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.