Scruffing Cats: Is Kim Kardashian Guilty of Feline Abuse?
I’m not one to scour the fame rags for fun. In fact, I tend to eschew celebrity scandals on principle. Nonetheless, I will confess to a recent lapse: On a lark, I checked out Kate Hudson’s new boob job (SFW). Very understated. If you’ve just got to have it done, I’d recommend her surgeon’s toned-down approach.
That’s a lot more than I can say for Kim Kardashian …
This shamelessly self-promoting icon of gratuitous celebrity has proven herself a poor judge of what constitutes entertainment. In this veterinary relevant case, Ms. Kardashian — whom I’ve been given to understand is famous for being famous without her clothes on — has given animal defenders everywhere something to hiss about.
A photo featuring Ms. Kardashian in a catsuit drew rave reviews for the impressive depth of her not-so-subtle cleavage — less so for her aggressive handling of her black kitten co-star, whom she “scruffed” for a pic.
Tweeting to her minions earlier this week — “Pic from my shoot yesterday...good kitty cat!” — it became clear that this momentary B-lister is tragically tone deaf to animal issues. I mean, everyone knows that unnecessarily hoisting a cat by the nape of the neck (aka scruffing) is generally perceived as disgracefully disrespectful — especially when the gesture is performed with a Cruella-de-Ville flourish and a sadistic smile that says, “I’m too sexy for my brain.”
But here’s the thing: Scruffing is often cited by veterinarians and veterinary personnel as one of those human-on-cat gestures that looks a whole lot more hostile than many cats actually perceive it to be. Kittens especially seem to melt into the hold — as if they’re recalling the drive to relax, an instinct evoked by an acupressure-ish sensation similar to that of their mothers’ mouths (or so they say).
So it is that plenty of veterinary hospitals routinely employ the scruffing technique, thinking they’re doing right by cats (perhaps contributing to the unfortunate Kardashian moment earlier this week). However, here’s what Lore Haug, DVM, DACVB had to say in a conference proceeding last August (and most behaviorists agree):
Avoid scruffing cats as a routine restraint method. Scruffing actually is not a secure way to restraint a cat, and it aggravates many cats more than necessary. There is no magical "limpness" button on a cat's scruff and the analogy of a mother cat carrying her kittens is inaccurate. This flexor reflex occurs only in kittens and they outgrow this as they mature. Adult cats are grabbed by the back of the neck in only four natural situations: fighting, play fighting, reproduction, and predatory attack – none of which are desirable to mimic in a clinic setting. Alternative methods can be more successful.
But maybe we shouldn't get too dogmatic about it. Scruffing is often entirely defensible, as when no other hold will allow access to a vein, or when a fractious animal would otherwise require sedation.
We can argue the relative merits and pitfalls of sedation versus “aggressive” restraint ad nauseum, but here's the honest reality: there is no one size fits all. Rather, a desire to do what’s best for each individual cat should be the guiding principle. And to be extra clear, none of that involves the dubious ministrations of a buxom pseudo-starlet as she flaunts her feline prowess. Nope. No one’s about to confuse this Kardashian for an animal lover.
So what do you say? Is this animal abuse?...or just a terrible example of social media PR? Your call.
Dr. Patty Khuly