Why does scruffing a cat paralyze them?

Answered by Ricardo McCardle

Scruffing a cat can temporarily immobilize them because it triggers a reflex known as the scruff reflex. This reflex is present in kittens from birth and allows their mothers to carry them by the scruff of their necks. When a mother cat picks up her kittens by the scruff, they instinctively go limp, which makes it easier for her to transport them.

This reflex is thought to be a result of the loose skin and lack of developed muscles in the neck area of young kittens. When the scruff is grasped, it triggers a response that causes the kitten’s body to relax and go completely limp. This can be helpful for the mother cat, as it allows her to move her kittens without resistance or struggle.

However, it’s important to note that this reflex is lost as kittens grow and develop. By the time they reach adolescence, most cats no longer exhibit the scruff reflex. In fact, attempting to scruff an adult cat can be distressing and even painful for them.

When an adult cat is scruffed, it can trigger fear and stress rather than relaxation. The sensation of being held by the scruff can be uncomfortable and may even cause pain. Additionally, adult cats are more aware of their surroundings and may interpret being scruffed as a form of restraint or threat.

It’s crucial to handle cats with care and respect their boundaries. Scruffing should only be done by experienced professionals, such as veterinarians or trained animal handlers, and only when necessary for medical procedures. In most cases, there are alternative, less stressful methods of handling and restraining adult cats.

Scruffing a cat can temporarily immobilize them due to the scruff reflex present in kittens. However, this reflex is lost as cats mature, and scruffing can cause fear and stress in adult cats. It is important to handle cats gently and avoid unnecessary scruffing, opting for less invasive methods of handling whenever possible.