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How to Remove Mats From a Long-Haired Cat

Remove mats from a long-haired cat the right way: Don’t use scissors. Why? Because it’s really easy to cut the skin — and painful.

Learn how to remove mats from a long-haired cat.
Want to remove mats from a long-haired cat? Read this article first, and put away those scissors. Photo: izik/Flickr

We received this question from a reader, who wanted to know how to remove mats from a long-haired cat:

“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.

Removing mats from your pet should not result in an emergency vet visit. But does this happen? You bet.

Many well-meaning people just want to take that pesky mat off their cat or dog, but they’re actually performing unwanted surgery. Then actual surgery by a veterinarian is needed to close the laceration created by them.

So taking a pair of scissors to your pet’s body is never a good idea. Sometimes it winds up as a mini–Texas Chainsaw incident.

In this article, you will learn several options you can try at home if you want to know how to remove mats from a long-haired cat.

Causes of Matted Hair in Cats

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.
  • When animals don’t feel well, they stop grooming. They could be in pain from dental problems or arthritis, or they could have nausea.
  • Indoor-only and short-hair cats can also get mats from a buildup of dust and dander.

See our related article for much more about the causes of matted hair in cats.

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 mats 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 giving your cat a bath can actually make mats worse.

Keep the Hair 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 products.

We have seen people recommend children’s detangler spray or talc-free powder, but use only products that are intended for your animal.

When you reach for products you keep at home, you could accidentally use something containing ingredients that are toxic to your cat, and it’s just not worth the risk.

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Long-haired cats develop matted fur more easily than their short-haired counterparts do. Photo: dubswede

How to Remove Mats From a Long-Haired Cat

1. Using a Wide-Toothed Comb

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.
  • Start at the end of the mat and work your way up. This helps prevent the pain of the brush getting stuck.
  • If your cat has a thick undercoat, try an undercoat comb. It has 2 sets of teeth at different lengths, which may work better.

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

2. Using a Mat Comb to Remove Mats From a Long-Haired Cat

If regular brushing or using the wide-toothed comb doesn’t work, there is another brush called a mat comb, sometimes called a razor comb. This is a brush with recessed blades that will cut the hair as you brush.

It’s particularly 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.

3. Using Clippers to Remove Mats From a Long-Haired Cat

If all these methods are still unsuccessful, you can use an electric razor (clippers) to cut the mats out. We recommend that you get a groomer to do this.

Make sure 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 thin and sensitive to the heat that clippers can create. So press the tool against your arm to make sure it is not warm before using it on the cat — and check the temperature often.

If you can’t comb the mat out or use clippers, seeking professional help from a groomer or a vet is a great idea.

4. Using Scissors to Remove Mats From a Long-Haired Cat (Not Recommended)

We strongly advise against using scissors to cut the mats out. It is easy to cut your cat’s skin with scissors — not to mention painful.

If you still think you can use scissors, it’s extremely important to tease the mat away from the skin and have a visual on the area before picking up those darn scissors. We like to see a good 1/4 inch or more of space between the mat and the skin before cutting.

  • Use a comb to lift the hair from the skin.
  • 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, you’re not done yet. Check the cat’s skin for any irritations, infections or sores. See your veterinarian if it appears that treatment is needed.

What if I Accidentally Cut My Cat?

Treatment for scissor wounds:

  • Clean the wound with warm water or a little diluted hydrogen peroxide.
  • Seek veterinary help if you see an open laceration and the muscle layer exposed beneath the cut.
  • Your vet can assess whether the area will close on its own with topical treatment or if suturing or surgical glue is required. In our experience, the worst are the wounds behind the ear. These often need a bit of surgery and an Elizabethan collar until they heal.

What if the Cut Is Serious?

If you’ve cut the cat while trying to remove matted hair, and the cut looks serious, please see the vet!

People usually get a double-whammy dose of guilt when they accidentally cut their pet’s skin.

First whammy: They know the pet got too matted, and they feel neglectful.

Second whammy: Pets groom themselves less as they age. These unkempt creatures are often debilitated, so people feel particularly upset about hurting a pet who is already in pain.

Pets at most risk of getting cut:

  • Long-haired cats
  • Golden Retrievers with mats behind the ears (and other breeds like Bernies, Newfies, Setters)
  • Pets (usually older cats) with very thin skin due to a medical problem
  • Aging, arthritic, debilitated or obese pets who groom less or cannot reach certain areas

Don’t Lie to the Vet

People come up with the darnedest stories about how the unknown laceration appeared on their pet. Some will even say they had no idea how these injuries occurred:

  • “Maybe the cat got caught in a fence.”
  • “I bet she pulled out that mat herself.”
  • “I know the other dog bit her the other day.”

Scissor lacerations don’t look like any of the above injuries. A telltale sign of a human-induced mishap is the clearly cut fur surrounding the laceration or the clean cut on the skin that can only be made by a sharp implement.

