Grooming your cat regularly, especially if they have medium or long hair, is an important part of cat ownership. Letting a cat's hair become matted can be uncomfortable and even painful for your cat and can lead to additional health and behavioral issues if not dealt with.
Why Cat Hair Becomes Matted
There are several reasons you may find mats on your cat.
- When your cat sheds, if the hairs aren't brushed off, they can get caught in the remaining fur and form mats over time.
- Sometimes mats can form from too much friction between the area where the mat forms and another surface, such as a cat rubbing his belly against a bed or his neck against a too-tight collar.
- They can form if your cat is laying in position for two long and the weight of your cat's body can press the hair together to form mats.
- If foreign matter gets stuck in the coat, like cat litter or dirt, these can lead to mats if your cat licks them and solidifies the mass with their saliva.
- Some cats can't groom themselves well, such as senior and obese cats, and mats can form if your cat is unable to keep himself clean. This is why mats often form in hard-to-reach areas like their groin, back and anal area as well as around the ears and the back of their neck.
Removing Mats With Grooming Tools
The best way to remove mats is to prevent them from forming in the first place with a regular grooming routine. If it's too late, you can use common grooming tools to work out the mats. Depending on the severity of the mat, you may want to contact a professional as the worse the mats are, the more painful they will be for your cat and he may become anxious and defensive when you try to remove them.
The simplest grooming tool of all is just your fingers. Picking the hairs apart to break up the mat can work well with small mats, especially if they've just started to form. You want to start with the area of the mat that's closest to the ends of the fur and slowly make your way down to the skin. Remember that the closer you get to the cat's skin, the more sensitive the mat will be so make sure your kitty is relaxed and provide him with lots of positive reinforcement. It helps to have a second person to feed him treats to distract him while you work.
A mat removing comb or dematting rake is also good for small to medium size mats. These tools are designed to break up the hair as gently and efficiently as possible to reduce stress on your cat. Just like with using your fingers, you want to start toward the top of the hair and break up the mats while slowly making your way down to the sensitive skin area. You should also hold the mat in your other hand to keep it from pulling on the skin as the comb works through it. If you attempt to use it and are not having any luck, this means the mat is too large and you should bring the cat to your vet or a groomer to have it removed professionally.
If you don't have access to a tool made specifically for mats but you have a wide-toothed comb, this can work well for small mats. You can use it to work on the mats breaking up a small area near the ends of the hair at a time. Be sure to hold the mat with your other hand to reduce the pulling on it from the comb.
Clippers are an option if you find the mat is too large for picking apart and your cat is uncomfortable with a dematting rake or comb. If the mats seem to stick to the cat's skin this can make using the comb uncomfortable and using clippers will be less stressful. Clippers are a safer alternative than scissors and may be a faster choice than other tools if your cat is not stressed out by the noise. With the clippers you want to shave the mat first without touching the skin and then comb out the rest once the mat appears to be gone. If the mat is sticking to the skin, then you should take your cat to a professional as it will be harder for you to clip him without causing pain and discomfort.
While it may seem very tempting to use grooming scissors to cut out the mats, in general this is a bad idea. A cat can easily startle and get cut with the scissors as you're attempting to cut out the mats. It's also very hard to know where the cat's fur ends and skin begins with some cats and you can end up hurting your cat unintentionally.
Mat Removal Formulas
If you're going to pick apart the mats or use a rake or comb, adding in a detangling solution can help make the job go faster and easier for your kitty. TropiClean Tangle Remover and EQyss Grooming Survivor Pet Detangler are two examples of pre-mixed solutions you can buy that help to break up the mats. They work best on clean hair so you should bathe your cat first and apply when the hair is dry.
If the mats are simply too large and your cat is in pain, your best course of action is to bring him to a veterinarian or a professional groomer with experience working with cats with severely matted fur. They will shave the cat and remove the mats completely. Depending on your cat's temperament and their level of discomfort, this may require them to be put under anesthesia to keep everyone safe.
Using Natural Solutions
If you prefer to use a homemade solution for removing mats, there are many ingredients you probably have in your home already that can help with mats.
Instead of purchasing a pre-mixed detangling formula, you can try applying a small amount of some oils to the mats to help remove them. The oil should sit in the cat's fur and soak into the mat for at least an hour or longer to give it a chance to work on the mat. Some commonly used options are baby oil, coconut oil or olive oil. These will work on small mats but the larger the mat the more likely you'll need to see a professional or use clippers. With baby oil there is a risk of the cat ingesting the mat when trying to groom himself so olive and coconut oils are safer options.
Both baby powder and corn starch have been used by cat owners to break up mats. They work by putting a small amount on the mat and using your fingers to move the powder into the mats to break them up. You can brush the excess powder out once the mat is gone. The downside to these products is the chance of your cat ingesting them and developing an upset stomach, so you may want to bathe him immediately once the mat is removed.
Bathing Your Cats
If the mats aren't too severe, a bath with detangling shampoo and conditioner can help to break mats up and make them easier to comb out when your cat is dry. If you try this method, do not rub the mats when they're wet as this can work against you and increase the severity of the mat.
Dealing With Matted Cat Fur
Mats can be mildly uncomfortable to extremely painful for a cat. The best course of action is to prevent them from happening in the first place. Develop a regular brushing schedule for your cat along with a regular bath and be sure to check your cat's fur often to make sure no mats are forming. If your cat is unable to groom himself due to age or medical issues, you may have to increase the amount of grooming you do so your cat remains comfortable.