Why Do Cats Go Limp When You Grab Their Neck?

Going limp is involuntary for cats behind held by the scruff.
Going limp is involuntary for cats behind held by the scruff. (Image: John Foxx/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

If you ever notice your veterinarian picking up your kitty up the scruff during a checkup, you also might notice your furry buddy's body becoming limp. Although it might seem strange, this body language reaction is 100 percent normal in felines.

Scruff and Kittens

Cats are often used to being picked up by the scruff, which is the back part of the neck. As wee kittens, mama cats routinely carry their youngsters around by seizing them via their teeth. If a mother cat has to move one of her kittens to a new spot, she might opt to retrieve the little one by his scruff. Being held in this manner is nothing new for most kittens and adult cats.


When kittens are grabbed by the scruff, their bodies quickly turn limp and floppy. They look like they're unable to move while up in the air and "in transit." This innate reaction occurs as a means of making the whole process more simple. When kittens are limp, they make it less of a hassle for mom to bring them to their new destinations, adding to their security. By staying limp, they also don't interfere with the paths their mothers are traveling. Cats frequently retain this reflex as they mature. For mature cats, this body language is an expression of deference.

Identifying Limpness

A cat who is limp due to being held by his scruff is usually pretty easy to identify -- he'll look somewhat frozen in time. Apart from his front limbs both taking on a slack appearance, his back limbs and tail might also point "inside" of his body, too, rather than outward.

Holding Cats by The Scruff

By nature, mother cats understand how to securely carry her little ones by their scruffs, but it isn't safe or appropriate for humans to do so. Don't attempt to hold your kitten or adult cat by the scruff, as it can be extremely uncomfortable. In some cases, it can be dangerous. Vets sometimes grab cats by their scruffs, but they are trained how to do so correctly and safely. Instead of going for the scruff, carry your cutie by using your hands to reliably support his rear and front limbs.

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