Study looks at which method proves best to restrain cats

Published on February 13, 2019

Veterinarian restraining a catA study looking at cat welfare during handling found that a commonly used method may not be the most optimal.

"Veterinarians and non-veterinarian staff commonly use restraint involving immobilization for examinations and procedures when handling fearful and aggressive cats," wrote Dr. Carly M. Moody, who recently completed a PhD in epidemiology at the University of Guelph Ontario Veterinary College. She and other authors concluded that such handling was associated with a number of markers for feline stress and fear.

Full-body restraint is defined as the cat being "held on its side with its back against the handler, while the handler grasps the front and back legs, with a forearm across the cat's neck. The cat is allowed little to no movement of its head, body or limbs."

Passive restraint, on the other hand, is defined as the cat being "held lightly with the least amount of restraint possible, in a position of the cat's choosing (standing, sitting or laying). The cat is allowed movement of its head, body and limbs."

Unless veterinarians have special training or certification in feline handling, the study authors wrote, full-body restraint is a common method of handling cats both in veterinary practices and in animal shelters.

Working with 51 healthy shelter cats that had been in the shelter for at least one week and were available for adoption, the study compared full-body restraint with passive restraint and found the following:

  • Cats were 8.2 times as likely to struggle during full-body restraint.
  • Examinations took more than double the time to perform when full-body restraint was used.
  • Lip licking, holding the ears to the side and back, respiratory rate, and pupil dilation increased during full-body restraint.
  • Cats restrained with passive restraint were 6.1 times as likely to stay on the examination table after being released.

The study appeared in the July 2018 issue of Applied Animal Behaviour Science.