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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.

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This article 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. 12, 2018.

What to read next:

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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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