Why Do Cats Carry Their Kittens By The Neck

Have you ever seen a cat carry its kitten by the neck? Mother cats have a special way of carrying their kittens by the neck. It might seem strange or even harsh, but it is actually a very gentle and safe method of moving them around.

This act of carrying is also known as the ‘scruffing’. But is it painful for the kittens? Why Do Cats Carry Their Kittens By The Neck?

Well, in this article, we will explore the reasons behind this fascinating feline phenomenon and answer some of the most common questions about it. 

Understanding The Feline Phenomenon “Scruffing”

Understanding The Feline Phenomenon “Scruffing”

We are all more or less familiar with this scenario, how a mother cat carries her baby in her mouth. It’s one of the most fascinating and intriguing aspects of feline life. Though  it’s a pretty wild sight, it’s actually perfectly normal.

Unveiling the intriguing behavior: What Does It Mean When Cats Carry Their Kittens By The Neck?

When cats carry their kittens by the neck, they are not hurting them or being aggressive. On the contrary, they are showing their love and care for their offspring.

When kittens are born, they are blind, deaf, and helpless. They rely on their mother’s touch and smell to survive and thrive. So, it could be a way for the mother cat to discipline her kitten.

The Physical and Biological Mechanism: How Do Cats Carry Their Kittens By The Neck?

The physical and biological mechanism that allows cats to carry their kittens by the neck is called the “pinch-induced behavioral inhibition” (PIBI).

When a cat’s scruff is pinched, it triggers a reflex that causes the cat to go limp. This reflex is thought to be a survival mechanism that helps kittens avoid being injured by their mother.

The PIBI reflex is caused by the release of a neurotransmitter called noradrenaline. Noradrenaline is a stress hormone that causes the cat’s muscles to relax. This relaxation allows the mother cat to carry her kitten without any resistance.

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The Situations and Circumstances: When Do Mother Cats Carry Their Kittens By The Throat? 

Mother cats typically carry their kittens by the scruff in a few different situations. First, they may do it when they’re moving their kittens from one place to another. This could be to a new nest, to a safer location, or simply to a different room in the house.

Second, when mother cats discipline their kittens. This is a way for the mother cat to show her kittens who’s boss and to let them know that their behavior is unacceptable.

Third, when mother cats feel protective of her babies. This is a way for the mother cat to keep her kittens close and safe, especially if they’re in a dangerous situation.

Finally, when they want to groom or cuddle their kittens. If a kitten is dirty or has fleas, the mother cat will lick its fur and bite its neck to clean it. 

Possible Reasons for Carrying Kittens By The Neck

In the previous section, we learned about the physical and biological mechanism of how cats carry their kittens by the neck.

Now, we will explore the possible reasons why cats do this and how it affects their relationship with their kittens. 

The Maternal Instinct and Territorial Behavior: Is Carrying Kittens By The Neck a Way of Protecting Them? 

Carrying kittens by the neck is a way of expressing the maternal instinct that cats have. The maternal instinct is a natural and powerful drive that motivates animals to care for and protect their offspring.

It is triggered by hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy and lactation. The maternal instinct helps mother cats bond with their kittens and provide them with food, warmth, and security.

The maternal instinct also influences the territorial behavior of cats. The territorial behavior is a natural and adaptive response that helps animals defend their resources and space from intruders.

Nurturing and Bonding: How Neck Carrying Strengthens the Mother-Kitten Relationship

Another reason why cats carry their kittens by the neck is to nurture and bond with them. It also helps mother cats groom and cuddle their kittens.

Grooming and cuddling are important behaviors that help cats maintain their hygiene, health, and comfort. They also help cats communicate and express their emotions.

Scruffing helps mother cats stimulate and nurture their kittens. When a mother cat carries her kitten by the neck, she is stimulating its blood circulation and nervous system, which helps it grow stronger and healthier.

Role of Socializing: How are Social and Disciplinary Aspects Involved in this “Scruffing” Behavior?

Scruffing can also be used as a way to socialize kittens and teach them manners. When a mother cat scruffs a kitten that is misbehaving, it is a way of telling the kitten that its behavior is wrong and correcting them. 

Misbehaving or needing to calm down are common situations that occur when kittens are young, playful, and curious. They also occur when kittens are stressed, scared, or bored.

When a mother cat grabs her kitten’s neck and holds it down, she is telling it to stop what it is doing or to relax. She is also asserting her authority and respect over it.

Scruffing can also be used to teach kittens how to interact with each other. When kittens play together, they may sometimes scruff each other.

This is a way for them to learn how to assert themselves and to defend themselves from other kittens.

Practical Implications for Cat Owners

We learned about the reasons and mechanisms behind why cats carry their kittens by the neck. Let’s have a look at what you should do as an owner in this situation. 