It’s best to ‘fess up to the truth so the wound can be treated appropriately by the veterinarian.

Preventing Mats in a Cat or Dog

The “ounce of prevention” rule works well here, and it’s great if the matted fur never snarls in the first place, but stuff happens.

At regular veterinary visits, ask your vet or vet tech to do some preventive clipping of mats.

  • Keep an eye out for mats on your pet and remove them immediately. For example, get that obese kitty a “sanitary clip” by her big butt! She does not want to hold onto those dingleberries (besides, the other kitties are making fun of her behind her tail).
  • Keep the area behind a dog’s ears free of mats as well as those puffy pantaloons he’s wearing. These dogs must feel like they’re sitting on a sack of potatoes when the rear end mats get too thick.
  • Keep on top of long-haired cats who don’t groom.
  • Veterinarians will help you with some clipping and coiffing. After all, it’s a lot easier to clip away a mat than to suture up a bad scissor injury.

Conclusion

Keeping up with regular brushing is the best way to avoid mats building up, and it is especially recommended for long-haired cats.

Try to groom your cat when they are calm. Clipping the nails first is advised in case your cat makes a mad dash to get away.

References

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This article on removing mats from a long-haired cat was written by veterinarians Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD, and Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS, as well as contributing writer Kristine Lacoste. It was reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Elliott and was last updated Nov. 21, 2018.

What to read next:

10 Signs That Your Pet Needs Emergency Care

Certain signs of pet health trouble have “Urgent!” stamped all over them. Watch out for these 10 signs. See the article

Petful Veterinary Team

View posts by Petful Veterinary Team
Over the past nearly 10 years, the Petful® veterinary team of writers has included a number of experts, such as veterinarians Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS; Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD; Dr. Kenya Crawford, DVM; and Cate Burnette, RVT, among others. Providing accurate, trustworthy information is our utmost concern, so all of our pet health content is regularly reviewed, updated and edited by veterinary professionals.

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28 Comments

  1. P JIlbert
    June 21, 2013

    REMOVING FUR MATS FROM LONG HAIRED KITS::

    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.

    Reply
    1. Pets Adviser
      June 21, 2013

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

      Reply
  2. Stephaine Knight
    June 26, 2013

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

    Reply
  3. P JIlbert
    June 29, 2013

    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?

    Reply
  4. somercamb
    July 3, 2013

    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

    Reply
    1. Kristine Lacoste
      July 3, 2013

      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.

      Reply
  5. Susan D
    June 23, 2014

    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!

    Reply
  6. Sophie
    June 24, 2014

    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.

    Reply
    1. Kristine Lacoste
      June 25, 2014

      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.

      Reply
  7. Gail Hanson
    August 10, 2015

    Your article on removing mats from long-haired cats is very helpful BUT what does a person do with a cat that won’t let anyone comb him? He constantly fights and bites or runs and hides. He’s matted very bad right now so what can I do to calm him down during the brushings?

    Reply
    1. Melissa Smith
      August 10, 2015

      Hi Gail! The best thing you can probably do is ask your vet to see if the techs would be willing to help get those mats off. It really depends on the vet as to whether they’ll do this for you or not — I know I have a very long haired cat and he does mat. When I bring him in, they’ll usually help me if he has a mat or two that needs to come off. Some veterinarians will sedate your cat so that they can get the mats off as well — but this gets costly so its best not to let the mats form to begin with.

      Another option is to pay for a professional groomer, at least this one time. He does need to get those mats off because they can be painful and even cause inflammation or skin infection.

      After he’s de-matted, you still have the challenge of brushing. My cat is the same way — he HATES to be brushed. It is usually an all day affair where I randomly stalk him with the brush. I can get about 5-10 strokes in and then he’s had enough. I don’t push it. I let him go and then go back to him an hour or so later to do some more. You can also pay for a groomer regularly but this does get expensive.

      Try different brushes as well. Some cats react better to a glove-type brush that you wear on your hand, because it feels and looks like you’re petting him. Others don’t mind more traditional brushes.

      It’s all about what’s best for you both! Good luck with those mats, let us know how it goes!

      Reply
      1. Gail Hanson
        August 17, 2015

        Thanks for the advice! I will try the glove brush because he doesn’t mind me running my fingers over him so hopefully this may work – fingers crossed

        Reply
        1. Melissa Smith
          August 17, 2015

          I’ve got my fingers crossed for you too, Gail! I know it can be tough, hang in there. If it makes you feel better, I spent a good part of the day doing the old sneak up and brush routine….which was fine until my cat pounced out of nowhere later and tripped me up in revenge. You know, that old “Omg I don’t want to step on him!” dance where you flail around like you’re having a seizure?

          Ah, the joys of cat ownership, Lol!

          Reply
  8. Mike
    October 1, 2015

    Jesus tap dancing christ, I know this post is almost four years old, but no one else was horrified with, she’s overweight, and I was going to find her another home? Holy crap!

