming heads, instead of using a scruff.
- The scruff substitute using a small towel: https://cattledogpublishing.com/blog/the-scruff-substitute/
- Using light pressure on the shoulders at all times is one of the techniques I use in all of my grooming. This reassures the cat I am here and what I am wanting them to do.
Here are some ‘holds’ I demonstrate in Behaviour for the Cat Groomer.
- Snake hold: Hold your hands in a V over the cats head.
- Using the snake hold instead of scruffing to access the armpit.
- Chin hold: Using your thumb between the bones of the jaw, and placing the other four fingers around, or on top of the head. You may also reverse this using the thumb at the top of the head, and fingers between the jaw bones. This prevents the cat from biting and sudden head movements.
- Using the wrist to hold and cut nails or check paws
To see more holds and scruffing alternatives, see Behaviour for the Cat Groomer and Clipping the Feline.
The proof is in the Veterinary and Behavioural Science. It is no longer standard practice to scruff a cat for Grooming and Veterinary treatment, as it can have repercussions on the health and wellbeing of the cat.
As you can see, I’ve only scraped the surface of the many alternatives to scruffing. If that’s what you do, then that’s what you do, but remember there are many alternatives that can mean a happier cat.
See the links below for more information.
- How do cats respond to different types of handling? | International Cat Care (icatcare.org)
- AAFP and ISFM Feline-Friendly Handling Guidelines – Ilona Rodan, Eliza Sundahl, Hazel Carney, Anne-Claire Gagnon, Sarah Heath, Gary Landsberg, Kersti Seksel, Sophia Yin, 2011 (sagepub.com)
- How To Hold Cats | Is The Scruff Of The Neck Bad | Walkerville Vet