What Is Towel Handling?

cat wrapped in a towel burrito

The Spruce / Candace Madonna 

Have you ever tried to handle your cat only to have her turn into a wiggly ball of claws and teeth? As a cat owner, you'll need to occasionally handle your cat so you can give medications, groom your cat, or check over your cat. Not all cats tolerate handling. In fact, many cats get extremely stressed out if you try to handle them in any way. Fortunately, there is a technique you can use with a towel to swaddle your cat into a kind of cat "burrito" or, if you will, "purr-ito."

What Is a Cat Burrito?

The terms cat burrito and purr-ito refer to a towel-wrapping technique used to swaddle a cat for handling. It's a fairly easy way to restrain a cat while easing stress and allowing people to handle the cat more safely.

Why Cat Burritos Help Some Cats

Many cats become stressed and fearful when being handled and will exhibit a fight or flight response. This is especially common at the veterinarian, where cats may feel cornered and vulnerable. Most cats will try to run away and hide, fighting off whatever gets in their way. This can lead to injuries in both cats and humans.

Veterinarians and staff have tools and tricks that allow them to safely and humanely handle stressed cats. One of the simplest of these tools is a basic towel. Towels are used to create a barrier between cat and human to help protect from claws and teeth.

A towel can be used in many different ways, but the cat burrito is one of the most common and effective ways to restrain a cat for handling while creating as little stress as possible. The gentle pressure of the towel wrap provides a sense of comfort for many cats. At the same time, it limits the movements the cat can make, keeping the handler as safe as possible.

Bear in mind that a towel will not completely protect a person from bites and scratches, but it can minimize the damage a cat can do.

Warning

Do not attempt to handle a cat that is extremely stressed or angry. You and the cat may both be injured. If a cat is vocalizing, biting, or scratching aggressively, she is already too stressed out to be handled. If the cat begins panting, stop everything you're doing and observe the cat from a distance.


Give the cat a chance to calm down and try the handling another day. If the cat continues to be extremely stressed, it's best to bring your cat to a veterinary office where the professionals can handle restraint. Some cats cannot be handled and will need to be sedated for their own safety and the safety of others.

How to Make a Cat Burrito

All you need to burrito your cat is a towel. Choose a bath towel or beach towel that is not too thick or plush. A larger beach towel is ideal, especially for large cats. Also, gather any tools you may need, such as medications and nail trimmers. The last thing you want is to carry around a cat in a burrito while looking for the supplies you need.

Lay Towel Out Longways

Lay the towel out longways in front of you on a large table or counter if possible. You can also use the floor, but this may be harder on your back and knees.

Pick Up the Cat

Gently pick up the cat while speaking to her in a calm, soothing tone. Offer valuable treats if your cat is food-motivated.

Place Cat On Side of Towel

Place the cat on one side of the towel about a foot from the side edge. The cat's head should be somewhat lined up with the long edge of the towel.

Try to Get the Cat to Lie Down

Gently place a hand on the back of her neck, then lay your forearm over her body and apply gentle downward pressure. If the cat will not lie down, don't push the issue. You can proceed but may need to modify the way you wrap her.

Wrap Shorter Towel End Over Cat's Back

Take the shorter end of the towel and firmly wrap it over the cat's back, leaving only the head exposed. Tuck the tail to the cat's side si it stays inside the towel. Wrap the top corner of this side around the neck gently, making sure the paws are inside the towel.

Switch Hands

Switch hands and maintain gentle pressure on the cat's back.

Wrap Other End of Towel

Wrap the other end of the towel firmly over the cat's back.

Lift the Cat and Wrap Remaining Towel

Gently lift the cat and wrap the remaining towel under the cat's body.

Brace the Wrapped Cat Against Your Body

Use one arm to brace the wrapped cat against your body while you give medications, clean ears, or do anything else needed to your cat's head. Do not let go or the cat will escape the towel wrap.

Repeat Wrapping Process for Nail Trims and Paw Handling

For nail trims or paw handling, repeat the wrapping process but leave one paw out of the towel. If you need to access the tail or rear end, leave this part exposed.

Ways to Use a Cat Burrito

Cat burritos are very effective for several tasks:

If you have trouble getting your cat wrapped, ask someone at your vet's office to show you how.