“Scruffing” is the term used to refer to taking a firm hold on the loose skin around the neck of the cat, and either using this to restrain them or lift them up. This method of picking up a cat is how a queen lifts her kittens, by carrying them in her mouth when she needs to relocate them or stop them from going too far from their nest! For this reason, many people who are not too familiar with cats think that lifting them up by the scruff is the right way to lift or carry a cat-but in fact this is not the case, and cats should be lifted with their body supported and held securely.
It is important for all cat owners and those who spend a lot of time around cats to know how and when to scruff a cat and what this is useful for, and also, to know when not to scruff them, and how to pick them up instead.
Adult cats pick up and carry their kittens in their mouths, and the only way to do this is to lift them by the scruff! This is perfectly fine and natural cat behaviour between a queen and her young, and it is not painful or bad for the kittens, because the skin around their necks is loose enough to permit this, and the weight of the kitten itself will not be so high as to cause injury or pain by lifting by the scruff.
When the kittens get older, their mother will reach a point that they are unable to lift them anymore, due to their size and weight-and this point coincides with the time beyond which the weight of the kitten would be too high to make lifting by the scruff safe and comfortable for them.
Many people think that because the mother cats scruff their young and lift them in this way, that this is an appropriate or better way to lift them than by relying on other methods-particularly when you need to control your cat or move them, rather than simply picking them up for petting.
While it is true that you can pick up very small kittens by the scruff if necessary, you should avoid doing this if possible and instead, get them used to being picked up and supported properly, so that they are comfortable being picked up in this way in the future.
Once a kitten has reached about twelve weeks of age, they will be too heavy to lift by the scruff without causing them pain or discomfort, and lifting an adult cat by the scruff will be both painful for them and place too much pressure on their shoulder blades, and can even cause bruising beneath their fur, which will both be uncomfortable for them and make them wary of being picked up again in the future.
While cats should not be lifted by the scruff as a matter of course, in some situations, scruffing your cat without actually lifting them is necessary in order to control them, restrain them, or give them medication.
When your cat is on a flat surface such as a floor or a table, scruffing them and keeping them from reversing or running off, when done firmly but lightly, can give you an extra level of control over your cat, particularly if you move quickly to give them their pill or do whatever else it is that you need to do. Getting this out of the way quickly reduces the chances of your cat trying to scratch or bite you, as your cat will be concentrating on being scruffed.
However, it is important that you do not grip your cat too hard, twist their skin, or fight them if they are determined to get loose, as you will only hurt them and put them off allowing you to do whatever it is that you were trying to do in the first place!
Whatever the age of your cat or kitten, it is important to get them used to being picked up safely, securely and comfortably from as young an age as possible, so that they will tolerate this again in the future without turning it into a fight.
In order to do this, you should lift your cat from the side or behind-not by picking them up under the armpits, which they will dislike as much as they do being scruffed-by sliding a hand under their stomach to balance and support their weight, and placing your other hand on their back and chest to balance and reassure them.
Then, hold the cat close to your body with your hands under their paws, so that they feel secure but not trapped or restrained. At first, just hold your cat or kitten for just a few seconds at a time, and build up how long your cat will tolerate it for over time, if they have not got used to it as a kitten!