Pet Grooming, Self Wash

Dealing with Matted Fur: Tips and Advice


No matter how diligently you keep up with your pet’s grooming needs, you may still encounter a hairy situation: matted fur. Figuring out how to deal with matted fur can be stressful, especially for pet parents with long-haired animals. Here are some tips for safely removing and preventing matted fur—and when to seek professional help.

Why Pets Get Matted Hair

Here’s a breakdown of the most common reasons pets get matted hair:

Lack of Proper Grooming

In most cases, matted fur is the result of inadequate grooming. Individual hairs rub together every time your pet moves, says Brooke Strong, a groomer with Reserved Barking in Alexandria, Virginia. Unless the coat is short or brushed regularly, mats are bound to form.

“The frequency of brushing needed depends on the length of the coat, the coat type (curly vs. straight, soft vs. wiry, etc.), and the activity level of the pet,” says Strong. Pets can get matted fur from having long fur that is not combed frequently. In cats, it’s more common when they stop grooming themselves due to discomfort or illness. In dogs, it’s often related to a lack of appropriate grooming by the owner. Dogs with long or thick coats rarely self-groom effectively.

Non-shedding, long-haired pets, like Poodles or Doodle breeds, or those with a thick undercoat, are more prone to matting and therefore require extensive grooming. Consult your veterinarian for advice on handling your pet’s grooming needs based on their breed.

Dangers of Matted Hair in Dogs and Cats

While mild hair mats are usually minimal, severe matting can lead to pain and skin infections, similar to hot spots. Severe matting can cause discomfort or even damage to the underlying skin or joints, depending on the location. Sometimes, matting can constrict a limb, leading to deep wounds, swelling of the feet, or bedsore-like injuries. Matting may also hide underlying problems like fleas and skin conditions, says Melissa Lindsey, a professional groomer and Manager at Furry Beginnings.

How to Remove Fur Mats From Your Pet

A mat—unlike a tangle—CANNOT be combed out. Dr. Liff says, “When removed with combs, you just don’t make enough progress, and the pet will lose patience or be injured by this.” Here are some tips for dealing with mats on your pet:

Don’t Dampen the Hair

If you’re interested in removing your pet’s mats at home, Dr. Liff suggests starting with a dry pet, as dry hair is often easier to comb and brush. Additionally, if the coat becomes wet while it’s matted, the matting will become tighter and more extensive.

Preventing Matting in Pets

Long-term mat prevention requires proper and consistent grooming practices. It’s important to keep up with combing and brushing as needed.

Brush Your Pet Two or Three Times a Week

“Dogs and cats with long coats should be brushed two to three times per week, using a slicker brush and metal comb,” Lopez says. “The comb will help the owner find the hidden mats below the top layer of the coat.” Pets with a thick, shedding undercoat benefit from regular grooming with a dog rake.

If you’re diligent about grooming your pet and still find mats, it could be due to improper grooming techniques. Brushing the top of the coat will not suffice in keeping your pet mat-free, so it’s important to use a brush with bristles that penetrate the coat down to the skin.

De-Matting Sprays Can Help

De-matting sprays are helpful as well. “These are leave-in conditioners that are sprayed or poured over mats to make them easier to loosen and brush out,” Strong says. But keep in mind that they are only effective for very loose or small tangles in the hair. Read the directions on individual products to see the best way to apply the spray, if it needs to sit for a certain amount of time to be effective, and if it needs to be rinsed out.

Make Sure the Products are Safe for Your Pet

If you are grooming a cat, always check to make sure the products are safe to use on cats, as most are formulated for dogs, and always rinse a cat’s coat after using the products. Cats can get sick from licking these products off their coat when they groom themselves.

Professional Grooming Help for Matted Fur

If you don’t have the correct tools at home (like a good pair of safe clippers), aren’t sure which shampoos or conditioners are safe for your pet, or can’t get your pet to sit still long enough to complete the entire process, seek professional grooming help. Often, pets will not tolerate a lengthy procedure, so an experienced groomer may be able to complete the task more quickly without stressing out the pet.