The Knotty Kitty: What To Do About A Matted Cat

grey tabby maine coon cat laying on its back

Anyone who has ever owned a cat has had to deal with mats in the fur at least once or twice. Matted fur is a common occurrence in cats, and long-haired cats are the most likely to get mats. But how do you deal with a heavily matted cat?

Shaving is generally the only option for managing heavily matted cats. Once matting gets to a certain point, it becomes impossible to comb out. Cats with severely matted coats should be taken to a professional groomer who has the experience and tools necessary for shaving severely matted cats.

Once matting reaches a certain point, it becomes nearly impossible to comb out the knots without causing unnecessary discomfort or pain to the cat. If you are wondering what your next step is for dealing with your matted cat, read on to learn more. By the end of this article, you’ll have a better understanding of how to address heavily matted cats and ensure their well-being.

Matted Cat Fur Problems Range From Mild To Severe

In cats with mild matting, you may notice small clumps or tangles in the fur. These mats are often found in areas that are harder for the cat to groom, such as along the back, tailhead, and backs of the legs, or areas that experience frequent rubbing, such as underneath collars or harnesses.

Both short-haired and long-haired cats can get mats. The mats may appear as tightly woven clusters of fur that can be felt when touched. They can vary in size, ranging from small knots to larger tangles that are more noticeable.

For short-haired cats, mats are often less extensive and easier to address. While they might not be as stubborn or tightly bound as those found in long-haired cats, it’s still important to deal with these mats promptly to prevent them from becoming more challenging to manage.

Long-haired cats, on the other hand, are more prone to matting, as their longer hair can easily become tangled and knotted. If left untreated, mats in long-haired cats can become severely matted – leading to uncomfortable skin irritation and potential infection.

Prevention is the best medicine – regular grooming to prevent matting, and removing mild matting before it becomes more serious. We have written an article on grooming long-haired cats and dealing with minor mats that is highly recommended reading for all long-haired cat owners.

In the rest of this article, we will be addressing how to manage heavy matting in long-haired cats. However, most of this information is also useful for heavy matting in short-haired cats. So if you have a cat with mats, no matter the length of the hair, be sure to continue reading!

How Does Matting Happen?

Mats in cat hair are formed when loose or shed hairs become entangled and interwoven with each other, creating clumps or knots.

This usually start with hairs from the softer, denser undercoat. As these are shed, they often do not make their way to the outer surface of the coat, and instead become tangled together, knotting themselves around the longer, coarser guard hairs.

Over time, the matting becomes more serious and difficult to manage as more and more fur accumulates within the knots.

Several factors contribute to the formation of mats:

  • Shedding: Cats naturally shed their fur as part of their hair growth cycle. The loose hairs can become entangled with existing fur, leading to matting.
  • Lack of Grooming: Cats who are unable to groom themselves adequately, such as due to age, obesity, or mobility issues, are more prone to matting.
  • Long Hair: Long-haired cats are more susceptible to matting compared to short-haired breeds due to the greater length and density of their fur. The longer the hair, the higher the chances of tangles and mats forming.
  • Friction and Rubbing: Areas where the fur is subject to friction, such as under collars, harnesses, or bedding, can cause mats to develop. Cats who frequently rub against objects or have active play sessions may also experience matting in specific areas.
  • Moisture and Dirt: Moisture, dirt, or substances such as urine or feces can make the fur sticky or clump together, promoting mat formation.

Of course, time is also a factor – mats become more serious the longer they are left unattended.

So now that we know how matting happens, let’s look at what you can do to manage it in your cat.

grey tabby long haired cat

How Do You Manage Severely Matted Cat Hair?

There is no “one size fits all” approach to dealing with matted fur in cats. The best solution depends on the severity of the mats, as well as your cat’s health and temperament.

Severe matting refers to large mats that are tightly tangled, densely packed, and deeply embedded in the fur. In general, there is no “saving” a severely matted fur coat.

At this stage, the mats are often intertwined with shed hair, dirt, and debris, making it virtually impossible to untangle them without causing significant discomfort or pain to the cat. Attempting to comb out or detangle severely matted fur can be an arduous and distressing process for both the cat and the person trying to help.

The mats are usually tight and close to the skin, making it difficult to insert a comb or brush. The pulling, tugging, and clipping required to remove the mats can cause extreme discomfort, leading to skin irritation, pain, and even injury to the cat

In these cases, the best course of action usually is to shave the fur. This allows you to get rid of all of the knots and tangles in a single step, minimizing the amount of pain (and potential damage) that would be caused by trying to comb out each knot individually.