How to Respond When Your Cat Carries Kittens By The Neck?

In general, you should respect your cat’s maternal instincts and territorial behavior when she carries her kittens by the neck.

This means that you should not interfere with her actions unless there is a clear and immediate danger for her or her kittens. 

You should also avoid touching or picking up your cat or her kittens when she carries them by the neck. This might upset or stress her out and make her think that you are trying to steal or harm her kittens.

Instead of interfering or touching, the best thing to do is to simply observe and appreciate your cat’s behavior. You should recognize that she is doing what is best for her offspring and that she is showing her love and care for them.

When Should You Interfere or Help Your Cat When She Carries Her Kittens By The Neck?

As we mentioned before, you should generally avoid interfering with your cat’s behavior when she carries her kittens by the neck. 

However, there might be some situations where you might want to help your cat or intervene for the sake of her or her kittens’ well-being. For example-

  • When mom cat is carrying too many kittens at once

Sometimes, your cat might try to carry more than one kitten at a time by the neck. In that case, you should gently separate the kittens from each other and help your cat carry them one by one.

  • When mom cat is carrying a sick or injured kitten

Your cat might carry a kitten that is sick or injured by the neck. This can be harmful for the kitten as it can worsen its condition or cause more pain.

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  • When mom cat is carrying the kittens in a dangerous situation

If the cat is carrying the kittens in any kind of dodgy situation, such as near a busy road, you may need to gently remove the kittens from the cat’s mouth.

  • When mom cat is carrying the kittens too roughly

You should also intervene if the cat is carrying the kittens too roughly, like she’s shaking or dropping the babies. Carefully take the kittens from her and place them in a safe place.

Some of us, the cat owners, also scruff our little feline companion. But is it good to do that to our cat? Let’s see what this experienced vet tells us about Why you shouldn’t pick up your cat by the scruff of the neck, with one click.

How Can You Support Your Cat and Her Kittens?

If you want to support your cat and her kittens when she carries them by the neck, you should provide them with a supportive environment that meets their needs and preferences. 

Tips for providing a supportive environment for mother cats and kittens-

  • Provide a quiet and comfortable place for the mother cat and her kittens to sleep.
  • Make sure there is plenty of food and water available.
  • Keep the environment clean and free of hazards.
  • Be patient and understanding. Mother cats may be stressed or overwhelmed during this time.
  • Avoid handling the kittens too much, especially during the first few weeks.
  • If you have other pets in the home, make sure they are introduced to the kittens slowly and carefully.

Also read this article about what to feed kittens when mom won’t. But if your kitten doesn’t eat, we also have a solution for that.

What solution? Well, this post: “ how to bottle feed a kitten that won’t eat” can provide you some foolproof way to feed you lil’ pal. 

Misconceptions and Interpretations

In this section, we will address some of the misconceptions and interpretations that people might have about this behavior and explain the true motivations behind it.

Debunking Myths: Addressing Misconceptions About the Neck-Carrying Behavior

There are a few common myths about cats carrying their kittens by the neck. One myth is that the mother cat is strangling her kittens. This is not true. 

Another one is while momma cats carry their kittens by their mouth, their sharp teeth hurting kittens or mother is being aggressive. That is also totally a misconception. 

The scruff of a kitten’s neck is a very sensitive area, and when it is pinched, it triggers a reflex that causes the kitten to go limp. This allows the mother cat to carry the kitten without hurting it.

How Human Observations Might Differ from Feline Intentions

It is important to remember that humans and cats have different ways of interpreting the world. What may seem like a harsh or aggressive behavior to us may be perfectly normal and even affectionate to a cat.

Maybe that’s why Benjamin Franklin once said, “Appearances often deceive, and the first impression is not always the true one.”

Just like when a mother cat scruffs a kitten, it may look like she is being mean. However, in reality, she is simply trying to discipline the kitten or show it who is in charge.

They do not punish or teach them a lesson. They have a different way of communicating authority and respect that does not involve biting or holding down their kittens.

Understanding the True Motivations Behind Neck Carrying

The true motivations behind why cats carry their kittens by the neck are all about their lil’ ones protection, discipline, affection, and of course, transportation by mom’s mouth! 

By understanding these motivations, we can appreciate why cats carry their kittens by the neck and how it benefits both the mother and the offspring.

We can also respect and support this behavior and avoid interfering with it unless necessary.


In the end, we have explored the reasons, mechanisms, and implications of why cats carry their kittens by the neck.

We hope that this article has helped you understand and appreciate the scruffing behavior and how it reflects their amazing and adorable nature.

If you have any questions or comments about this article, please feel free to share them with us. We would love to hear from you and learn more about your experiences with cats and kittens. 

You can also check out our other articles on various topics related to cats and their behavior. Thank you for reading.

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