    Reply
  9. Garfield
    January 24, 2016

    that poor cat looked like it was in pain, that person was kinda rough on it geez.

    I’m having a really hard time with my cats matted hair, he’s fluffy and the matts are from his shoulders down his spine. They are SUPER thick and all the way to his skin its just a THICK clump. I’ve been grooming him with a long hair “furminator” comb brush thing but its bad. I’ve cut it as far as I can without hurting him and being super careful using a comb to guide me. But still its a thick clump like half an inch long now. Its all over though and thats just one spot of maybe 10 or 15? I’ve tried an electric hair cutter and it didn’t cut at all. I’m not sure what to do. I know its bothering him and I know he knows I’m trying to help him because he lets me try to unmat him for like 5 mins each time then I stop trying not to irritate his skin too much. I can’t really take him to a groomer because he has bad anxiety issues so I’m just stumped :/ I just wanna shave his whole back but the clippers don’t cut it. This is frustrating.

    Reply
    1. Melissa Smith
      January 24, 2016

      Hi Garfield! There are trimmers especially designed for cutting cats’ matted fur, maybe try to find one of those? Another thing you can do is throw yourself on the mercy of your veterinarian. Sometimes the vet techs are willing to help out with their clippers and get those mats off. Let us know how you make out!

      Reply
      1. MetalHead4
        July 3, 2016

        I ended up using Scissors carefully and a comb and brush. He looked terrible lol but he’s doing way better now!

        Reply
  10. cranky_mccrankenstein
    March 4, 2016

    try a nono

    Reply
  11. suziequzie61
    March 24, 2016

    My cat, Baylor, has several mats in her fur, but the worst ones are right around her neck, and they’re BIG! I’ve cut on part of the mats, but nowhere close to the skin, and today I noticed that it’s matted so bad that there is an area close to it where there’s almost no hair on her neck. Not sure if it’s due to the matting, or if there’s an issue there. Can’t afford a Vet visit anytime soon.

    Reply
    1. Melissa Smith
      March 25, 2016

      Hi suzie! I understand, vet visits can get costly quick. If I were you, I might call them anyways and see if they’d be willing to do a payment plan. Some vets will (mine did) because they understand how hard it is for pet parents to balance finances with care. Another thing you can try is a detangler — I found this on Amazon:

      http://www.amazon.com/John-Paul-Pet-Detangling-Spray/dp/B0012X8LGO/ref=pd_sim_199_8?ie=UTF8&dpID=41tICP5-FKL&dpSrc=sims&preST=_AC_UL160_SR160%2C160_&refRID=0BMPMFXFDS3MNPYYVY21

      There are several different brands, including some all-natural ones. Maybe that will help!

      Reply
  12. cgjewelry
    July 24, 2016

    My cat Magic always gets the fur on her belly matted and she absolutely hates having her belly touched. As soon as she sees a brush she runs. This article mentions that I could possibly use a kids detaingling product but need to be careful to make sure that it wouldn’t be toxic for my cat. Are there detaingling products made for animals guarenteed that the animal wont get sick? We did have her shaved once but it’s pricy. So if I can find an alternative to try at home that would be great.

    Reply
    1. Melissa Smith
      July 25, 2016

      Hi cgjewelry! There are indeed detanglers made for pets. I found one on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/John-Paul-Pet-Detangling-Spray/dp/B0012X8LGO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1469447638&sr=8-1&keywords=cat+detangler

      I have never used them myself so I can’t testify to the effectiveness, but the reviews seem overall positive!

      Reply
  13. Moosinski
    September 14, 2016

    My long haired cat Raggmopp – a Maine Coon – gets matted frequently. I’ve had no problems removing those mats with a small pair of shears. Quick and painless, if done carefully.

    Reply
  14. Jemma
    February 19, 2017

    My cat has malted flat layer underneath her chest I didn’t notice before because her hair is looking fine. but it was hiding underneath. I will try brush it out but because its so close to her chest i cant get a good grip and it might hurt tugging the comb through it :S

    Reply
    1. Melissa Smith
      February 19, 2017

      Hi Jemma! Have you thought about a cat groomer? It may be best just this one time to get a handle on things, then you can resume regular grooming after. Kind of a fresh start type of thing! Cats can be so tricky when it comes to grooming and combing. Mine hates it like death – I literally have to chase him for hours and sneakily brush down his side as I walk nonchalantly by. So awkward.

      Reply
      1. Jemma
        February 20, 2017

        Yeah sounds the best idea. Thanks 🙂 hahaha yeah They always alert watching our next move without looking at us directly 😀

        Reply
  15. Martinez
    August 9, 2018

    I wonder how my cat will react when I do this to him.

    Reply
    1. Melissa Smith
      August 9, 2018

      Let us know how it goes!

      Reply

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