Shaving The Mats Vs. Shaving The Whole Cat

In some cases, it is possible to just shave the mats and leave the rest of the fur intact. This is a good option if there are only a few mats on an otherwise healthy coat.

However, if the matting covers large areas of the cat’s body, or if there are many knots in multiple spots, it may be better to shave off all of the fur. Shaving the whole coat is often safer and more efficient than trying to pick out each knot individually.

The aesthetics of each approach must also be considered. Cutting out many smaller mats can leave the cat with a tattered appearance while shaving all of the fur can give it a consistent, smooth look.

Ultimately, the best course of action will depend on your cat’s individual needs and the severity of the matting. Either way, if you have no previous experience removing large mats from your cat, be sure to consult with your veterinarian or a professional groomer for assistance in safely removing the mats.

How To Shave A Matted Cat

The safest and most efficient means of shaving a matted cat is, of course, to take it to a professional groomer. The groomer will have the necessary tools and experience to quickly and properly shave off the mats without causing any harm or discomfort to your cat.

If for some reason you are unable to take your cat to a groomer, you can choose to attempt removing the mats yourself. However, it is important to remember that shaving a matted coat requires skill and patience, as well as specialized grooming tools such as clippers and trimmers.

This video below demonstrates the clipping of a severely matted cat. Cats that are matted THIS badly should only be shaved by an experience groomer. In these cases is almost impossible to tell where the hair ends and the skin begins, and the chances of an inexperienced person injuring the cat are high.

If you decide to shave your cat at home, make sure that you have a set of clippers with adjustable blades so that you can trim the fur gradually. We recommend clippers that are designed specifically for use on pets, with a low noise rating such as these clippers by HOLDOG.

Start by trimming off the very top layer of fur, then move on to shaving off thicker mats one at a time. Shave in the direction of the hair at first, as you are least likely to nick the skin this way. Once you have removed the bulk of the fur, you can then go back for a closer shave to tidy up.

The best way to learn this process is by seeing a professional in action. This video below shows a groomer shaving a matted cat, and provides some excellent tips on how to get the job done.

Be extremely careful not to cut the skin while shaving. We recommend inserting a comb underneath the mat so that it provides a barrier between the clipper and the skin.

If you find yourself struggling with the mats, it is best to take a break and proceed more slowly rather than attempting to rush through it. It may also be helpful to enlist someone else’s help in restraining the cat so that you can focus on safely shaving off the mats.

If your cat is not accustomed to being groomed, or reacts badly to the presence of the clippers, this is again a situation that is best left to a professional.

Whether taking the cat to the groomer or shaving the cat yourself, cats that become very stressed by the process may benefit from anti-anxiety medicine. Talk to your veterinarian about the best options for your cat.

You can learn more about these medications by reading our article on anti-anxiety medications for cats.

Preventing Mats In The Future

The best way to avoid severe matting in the future is by regularly grooming your cat. This can be accomplished through regular brushing and combing, as well as periodic and thorough trimming or shaving of the fur coat.

Brushing helps remove loose fur that can easily become matted, and it also stimulates the production of natural oils in the skin, which helps keep the fur healthy and glossy. Additionally, brushing helps distribute these oils throughout the coat to promote even coverage.

Regular trimming or shaving will help ensure that any mats that do form are quickly removed from your cat’s fur coat. This regular maintenance also helps keep your cat looking neat and its fur free from knots.

And of course, once you have the initial shave completed and all the mats removed, it is much easier to do a trim down the road provided you don’t wait too long and the fur becomes long and matted once again.

Conclusion

Dealing with heavily matted cats can be a challenging task for any cat owner. As we have explored throughout this article, shaving is often the only viable option for managing severely matted cats.

Once matting reaches a certain point, trying to comb out the knots becomes nearly impossible and can cause discomfort or pain to the cat. Seeking the assistance of a professional groomer who has the experience and tools necessary for shaving severely matted cats is highly recommended.

By following the recommendations provided in this article, such as seeking professional help, learning the proper shaving techniques, and implementing regular grooming practices, you can address heavily matted cat fur and minimize the chances of future matting.

black and white photo of a black persian cat with a white ruff

Author

  • Dr. Wendy Wilkins, DVM, PhD

    Dr. Wendy Wilkins is an experienced veterinarian and epidemiologist with over 20 years of expertise. She holds a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree and a Doctorate in Epidemiology from the University of Saskatchewan. Throughout her career, Dr. Wilkins has excelled in clinical practice, academia, research, and regulatory veterinary medicine. She is a respected voice in knowledge dissemination, delivering factual information in a readable and understandable manner through articles, books, and public engagements.

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