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Why Do Ragdoll Cats Go Limp? Is It a Defense Mechanism?

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Dr. Lorna Whittemore


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Ragdolls are beautiful and affectionate and act more like dogs rather than cats. Ragdolls are large cats and are known as “gentle giants.” They are generally good with children and love their humans. These laid-back cats love to be held and are known to go “limp” when picked up, hence the name “Ragdoll.”

Given that they go limp, this begs the question: why do Ragdoll cats go limp? It’s believed they go limp because it reminds them of being kittens. Read on to learn more about the laidback Ragdoll and why they go limp.

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Why Do Ragdoll Cats Go Limp?

It was not possible to find research into why Ragdoll cats go limp when held but the most commonly put forward theory is because it reminds them of kittenhood. Mother Ragdolls carry their young around by the scruff of the neck, and the kittens naturally have a reflex or instinct to go limp to make the load easier for their mother. This reflex is usually lost by adolescents in most cat breeds, however it is thought to be retained in Ragdolls. Ragdolls tend to “flop” when held, which means they are relaxed.

Not all Ragdolls will go limp when held, particularly a timid Ragdoll. Also, not all Ragdolls enjoy being held, but most are social and docile and quite fond of being held by their humans. When you hold a Ragdoll, he will usually “flop” in your arms.

Being held by the scruff in adult cats can result in them stopping moving but this is a different reflex, a behavioral shut down that is based on fear and stress.  This is why it is not recommended to scruff adult cats.

Seal Ragdoll stepping out of the cat tree
Image Credit: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock

Is It a Defense Mechanism?

In researching this topic, what we mostly found was Ragdolls go limp because of the natural reflex they acquire when they are kittens. The “limp” or “floppy” behavior could be a defense mechanism, so to speak, in an effort to prevent an accidental injury while being held. Mostly though, Ragdolls go limp because they are relaxed, and it reminds them of being carted around in the mouth of their mother.

What Is So Special About Ragdoll Cats?

Ragdolls are social, affectionate, docile, and love human companionship. A true Ragdoll will have blue eyes and a soft and fluffy coat. Ragdolls are intelligent cats that will engage in a game of fetch with you, much like a dog. Most Ragdolls are in tune with their owner’s emotions and will comfort you in times of stress or sadness. Their laidback personalities and incredible characteristics make them a coveted cat breed to own.

Are Ragdolls Good Family Pets?

Yes! Ragdolls make excellent family pets. They are extremely tolerant of other cats and dogs, and they love children. They are much more affectionate than other cat breeds, and they are among the largest domesticated cat breeds around, with a weight reaching 20 pounds. For those who are more dog lovers but would like a cat, the Ragdoll is the breed for you.

Ragdolls are the closest you’ll get to having a dog in a cat’s body, and they are loyal and loving with their humans. They have a long lifespan, between 15 to 20 years, and due to their lack of an undercoat, they don’t shed as much as other cat breeds. Interestingly, they are not considered fully grown into adulthood until four years old.

ragdoll cat with blue eyes standing outdoors in nature
Image Credit: Aaron Zimmermann, Shutterstock

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Final Thoughts

Owning a Ragdoll is a truly rewarding experience. They are the only cat breed said to “go limp” when you pick them up, and they have a sweet and friendly disposition. They go limp because it reminds them of being carted around in their mother’s mouth as kittens, and this relaxed position carries on into adulthood. You’ll pay a pretty penny for a true, purebred Ragdoll, but their personalities are worth the expense.

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Featured Image Credit: Linn Currie, Shutterstock