How to Scruff a Cat to Discourage Bad Behavior

Scruff Your Cat Safely
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A scruff simply refers to the nape of one's neck, like that of a cat's. You may have heard the phrase, "by the scruff of the neck," which typically refers to when an animal is picked up, grasped, or otherwise lifted by its neck area. Scruffing sounds harsh, but it's one of the best ways to discourage undesirable behavior in cats. This is because scruffing is used naturally by mother cats to discipline their kittens. If your cat is showing signs of especially egregious behavior, like physical aggression toward other humans or cats, you can learn how to properly scruff your cat and effectively train him or her.

How to Scruff a Cat

Scruffing is preferable to the common practice of using a spray bottle, which often results in a drenched and angrier cat. Since cats tend to associate a spray bottle with the person holding it, he or she will likely continue the misbehavior when you're absent. Instead, try scruffing to get your cat in line:

  1. First, grasp the scruff (the loose skin at the top of the neck) of the cat. Make sure to grab him or her firmly, and not roughly. By doing this, you'll establish yourself as the dominant one, or "the mother," rather than just another aggressor. Although veterinarians may pick up a cat by the scruff of the neck, they also support the cat's body with the other hand. Never pick up an adult cat by the scruff only, as it can do serious internal damage. Always support the full weight of the cat underneath its body with the other hand.
  2. Second, firmly press the cat down to the floor while sharply saying "no." If you can, make a hissing sound before you say "no" to mimic what your cat's birth mother would do.
  3. Then, hold the cat in position until you feel and see your cat's muscles relax. While you are holding your cat, speak softly and calmly.
  4. Next, release your hold on your cat. As you do this, pet him or her and say "good boy" or "good girl." The idea is to discipline your cat without withholding your love. Jealousy is often a motivator for aggression in cats, and the dominant cat in a household often looks to protect his or her status as "top cat." Scolding your cat after the fact serves no purpose except to reinforce anger.
  5. Finally, if the precipitating event to the aggression was one of redirected aggression, such as a stray cat outside the window, take steps to discourage the stray from entering your property. For instance, you can get rid of raccoons and other animals in your yard by getting a motion-activated repellent.

Things to Mull Over

Sometimes, hissing loudly will be more effective than saying "no" at all. To reawaken memories of a mother cat's discipline, practice hissing sounds. 

Although the scruffing hold can almost always be released within a minute, it may be necessary to hold a particularly angry and upset cat on the floor for three or five minutes. Try not to let your cat's anger transfer to you, as you must remain calm and soothing for your pet to relax.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.