How do cats get matted?

All too often in my grooming salon, first time appointments are made when a cat is matted. Their hair has become thick, dull, oil and with large clumps all over. Most of the time, the owner is at a complete loss as to how they got matted in the first place. Was there a health change? Did they just stop grooming themselves? Did they rub around the carpet? How do cats get matted in the first place? This article will cover how cats become matted, which cats are at the highest risk for developing mats and what the options are to remove them.

What Does Cat Matting Look Like? Well, the first thing we need to address is that cat matting forms and looks very different from knots and tangles you would see in dogs or even people's hair. The majority of cat mats are solid clumps of dead hair stuck together with oils from the skin. When a cat’s hair wants to naturally shed out, it will either fall out on it’s own, be ingested by the cat during self-grooming (licking) or it sticks together with other dead hair. Over time more and more dead hair sticks together with excess oils from the cat’s skin. Small clumps turn into large clumps, and large clumps spread and turn into more severe matting. Once matting has formed there are only two options: it either gets combed out or shaved out. Cats aren’t equipped to remove matting on their own and it will only get worse and more painful. Which Cats Can Get Matted It may seem that only long-haired or very fluffy cats are susceptible to getting matted. But actually, all cats, even short-haired cats are at risk of developing knots, tangles and mats. Since it is dead hair compacting together, this can happen with hair at any length. For long haired cats, the highest areas of risk for matting are:

  • Belly/Armpits

  • Sanitary area

  • Chest/neck

  • Base of the tail

  • Back/sides

  • Fluffy Tail

Now, I know what you’re thinking - um, that’s pretty much the whole cat. Well, unfortunately, welcome to owning a long haired cat! Matting can be very common in longhaired cats. It starts are small clumps of hair, especially in areas like the armpits, belly, sanitary regions and rear legs. Then they get bigger and bigger and cover more areas until the only thing left to do is to shave and start over! When trying to prevent matting on a longhaired cat, it helps to start on the “high friction areas.” Namely, the areas that rub together when the cat moves, walks around, rolls around on the carpet, etc. So this includes the underside (belly, armpits, sanitary), the backs of the rear legs and check/under the chin area. For short haired cats, the highest areas of risk for matting are:

  • Base of tail

  • Along the back

  • Chest

  • Body/Sides

With short haired cats, they can be less likely to develop mats, but it is not impossible. Texture can play a big factor. A silky, smooth coated cat very rarely mats, while a thick, hairy short haired cat can develop clumps which turn into mats. When a short haired cat develops mats, it isn’t caused by tangles. It is lumpy clumps of dead hair. But since it consists of lumps of dead hair latched onto the live hairs and skin, it can’t be brushed out. It either gets combed out (possibly causing discomfort for the cat and leaving a bald spot behind) or shaved out by a professional groomer. Save or Shave Once a cat develops mats there are only two ways to remove them - combing or shaving them out. Which is a better choice depends on several factors: Size of the matting/clumps: mats that are smaller than a nickel have a higher chance of being combed out safely and without causing pain or irritation to the skin. Larger areas of matting often require shaving for the cat’s comfort. Location on the cat’s body: the skin of the belly, armpits and sanitary area are very delicate and more sensitive to combing and tugging at the hair. Often times shaving may be the better option. Age and skin condition: older cats or cats with health issues have limited options when it comes to mat removal. Their skin can be thin and wrinkly, their limbs stiff or arthritic, which makes them more prone to injury or discomfort during grooming. Cat’s temperament: Patient, easy-going cats can often tolerate the additional time combing out requires. But cats sensitive to touch, easily aggravated or not used to being handled add additional challenges to any mat removal, even small or limited areas. For these cats, your professional cat groomer will evaluate on a case-by-case basis, and may refer to your veterinarian for medication options or to be taken care of there.

The bottom line is that almost every type of cat can become matted. Clumps, knots and tangles do not discriminate - young cats, old cats, thin cats, large cats, healthy cats, cats with health issues. The best way to prevent cat matting is regular grooming both at home and/or with a professional cat groomer.

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But I thought cats groomed themselves? If that were true, then we wouldn’t see so many cats experience matting, gunky ears, tons of shedding, hairballs, long or ingrown toenails, poop or litter stuck