What is dog hair matting and what can you do about it? 

Matted fur isn’t cute and isn’t fun. How do you get rid of matted hair on a dog or cat and how do you prevent hair matting to begin with? Let’s not brush this off (pun intended).

What is matted fur on a dog or cat? 

Simply put, matted fur is tangled fur. Live and dead fur get wound around each other creating very tight tangles that can’t be simply brushed out. Fur matting is especially common in long-haired breeds and breeds with curly or fine fur or double coats. A double-coated dog’s fur can get matted in the undercoat and can go unnoticed, yikes! While many pets can get matted fur, some breeds are more prone to it than others. Poodles, doodles (that’s fun to say), cocker spaniels, bishons, curly coats, shihtzus, and variations on these breeds. Long silky coats and double coats are also more likely to get matted. 

What is the cause of matted fur?

Two main things are the culprits behind matted fur. Shedding and movement. When cats and dogs shed, if the dead hair isn’t removed, it gets tangled with the attached hair creating mats. If your pet likes to get wet, that can create further problems as the fur curls wrapping around itself. If the fur is wet and not brushed and dryed, the hairs will intertwine with each other and then shrink, causing a very sticky situation.

Friction also promotes matting. Therefore, dog and cat fur matting is often found around the collar area, behind the ears where they’re often scratched, between the legs, etc. 

Gray dog sitting looking over his shoulder towards the camera on a grooming table. The dog has such severely matted fur, he requires medical help from a vet.
A dog with fur matting so severe, he requires help from a vet

Why is matted fur bad? 

This is where things get juicy. Matted fur is not only bad, it’s downright dangerous and can lead to severe medical problems in pets. Because matted fur is dense and tangled, it doesn’t allow for proper air circulation to the skin and this causes skin infections, sometimes called hot spots. These hot spots are when moisture is trapped on the skin below the matted fur and an ulcerated skin lesion occurs (your poor pet!). And what does moisture buildup that can’t dry lead to? You guessed it! Bacteria that will then invade those lesions.

But that’s not all…fleas, ticks, maggots all can find a comfy home in the moist, tangled fur. And what’s worse is it is all hidden by the matted hair so problems can easily go unnoticed.  

The matted hair forms very tight tangles and can actually pull on the skin. In extreme cases, it can even cut off blood circulation causing hematomas or severe bruising. Hematomas can form in the tips of the ears or tail because severe fur matting acts like a rubber band and cuts off circulation. The poor dog or cat might be living that way for months on end. When the mats get taken out, blood flow comes rushing back to the areas causing the tips of the ears and tail to start seeping blood. In this event, the area needs to be immobilized and pressure must be applied to slow the flow of the blood allowing for the blood to coagulate. If this isn’t enough, a cold compress can be applied. However, sometimes, a trip to the vet will be necessary to drain the blood blister that has formed. 

Severe fur matting can even restrict movement (at this point, are you even surprised?). Hair on your pet’s feet or legs can be matted to adjacent areas and they can’t move freely without pulling on their fur and causing discomfort or pain. 

Because matted hair hurts and itches, pets will tend to try to scratch and bite at their own skin repeatedly. All that does is temporarily make them feel better but make the matting, and anything that lies beneath, worse. That might be sores, rashes, lesions, infections, who knows? 

White dog standing on a grooming table. The dog is partially shaved on top. On his legs, you can still see the matted and pelted fur that still needs to be removed as it is severe.
Photo of a dog with severely matted fur underneath and pelting on the top layer.

How do you get rid of matted fur? 

Once the fur is matted, you have one of two options. 

  1. De-matting, which is also known as brushing the mats out. This is an extremely time-consuming and painful process for the matted pet. This can only be done if the mats aren’t too severe, but it will be a painful process nonetheless. The dog or cat will be required to stand for hours, potentially. This is uncomfortable and painful and can cause distress despite your best efforts. Some sort of detangling spray or even coconut oil will help soften up the matted hair and make it a bit easier to brush out. Olive oil is also an option for matted dog and cat hair as well as corn starch and a few other “home remedies”.

Keep in mind this can only be attempted if the mats are not severe. It will still likely be an uncomfortable process for your pet and we highly do not recommend you try this on your own as it can be a very labor-intensive process even for experienced professionals. 

  1. The second option is shaving off your pet’s matted fur. In this case, NEVER use scissors as you can’t see what you’re doing under the matted fur. You can easily catch the dog or cat’s skin and create a large wound. Even if you don’t end up cutting the skin in an obvious way, you may knick the skin which will lead to potential infection. Shaving the mats out with clippers is the safest way to remove matted fur. Even then, it’s not an easy or quick process and must be done by an experienced professional, like our stylists at Grooming Girls. Because the fur mats cover the skin and because the skin is delicate especially if damaged by the mats, there can be skin caught in the clipper despite a groomer being extremely careful (we don’t have x-ray vision, sadly). This is especially true if the dog or cat is in pain and uncomfortable and moving during the process. Depending on how close the mats are to the skin, any movement from the pet can cause the skin to get caught. Ugh. 

In some cases, if your cat or dog is in too much pain, they may need to be taken to the vet to be groomed under anesthesia. This comes with some added risks and should not be taken lightly, but it may be the only option to save your pet from trauma and extreme pain as well as potentially getting more cuts due to their aggravation. 

The journey doesn’t end there, however. After you get rid of the matting, a medicated shampoo needs to be applied to help soothe the skin. The skin underneath the mat will be in bad shape and being newly exposed to air will cause itching and discomfort, at least temporarily. Gentle drying techniques will also need to be used. Additionally, the newly exposed and itching skin is going to greatly tempt your pet to scratch. The groomer will want to file the dog’s or cat’s nails to help reduce the likelihood of them scratching their raw skin causing further harm. 

Your pet may even act strangely or bizarrely after being shaved. They may stop eating for a few days or hide. This is because, quite frankly, it’s weird! Your pet isn’t used to their skin being so exposed to the air and yet, here it is! They may also not be used to the groomers in general and the entire experience may be troubling and confusing. 

So…what’s the solution? 

How to prevent matting in dogs and cats

Prevention, prevention, prevention. Don’t you want to spare your pet all of this trouble? The only way to avoid all of this is to not have it happen to begin with. Can you guess what the solution is? Pet grooming, my friends. The solution is always pet grooming. 

You should be brushing your furry friend daily or at least weekly. You’ll need to know your dog or cat’s fur type to choose the best tools. For example, you’ll need a different type of brush for a short-haired dog versus a long-haired breed with a double coat. An experienced groomer can help you choose the right tools.
Bathing your pet is also an important part of keeping mats at bay and will help take care of small tangles before they turn into problematic matted fur. But beware that this can dry out the skin so you will want to strike a balance between bathing too often and not often enough. You’ll want to use a shampoo with a detangling component or you may even want to use a conditioner or detangler separately from the shampoo.

If your dog’s hair is already matted, however, bathing can make it worse as it will cause the fur to get into tighter knots. In this case, you’ll need to follow the steps above.

Bring your pet to the groomers every 6-8 weeks. A dog who is brought in for grooming once a year will be very stressed about a trip to the groomer’s. A dog coming in every 6-8 weeks will see grooming as a part of life and no big deal.  If it’s time for your regularly scheduled pet grooming appointment or if you need to make grooming a regular habit for you and your pet, book an appointment today before you have a much more serious problem on your hands!

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