cat being held by it's scruff

Why Do Cats Stop Moving When You Grab Their Neck?

Cats tend to freeze when they’re grabbed by their necks.

Also known as scruffing, this technique causes an anxiety reflex in cats, which leads to them adopting a defensive posture.

Grabbing a cat by the neck is not the right way to handle your cat as the technique unnecessarily stresses them. 

Why do cats go limp when you pick them up?

Also called ‘scruffing’, cats freeze while being handled by the neck for a number of reasons. 

While some cat owners seem to think that grabbing their cat by the neck is relaxing for the animal, the truth is that in most cases, cats freeze because they feel fear. 

But here are some other possible reasons why this occurs:

1. Kitten instinct

Queens carry their little ones by the scruff. Consequently, most cats tend to become limp as they are being carried by their mothers. 

If they do, transportation is done safely and effectively, and no one has to suffer. If the kitten were to wiggle or cry, this could lead to injuries for him or herself and the mother. 

kitten neck pickup

Sometimes, queens resort to scruffing when they want their kittens to stop a specific unwanted behaviour, such as biting or nipping.

Scruffing is another way mother cats show their little ones that they are the dominant ones. 

If your cat has ever had kittens, you’ve probably noticed her grooming one of them after having scruffed him — this happens to soothe the potentially anxious reaction that the kitten might have had. 

2. Mating behaviour

During mating, a male cat mounts a female cat from the rear and immobilises her by biting on her scruff. 

As primitive as this behaviour might seem to us, the truth is that it is one of the few things that can keep the female still and ensure that the copulation is successful. 

Furthermore, female cats can attack the males during the mating process, especially since a male cat’s penis is equipped with small spines, which can cause the copulation to be painful. 

Given that scruffing usually produces anxiety or fear, the female sits still as she doesn’t know how to react. 

3. Being attacked

Another instance where a cat can become motionless due to being handled by the back of the neck is when a large predator picks it up. 

A bird of prey is the best example that we can give you — think of an eagle and its willingness to hunt down a kitten and how it does so. 

As you can imagine, this does not make the cat feel at ease. 

Do cats like being scruffed?

The only feline categories that might feel a bit of pleasure when being scruffed would be kittens and young cats. 

It is assumed that scruffing is safe to do with kittens as in them, the anxiety response is less powerful since they associate the procedure with being picked up by their mothers. 

cat relaxing as scruff is held

In adult cats, unfortunately, scruffing can produce stress and anger — and you do not want to get on a cat’s bad side. 

If you have to use scruffing when you go to the vet clinic, it’s always better to use a towel or some kind of cloth that better immobilises the cat — just to be on the safe side of things. 

If scruffed, cats that are already nervous become even more anxious and might attack as a result of them believing they are under attack themselves. 

If you repeatedly scruff your cat, she might end up becoming nervous or aggressive and also be prone to exhibiting destructive behaviours in the long run. 

Is scruffing the right way to handle a cat? 

In most cases, no.

However, if everything else fails and you have to use this type of handling when you’re at the vet, you can.

When you return from the vet clinic, you have to do your best at reassuring your cat. If your pet has a favourite treat, now’s the right time to give it to her. 

picking up a kitten by the scruff

Spend a little time with your cat, petting her and talking to her (most pets recognise their owners’ voices, and they feel soothed by them). 

At the vet’s, cats can be immobilised using a variety of other methods, such as the ‘burrito’ technique using a towel or cloth or by simply relying on an Elizabethan collar (the so-called ‘cone of shame’).

Ask your vet to show you correct scruffing

Now that it’s clear that scruffing does not cause pleasure to cats, and that’s why they stop moving, we’d like to note that scruffing should not be used as a means of transporting your cat around your house. 

vet inspecting a cat

On the other hand, you can use your cat’s possible anxiety reaction to your advantage in that you can train her so as to see you as the dominant individual in your living environment. 

This can only be done with kittens, though, since in adult cats, it will not cause the desired reaction, nor will the training lead to satisfactory results with this method. 

Let your cat be completely calm before restraining her

There are a plethora of ways of restraining your cat without using scruffing. 

We’ve already mentioned two, but the most important thing to keep in mind is that your feline friend has to be completely at ease. 

If you have to give your cat a deworming pill or handle her for any other reason, you have to strictly avoid forcing her to do something. 

If you do force your feline friend, it’s probably not going to end well.

Either she will become aggressive, or she will just run away and then you aren’t going to be able to handle her using any other method, let alone scruffing.

If you want to perform two procedures on the same day, such as giving your cat flea treatment, other medications or trimming her nails, it’s a good idea to wait for one or two hours between the two. 


Cats stop moving when you grab their neck because they become fearful, nervous, or anxious, and they don’t know what to expect. 

Handling your cat by the back of her neck can cause unwanted behaviours, especially in the long run. 

For this reason, we advise against using this technique as a way of immobilising your feline friend. 

For any safe and comfortable ways of restraining your cat, please refer to your vet.

Vets actually learn how to handle animals while studying for their degree, so they are the fittest to advise you in this sense.

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