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Franny Syufy

How To Scruff a Cat

By November 22, 2013

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Mother cats sometimes discipline their kittens by scruffing them. We human cat parents can also use a scruffing technique, however it should be reserved for extreme situations.

Photo of feline housemates Jaspurr and Jenny One of the last times I personally had to scruff a cat was in 2007 when my husband, Asa, was still alive, but suffering the final stages of melanoma. Our big boy Jaspurr had attacked our Jenny (both pictured here), and when Asa tried to intervene, Jaspurr scratched and bit him savagely. I took Jaspurr by the name of the neck, and proceeded to scruff him, and told my husband to wait in the living room, where Jenny had already fled. It took several minutes before Jaspurr visibly relaxed, then I left him in the closed bedroom, and attended to Asa's and Jenny's wounds.
Photo of Jaspurr and Jenny © Franny Syufy

I much prefer scruffing to the common practice of using a spray bottle, which often results in a drenched, angry cat. Since the cat associates the spray bottle with the person holding it, he will only continue his misbehavior when you are absent. Like scruffing, use of the spray bottle should be reserved for urgent situations, such as when a cat is attempting to jump onto a hot stove top.Learn more about the technique of scruffing a cat.


July 16, 2007 at 7:00 pm
(1) Lee says:

Franny — great information. When I first saw the headline I thought it said “how to stuff a cat”. I was very relieved when I realized I had misread it. :)

July 17, 2007 at 6:07 pm
(2) Wendy says:

Hehe… and I thought it said how to scuff a cat, which I thought was some new method of grooming. :D
I have found the scruffing method to be very helpful with our youngest cat, when he gets too rough and bites.

July 17, 2007 at 9:33 pm
(3) Deanna says:

I feel very fortunate that our two cats don’t fight to that point. They play very aggressively, but always with fun in mind. I do know that they both need disipline for climbing on counters and screens. Will scruffing work for that situation?

July 20, 2007 at 5:37 am
(4) gomez says:

i have to use the spray to discourage my gorgeous cat from climbing on things. he’s deaf and won’t hear my voice..

July 20, 2007 at 11:32 pm
(5) carl says:

Scruffing works, but like Franny correctly pointed out it should not be overused. It is definitely not the right way to discourage a cat from climbing on furniture.

July 22, 2007 at 1:25 am
(6) Steven C. Barr says:

“Scruffing” works because cats, even those long past kittenhood, have a built-in tendency to relax completely when picked up by the “scruff” of the neck…which is how mother cats transport their kittens when/if necessary!

It is totally harmless to the cat involved…UNLESS you attempt to carry an adult cat in that fashion…! When a
kitten is “scruffed” by its mother, its
powers of movement cease…and it falls into a semi-fetal position suitable for
being carried. The same thing…grasping
an adult cat by the “scruff of its neck,” effectively paralyzes the cat (it is a reflex left over from kittenhood!). If nothing else, it is a great way to interrupt undesired behaviour…!

Steven C. Barr

July 22, 2007 at 1:05 pm
(7) Franny Syufy says:

Steven C. Barr said: “UNLESS you attempt to carry an adult cat in that fashion…!”

Excellent point, Steven! I need to add that to the article, and will, right now.

November 7, 2008 at 11:08 pm
(8) Steven C. Barr says:

Thanxes muchly, Franny, for the acknowledgement…!

Note that “scruffing” is VERY useful when the behaviour of your feline “owner” MUST be terminated, “immediately if not sooner”…?!
(i.e. your cat is just about to (1) injure another cat (2) depart your premises for the “great outdoors” and take up life as a “feral” cat (3) destroy, greatly damage or
otherwise render useless/worthless one or more of your favourite posessions (4) chew
your face off (5) usw.

Steven C. Barr

March 31, 2009 at 5:49 pm
(9) Kellie says:

UNfortunately the cat also associates scruffing with you. Better to manage undesirable behavior and train cats to perform preferred behaviors. Cats are quite trainable if you don’t use force!

March 31, 2009 at 9:47 pm
(10) Franny Syufy says:

Kellie, thanks for your comment. I understand that you are an acknowledged behavior lecturer and consultant, but I’d like to explain my position since you posted on my web site, and because you possibly didn’t take the time to read my linked article:

I *want* my cat to associate scruffing with me, and I apply it judiciously, and *never* use force. Does a kitten fear its mother forever after being scruffed?

As an example: last year when my 20# male broke past my husband into our bedroom and literally tried to kill my recently adopted female stray, he also severely scratched and bit my husband (who had terminal cancer), when he tried to intervene.

You’re darned right I scruffed him – long enough for my husband to take the female to a safe place. Again, I didn’t use force. I talked to him quietly and soothingly, and when he visibly relaxed, I was able to pick him up and take him to another room, so I could return and tend to my husband’s wounds, and those of our female cat.

Pardon me, but “Manage undesirable behavior and train cats to perform preferred behaviors” sounds like the advertisement on the side of a commercial product.

Could you translate that into a few words of plain English advice for handling the kind of emergency situation I outlined above? I’m alway eager to learn new techniques, especially when it comes to behavior. :)

September 29, 2010 at 9:37 pm
(11) Julie says:

I have discovered that my male cat loves to be scruffed (gently, like you said Franny) when I arrive home from work. He loves to have his neck scratched and i discovered when I would literally knead the skin on his neck he relaxed immediately. If I would continue, he would let me do this for an hour. It makes sense that they remember this feeling from kitten-hood when their mom’s carry them (usually it’s to a safer place).

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