Handling cats: for blood sampling in Cats (Felis) | Vetlexicon
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Handling cats: for blood sampling

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General approach

  • The importance of a calm and quiet manner cannot be over-emphasized when dealing with cats in veterinary practice.
  • Cats entering the clinic are outside of their normal environment, their comfort zone and can be frightened and unpredictable.
  • It is useful to provide owners with information on how best to transport their cat into the clinic. This will help ensure that it is a calm cat that arrives at the practice.
  • It is important to to keep noise to a minimum to avoid distress.
    Quiet clippers are essential and it is often useful to switch clippers on for a short period prior to their use to acclimatise cats to the noise.
  • Gentle, confident handling techniques will make the experience better for the cat and will make it easier for support staff and veterinarians to perform physical examinations and obtain necessary samples.
    A cat should never be scruffed (restraining the cat by twisting the skin at the base of the neck). Scruffing will typically just result in heightened aggravation in the cat, making handling even more difficult.
  • By using the various techniques described below, scruffing will never be necessary.
  • Wrapping a cat in a towel can be useful to prevent scratching from the hindlimbs and forelimbs. The towel can be gently held at the neck and can also be draped over the cats eyes which will aid in calming a small number of cats (this is very cat-dependent!).
  • Although cat restraint bags can be useful in individual cats, placing the animal within the bag can prove problematic and result in heightened distress for some cats. The same effect can often be achieved simply by using a towel.
  • Cat muzzles may also be useful both in helping to prevent biting injury  and can also calm a small number of cats, however placement may also prove problematic and these should be used on a case by case basis.

Blood sampling restraint technique

  • There is no single holding technique that is perfect for every cat. An adept cat handler will alter their technique to suit individual patients.
  • Some cats require more restraint, whereas others follow the less is more adage.
  • The standard technique used to restrain a cat in order to obtain a right jugular vein blood sample   Jugular venipuncture   involves placing the cat on the left corner of the table. A non-slip surface is essential. 
  • The body of the cat is tucked under the arm and in the crook of the elbow to prevent backward motion. The right hand slides under the cat in order to hold both forelimbs, just in front of the elbows. The left hand then gently grasps the head, with the fingers under the cats jaw in order to elevate the head for sampling.
  • The holder can also rest their chin gently on top of the cats head to prevent any jerking movements during the procedure.
  • Occasionally some cats behave better with very little restraint. In these situations, the cats body is still tucked under the elbow, but both hands are used to gently elevate the head to provide access for sampling.
  • If a sample is required from the left jugular vein, the above positioning is performed in reverse.

Upside down blood sampling restraint technique

  • An alternative technique is the upside-down method    . This technique is particularly useful for kittens and when obtaining blood from donor cats for blood transfusion   Blood transfusion  .
  • The cat is restrained by the forelimbs as previously described for the jugular sampling technique. The left hand is used to gently turn the hind limbs and the cat is placed onto its back with the majority of the cats weight taken by the medial aspect of the right arm. The cat is then gently placed on the table, maintaining this position.
  • The right hand continues to hold the forelimbs, while the left hand is moved forward to restrain the cats head. The fingers are wrapped gently around the top of the cats head, leaving the cats ventral neck easily accessible for sampling.

Intravenous catheter placement restraint technique

  • The cat is placed is placed on the left corner of the table in order to place an intravenous catheter into the right cephalic vein   Cephalic catheterization  . The body of the cat is tucked under the right arm and in the crook of the elbow to prevent backward motion.
  • The right hand is placed just behind the cats right elbow and gentle pressure is used to extend the cats forelimb forward. This technique useful to prevent the cat withdrawing the limb as the catheter is placed.
  • The left hand is used to gently restrain the cats head.
  • The thumb of the right hand is used to occlude the vein during catheter placement.
  • To place an intravenous catheter into the left cephalic, the above positions are performed in reverse.


  • Cats may be unpredictable and the handling of any cat by the owner, support staff or veterinarians is potentially dangerous.
  • The veterinarian is deemed to be in charge from the moment the animal enters the consulting room.
  • Where possible, trained staff only should be involved in restraining animals.
  • If an owner insists on holding their cat themselves, it is best to advise them how to do so, and warn them of any specific problems.
  • Most normal cats carry a variety of aerobic and anaerobic, pathogenic bacteria in their oral cavities and under their claws, including Pasteurella multocida  Pasteurella multocida  , Streptococcus species   Streptococcus spp   and Fusobacterium organisms.
  • Bartonella species   Bartonella  , now considered to be the cause of Cat Scratch Disease   Cat scratch disease  , can be found in a significant percentage of cats.
  • A bite or severe scratch can result in infection and inadequate treatment can result in permanent disability.
  • If injury does occur, first aid should be administered, preferably by a member of staff qualified in First Aid techniques.
  • Superficial cleaning of a cat bite or scratch wound is often not sufficient and the injured person should always seek prompt medical attention.

Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Rodan I, Sundahl E, Carney H et al (2011) AAFP and ISFM feline-friendly handling guidelines. J Feline Med Surg 13 (5), 364-375 PubMed.

Other sources of information