Help! My Cat Keeps Getting Hair Mats!

CatChannel expert Jeanne Adlon, professional cat sitter, shares ways to get rid of stubborn hair mats in cats.

By Jeanne Adlon | Posted: February 25, 2011, 3:00 a.m. EST

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Q: No matter how much I brush my cat, he always gets hair mats. What can I do?

JA: That’s a great question. Hair mats can be very uncomfortable for your cat and can even lead to skin infections. However, convincing your cat that you need to remove them can sometimes be a challenge.

A friend of mine had a constant disagreement with her cat, Spottie, about his hair mats. Spottie is a gentle, long-haired tuxedo cat, but unfortunately, he tends to get mats in areas that are hard for him to groom. These areas include his rear end, around the ears and parts of his belly. Any attempt my friend made to try to remove them with a wire slicker brush (great for grooming and sold in pet stores), he resisted with a passion. No amount of treats convinced Spottie that sitting still for this indignation was a good idea.

I told my friend to call professional groomers and see if she could find one who would work with her on costs. With no baths, shampoos or “spa treatments,” basic brushing for mats was not too expensive. Now, Spottie goes in several times a year. My friend is no longer the “bad guy with a brush” in Spottie’s eyes, and that’s a relief for her.

I always say brushing is essential to keeping your cat’s coat and skin healthy. This is particularly true of seniors who might have trouble grooming hard-to-reach spots. However, no matter how much you brush your cat, mats can still form, particularly in long-haired cats. Check your cat’s coat thoroughly once a week. If your cat allows you to remove mats with a wire slicker brush, that’s great. I do not recommend trying to cut them out. You might cut your cat’s skin by mistake. If, like Spottie, your cat won’t allow you to remove the mats, ask around and see what a simple mat removal process would cost.

As always, I welcome your stories and comments.

Jeanne’s Tip of the Week: To help with your cat’s coat, try using some hypoallergenic bath oils made for cats and sold in pet stores.

See more articles by Jeanne Adlon>>


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Reader Comments

Nicole    Chicago, IL

3/15/2011 11:01:16 AM

Regarding the comment from Katie in LaCrosse: I know other cats who have been traumatized by the hair cut or shave also but luckily that is not the case with mine. My cat that died a year ago actually LOVED to get her hair cut. The groomers have told us that our cats are their best "clients" because they are so calm during the cut. It really does just depend on the cat.

Melanie    Ottawa, ON

3/13/2011 9:33:19 AM

Anita Crozier's book The Natural Cat has an excellent guide to grooming. I highly, highly recommend it. It teaches you how to comb a cat properly, I learned so much despite having handled cats for years and years. There is a section on mat removal as well. It is really important as the knotted hairs pull uncomfortably on the skin.

Heather    San Jose, CA

3/9/2011 1:22:45 AM

As a human with very long hair, I feel the need to stress that proper grooming technique is very important. I have had many cats with long hair; usually the denser and finer the hair, the larger the problem. The mistake that many people make, both with human hair and cat hair, is trying to dislodge a tangle by starting at the base of the hair and combing towards the end. This will compound the problem (and cause incredible pain!) by pulling any tangles together to form one big knot, while tugging on the skin. When dealing with knotting and matting, it is much less painful to loosen the knots by starting at the ends. Sometimes in cats with matted hair, the mats become a particular problem when the hair is shed from the skin, but remains stuck to coat because it is matted. In this case, you can often start by lightly tugging on the very ends of the hairs sticking out from the matted area. They should loosely pull out with, with minimal discomfort, very slowly and gradually loosening the mat. When you reach for the brush, don't comb from the skin to the end of the hair. Start near the end of the hair (a centimeter or so) and brush towards the end until any knots at the end have been removed, and gradually work your way up in this fashion, so you can gently remove the knots without compounding the problem. For large mats and painful areas, you may want to firmly grip the base of the knotted fur with your thumb and forefinger, leaving a centimeter or so of slack between your fingers and the skin (if your cat will let you) and comb with the other hand. This will keep the comb from pulling the slack and consequently tugging painfully at the skin (if you can manage to hold it tight and steady enough).
A comb is not always an option, but when cutting becomes necessary be very very careful! Use small scissors to minimize the risk of cutting too far (especially into skin, whiskers, etc.) or use "safety scissors" if you have them.
Remember, although matting cannot always be completely eliminated, it can certainly be avoided. Consistent grooming always helps. I have found that even consistent petting can significantly help to remove shed fur before it becomes a problem. Pet and brush your cat frequently to avoid knots, distribute natural oils (which will also help with matting), and keep kitty happy and feeling loved!

Katie    LaCrosse, WI

3/6/2011 8:33:07 PM

Last Summer, my cat got a lion cut when she was getting her teeth cleaned. The vet told me that it would be a day long process if she were awake because its so stressful. I don't know if I'd do it again if she was awake for it.

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