How to Discourage Bad Behavior in Your Cat

Scruff Your Cat Safely
Scruff Your Cat Safely. Danielle D. Hughson/Getty Images

Scruffing is one of the best ways of discouraging undesirable behavior in cats, as it is one of the ways mother cats discipline their kittens. Learn how to scruff your cat to train him properly and effectively.

Scruffing should be reserved for especially egregious behavior such as physical aggression toward humans or another cat. I had to use the scruffing technique on one of my cats when he had severely bitten my husband after he tried to interfere in a fight between our two cats.

This was a classic case of redirected aggression against a human.

I much prefer it to the common practice of using a spray bottle, which often results in a drenched, even angrier cat. Since the cat associates the spray bottle with the person holding it, he will only continue his misbehavior when you are absent.

Difficulty: Average

Time Required: One to Five Minutes

Here's How:

  1. Firmly grasp the scruff (loose skin at the top of the neck) of the cat. It should be understood that by "firmly," I do not mean to grab the cat roughly. The idea is to establish yourself as the dominant one, i.e., the "mother," not to be seen as another aggressor.
  2. Firmly press the cat down to the floor while sharply saying "no!" Again, be firm, but not rough with your handling of your cat. If you know how to make the sound, you can preface your "no!" with a hissing sound, much as the mother cat would do.
  3. Hold the cat in that position until you feel and see him relax his muscles. Some cats will visibly relax, as my cat did in the incident I mentioned above. While you are holding him, speak softly and calmly.
  1. Release your hold on the cat, then pet him and tell him "good boy." The idea is to discipline him without withholding your love. Jealousy is often the motivator for cats' aggression. The dominant cat in a household may always be looking out to protect his or her status as "top cat." Scolding him after the fact serves no purpose except to reinforce his anger.
  1. If the precipitating event to the aggression was one of "redirected aggression," such as a stray cat outside the window, take steps to discourage the stray from entering your property.

    The most common cause of aggression in our house is of the redirect variety, as stray cats or sometimes even raccoons think nothing of strolling across our patio or staring back through the door at our cats.


  1. Sometimes hissing loudly will be more effective than saying "no." Hissing will re-awaken memories of mother cat's discipline.
  2. Do not attempt to scruff a cat in the middle of a violent fight between cats, as you may accidentally be scratched or bitten. It is best in those cases to separate the cats first by removing the least aggressive cat. If you have another family member available, have him take the other cat out of sight, then scruff the aggressor.

    Another option is to throw a blanket, towel, pillow, or any other soft object at hand between the cats. The object can absorb the brunt of the aggressor cat's clawing, to give time to get the other cat out of the area.

  3. Although the scruffing hold can almost always be released within a minute, with a particularly angry and upset cat, it may be necessary to hold him to the floor for three to five minutes. Do not let his anger transfer to you, but talk to him calmly and soothingly. When you feel him relax, continue with Step 4.
  1. It would be best to keep the cats separated for the remainder of the day.
  2. Warning: Although veterinarians may pick up a cat by the scruff of the neck, notice that they also support the cat's body with the other hand. Never pick up an adult cat by the scruff, as it can do serious internal damage. Always support the full weight of the cat underneath its body with the other hand.

What You Need:

  • Stuffed toy or pillow to throw to the aggressor to redirect his aggression