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Restraining a Cat

This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care. Always follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian.

How can an animal so small be so hard to hold on to? 

Variations on these instructions exist.

More is NOT better. Work with the cat in the position that (s)he finds most comfortable yet provides you adequate exposure to do what you need to do. The LEAST amount of restraint that is needed should be applied. Excessive restraint becomes a test of wills and you will find cats to be stubborn and not give up. The more you attempt to restrain them, the harder they resist and the less pleasant and more dangerous the experience becomes for all. 

There are several restraint devices that make handling a cat to give it a pill, place eye or ear ointment or trim its nails much easier. 

a restraint bag with the opening labeled Restraint bags can be used to restrain cats as well as small dogs. The bags are made of canvas or nylon, with a hook or other type of fastener at the neck opening and one or more zippers (or strips of Velcro) to allow selective exposure of a body part. Instead of a restraint bag, a heavy towel or a pillow case can be used to wrap the cats body, leaving the head exposed but are not nearly as effective as a bag.
fastened neck closure with bag draped over cat The open bag is draped over the cats back and the neck closure is fastened. The neck fastener should be tight enough that the cat cannot insert a front foot through the neck opening.
zipping the cat in the restraint bag The cat is turned on its back or held off the table so the longest zipper can be zipped. As you close the zipper, take care not to catch the cat's fur in the zipper.
fully restrained cat The cats feet are now restrained so that you can work with his/her eyes, ears or give medication.

leg zipper unzipped with cats leg exposed


Zippers are strategically placed around the bag to allow selective exposure of a body part. This is useful when trimming claws.


A second method is to get the cat to lay on the bag, then pull the sides of the bag around the cat and zip over the back. In my opinion this method is less effective as the cat often tries to stand as you zip the zipper.

cat laying on top of the restraint bag The cat is placed in a laying position on the bag.

pulling the sides of the bag over the cats back


The sides of the bag are pulled up over the cat's back.


closing the zipper of the restraint bag


The zipper is pulled closed, taking care not to catch the cat's fur in the zipper.

closeup of the neck fastener

The neck fastener is closed. The neck should be closed snugly, just loose enough to slip a finger between the neck and the bag. If the neck fastener is too loose, the cat will slip its front paws out of the bag.

wrapping the cat in a heavy bath towel

A heavy bath towel can substitute for a restraint bag. The cat is snugly wrapped in the towel covering all 4 feet. The bag can be held closed or pins or clips can be used to keep the towel in place.

working with the cats head when its body is wrapped in a bath towel The head is free to allow you to work with the cat's eyes, ears or to give medications.
working with the cats front leg while it's wrapped in the bath towel One foot at a time can be pulled out from the towel restraint for toenail clipping.
top and bottom view of a cat hood Muzzles used for cats are called hoods and cover the end of the face and the eyes. The end of the muzzle is open for easy breathing. 

The cat is often less apprehensive about having its ears or feet handled if  they cannot see.

I prefer those made of cloth rather than the more rigid leather muzzles pictured below. 

The top of the hood that is placed over the top of the cat's face is wider than the bottom. 

placing the hood over the cats face hood placed over cats face with the open muzzle labeled
leather hood placed on cat  


paper cup hood

A cat hood can be made using a paper cup and a ribbon or string. Cut off the bottom of the cup. Punch 2 holes on opposite sides of the lip of the cup. Tie 2 pieces of string or ribbon through the holes.

paper cup hood placed over cats face Place the cup over the cat's nose and eyes and tie the strings together behind the cat's ears.  You can tie the strings in a bow or in a knot and have a scissors handy to cut the string to remove the hood.

correct placement of a paper cup hood over a cats face


The bottom of the cup should extend 1/2  to 1 inch beyond the cat's nose. The cat can easily open his/her mouth.


Washington State University assumes no liability for injury to you or your pet incurred by following these descriptions or procedures.

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