Photos provided by Lexie Goldsmith
When I first started cat grooming, there were only two ways to learn techniques for grooming a cat, and that was either an online forum or going to a school in America. In the online forums, there were all types of shockingly horrible and inappropriate handling ideas, such as using vet wrap on paws, cage/bag bathing, scruffing all cats and more!
Thankfully, these days, groomers are looking for more holistic and low-stress approaches for cat grooming, and these modern and far kinder techniques are the future for cat grooming—which is a great thing for cats!
What is Scruffing?
Scruffing includes using a hand behind the cat’s neck to hold a large amount of skin, aiming to imitate the way a kitten’s mother transports its kittens, causing a cat to relax their limbs. Scruffing is also used by tom cats when mating with queens and during fighting. This is no longer a positive hold after a few weeks of age, as the reflex that causes relaxation disappears. It should not be mimicked in a grooming salon unless there are extreme circumstances, such as where a cat needs to be removed from a high-risk situation to avoid injury to itself or the groomer.
Some of the reasons scruffing is not recommended include:
- It can cause discomfort or pain for the cat, and therefore elevate aggression or increase sensitivity.
- It is interpreted by a cat as a negative association to grooming, especially if used previously.
- It can increase the likelihood of the groomer being injured while attempting to scruff.
- It may exaggerate feelings of fear, stress, frustration or loss of control, and this will affect future grooms.
- Increased stress also means increased cortisol, heart rate and body temperature, which can have adverse medical effects.
- It can cause the cat to become aggressive, from a fearful state.
- It will hurt the relationship between cat and groomer, where trust is not just important but essential.
Why do we Need to Reduce Stress?
Even if not showing any signs of stress, every cat will have some level of stress going through their body during grooming. A neutral level of relaxation is in their bed asleep, and they are far from that level when being groomed.
Stress has effects on the feline body that you cannot see with the eye. Stress sends proteins to the kidneys, increases blood sugar levels and can cause long-term effects on a cat in renal failure. Stress can cause urinary tract blockages, and even cause severe tachycardia or respiratory distress resulting in death.
Low-Stress Alternative Methods
There are many far more suitable alternatives for handling cats such as using light pressure or a towel for instance.
Using light pressure on certain areas of a cat can reassure the cat of where you would like them to be, instead of using a scruff.
Fig 1) Chin Hold: Use your thumb between the bones of the jaw and place the other four fingers around or on top of the head. You may also reverse this using the thumb at the top of the head, and fingers between the jaw bones. This prevents the cat from biting and sudden head movements. It is great for washing around the neck, and clipping and blow-drying the head.
Fig 2) Nail Clipping Wrist Hold: This uses a gentle pressure hold and gives you control of the head by simply using your wrist over the cat’s head when holding the paw.
Fig 3) Snake Hold: Use your fingers in a “V” shape to apply pressure and have control over the cat’s head when clipping, combing or wrapping the cat.
Fig 4) Snake Hold Armpit: To clip the armpit of a cat, you can use your snake hold and then use your thumb to hold the paw out of the way.
Fig 5) Football/Underarm Hold: Hold the cat under your underarm/body and roll the cat to clip the groin and belly area. This hold is great for the sanitary clip and blow-drying.
In additon to using ligtht pressure, you can also use towels to protect yourself and comfort-wrap the kitty.
Fig 6) Wrap the back legs to get to the front legs, or, wrap the front legs to clip the back legs.
Fig 7 & 8) A towel can also be used as an alternative to scruffing or using an elizabethan collar. Roll the towel up longways, wrap the towel around the neck, and hold or secure it with a clip, avoiding the skin.
There is more than one way to groom a cat and, as you can see, there are also many alternative and low-stress ways to handle a cat that don’t involve scruffing. Thankfully, with up-to-date training and research into feline health and behavior, we know better than to scruff. There are more opportunities to gain experience in the correct way to groom cats and reduce their stress in the grooming salon, and we should never stop learning and discovering ways to improve on our techniques to make things better for them. ✂️