Will You Take the 'Scruff-Free' Pledge?

June 1, 2018
Amanda Carrozza

Amanda Carrozza is a freelance writer and editor in New Jersey.

International Cat Care is asking veterinarians to take a “scruff-free” pledge and institute alternative methods for handling cats in the exam room.

Although long believed to be a harmless way to provide restraint and mimic how a mother cat picks up her kittens, one global group is calling on veterinary professionals to change their way of thinking. In a campaign launched in May, International Cat Care is asking practices to take the “Scruff-Free” pledge in favor of what the group calls more respectful handling of cats.

The goal of professionals when handling cats must be to reduce stress as much as possible to improve cat welfare and protect staff, the organization’s website advocates. Founded in 1958, International Cat Care works with veterinary and welfare organizations around the world to raise the standard of treatment and care provided to cats. The organization’s veterinary division, International Society of Feline Medicine, is spearheading the scruff-free campaign.

The Argument Against Scruffing

Cats’ territorial instincts and inborn suspicion cause them to become stressed in almost every situation where they’re handled by unfamiliar people in an unfamiliar setting, especially when the option to retreat is taken away. The act of scruffing, the group said, entirely removes the cat’s option to retreat and its sense of control. Instead, the maneuver escalates the cat’s stress, leading to anxiety and fear, which often present as aggression. “As scruffing is usually used when people are fearful that they may be bitten or scratched by a cat, it is actually counterproductive,” the campaign’s webpage reads.

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International Cat Care also pointed to a study recently published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science as further evidence that restraint of this kind has the potential to impact cat health and welfare negatively. For the study, investigators from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada compared cats’ behavioral and physiologic responses during both full-body and passive restraint. The investigators noted that struggling increased when cats were handled using full-body restraint, as did pupil dilation, lip licks, and respiration rate. Cats that experienced full-body restraint were also more likely to jump off the exam table following their release.

The results, the investigators concluded, provide scientific validation of negative cat responses to handling and may be used in further research to assess the welfare effects of different handling techniques.

Suggested Alternatives

Instead of scruffing a cat during an examination, International Cat Care suggests that veterinary staff adopt a “less is more” approach that provides cats with some sense of control over the situation. Many of the group’s suggestions are in line with Fear Free techniques, including wrapping a towel around the cat during the exam and conducting the appointment in a chair or while the cat remains in its carrier. Similarly, the group cautions against handling cats by the scruff of the neck, tipping, or forcefully pulling them while trying to remove them from their cages. Instead, it encourages veterinarians to request that clients use carriers that open from the top or unzip entirely when possible.

To learn more about the campaign or to take the pledge, visit the International Cat Care website.