Learn how to remove mats from a long-haired cat.
Put away the scissors, please. By: izik/Flickr

We received this question from a reader recently:

“I was wondering if you have any advice on removing my long-haired cat’s mats on her back. They are hard, and she is very overweight so she can’t clean her butt either. I was going to find her another home, but no takers. I have decided to cut the hair clumps out.” —Libby

Hi Libby, and thanks for your question. Please don’t reach for the scissors yet.

First, some background on how your cat got into this trouble. Overweight, old or sick cats can have a hard time reaching all areas of their bodies for grooming. Indoor-only and short-hair cats can also get mats from a buildup of dust and dander. Most mats will come out with brushing, but hard mats can require extra work.


Mats are clumps of hair that have become entangled or knotted over time. The mats can become uncomfortable and even painful for your cat. Some form with regular movement, and others build up over time without grooming. They also cause skin irritation and infection. You might notice an odor coming from your cat and consider bath time, but this can make the situation worse.

Keep It Dry

Adding water to your cat’s fur can make the mat set even tighter. Pet groomers recommend a detangler or anti-static spray, but most mats can be removed without these.

I have seen people recommend children’s detangler spray or talc-free powder, but always try to use only those products intended for your animal. When you reach for products you keep at home, there is always the possibility you could accidentally use something containing ingredients that are toxic to your cat, and it’s just not worth the risk.

Comb It Out

Regular brushing is recommended for your cat’s coat health, and most knots and mats can be removed this way.

If you notice the mats are a little thicker or more tightly knotted, you can use a brush with teeth or a wide-toothed comb. When you reach a mat, hold the fur closest to the skin with your fingers before brushing or pulling at the mat. This helps control the resistance from your brushing and avoids pulling on the cat’s skin.

If you’ve ever brushed a knot in your own hair or a child’s, you know that painful feeling when the brush gets stuck. Start at the end of the mat and work your way up for best results. If your cat has a thick undercoat, an undercoat comb has two sets of teeth at different lengths that may work better.

Watch this quick video from a professional pet stylist, then we’ll discuss another method:

Cut It Out

If regular brushing or using the wide-toothed comb doesn’t work, there is another brush called a mat comb (affiliate link), sometimes called a razor comb. This is a brush with recessed blades that will cut the hair as you brush. This can be very helpful if you can get under the mat; just remember to hold the base of the cat’s fur and skin to reduce pain and pulling.

If all these methods are still unsuccessful, you can use an electric razor to cut the mats out. I recommend that you get a groomer to do this, but if it is your only option please make sure that the skin is flat and tight as you use the razor, or else you might cut or tear the skin.

A cat’s skin is very thin and also sensitive to the heat the electric razors and shavers can create. Press the tool against your arm to make sure it is not warm before using it on the cat and check the temperature often.

I do not recommend using scissors to cut the mats out. It is easy to cut your cat’s skin with scissors — not to mention very painful.

If this is your only option, because of mobility or finances, please use a comb and never place the scissors directly on the cat. Use a comb to lift the hair from the skin and cut only the edges of the mat on the outside of the comb to loosen the fur. Detangle what’s left of the mat with a brush or comb.

Once you have removed the mats, pat yourself on the back, but you’re not done yet. Check the cat’s skin for any irritations, infections or sores and see your vet if treatment is needed.

Keeping up with regular brushing is the best way to avoid mats building up and is especially recommended for long-haired cats. Try to groom your cat when she is calm. Clipping the nails first is never a bad idea in case she makes a mad dash to get away.

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  • P JIlbert


    TOOL: Coarse Comb [e.g. 37 tapered teeth 1.6 mm top and 1mm end spaced by 0.6mm probably a dog comb! and hair clippers.]

    THEORY: A fine tooth comb often will not penetrate the depths of very fine matted fur. Hence, perhaps paradoxically, it is better to use a coarse toothed comb to get between the mat and the delicate skin. In practice, it is easier to feel for matting to locate the affected areas.

    TRIED AND TESTED METHOD: Get kitty comfortable, locate a mat and gently slide the coarse comb under it. Lift the comb until it meets a slight resistance DO NOT try to unravel the mat. Now, use the clippers to shear off the hair on the top side of the comb and then the comb will come free and the mat will have been removed.

    ADVANTAGES: you will not stress kitty (my Ragdoll kept purring throughout a 20min session), you cannot possibly damage delicate skin and it is an entirely painless operation.

    DISADVANTAGES: Kitty will not have the prettiest haircut in town but it will return to normal. in future regularly groom kit at least once a week to prevent several mats building up.

    • http://www.petsadviser.com/ Pets Adviser

      That’s great! Thank you very much for sharing your tips. :)

  • http://www.252cats.com/ Stephaine Knight

    even juice of aloe Vera also helpful for dealing mats it worked better too as i tried

  • P JIlbert

    Sorry to break in on doggy talk. Your findings with proprietary dog food is applicable to cats as well. My large Ragdoll sank to 10 lbs 5 oz and felt rather on the bony side, which I attributed to persistent vomiting (accepting that very occasional fur-ball vomits are normal). A £90 trip to the vet was not productive. Long story sort – I stopped proprietary cat food and fed him 1 oz of chicken breast with 1½ oz water 3X/day over the last month and his weight has risen to 10 lbs 15 oz. He feels firm and solid again and seems to be quite lively for a 12½ yr old cat. Feeding costs remain stable because a little cooked chicken more than compensates for a lot of vomited proprietary cat food! Do we believe that proprietary food contains “beneficial special additives” that are absent from natural carnivore foods and therefore be compelled to buy expensive proprietary emetics for our pets?

  • somercamb

    Hi Kristine,

    The video and your article mention a spray, thus keeping “moisture in the coat” (per the woman in the video). How is this spray different from adding water? thank you

    • http://www.petsadviser.com/ Kristine Lacoste

      Hi somercamb,

      The spray is an anti-static spray; while this mixture does consist of water, it also has an antistatic agent mixed in. This agent reduces static charge and fly-away or loose hair and makes the coat easier to brush out. Without the agent, mats moistened with water can make the mat tighter and more difficult to untangle.

  • Susan D

    This is great information, thank you for sharing. My shorthair cat is very overweight and her mats are on her back. Unfortunately, she is quite the spaz and very skittish whenever she sees me trying to comb or brush her. Any suggestions to get a skittish cat more relaxed? I’d love to give her a tranquilizer so I could remove the mats and her butt….thanks for your help!

  • Sophie

    My long-haired cat is 18 years old and she has been suffering with stomach cancer for 2 1/2 years. She is no longer able to groom herself properly, so has developed a lot of mats, especially around her back-end. We try and brush her regularly, but she gets very stressed, angry and tries to bite us (she is a rescue cat, so she has never been very receptive to handling). It is therefore proving extremely difficult for us to remove the mats. I realise that she is getting towards the end of her life, but we want her last few weeks/months to be as comfortable as possible. I am debating whether to take her to the vets for sedation, so they can give her a thorough brush, but I worry that, because of her age and illness, that sedation would be too risky. I could do with some advice, please.

    • http://www.petsadviser.com/ Kristine Lacoste

      Hello Sophie,

      Have you talked to your vet about different options? There may be an alternative to relax your cat instead of using sedation or a different technique the vet or vet techs use that might work. Let us know how your cat makes out, and good luck.