What Causes Cat Matted Fur—Plus How to Detangle and Prevent Mats from Coming Back
When your cat's coat has more than small tangles and snarls and matting begins to form, your cat might need professional help to get her hair-do back to norm.
"A cat's natural defense against matting is grooming with their tongue, teeth, and paws," explains Lindsay Butzer, DVM, and Zesty Paws Spokesperson. This can be a lot of work for particular breeds of cats and can become more difficult as they age, gain weight, or with the changing of seasons.
Here's how you can prevent mats from forming in your cat's coat and how to detangle them on those seemingly unavoidable bad hair days. Plus, a professional cat groomer gets to the root of the underlying causes that could make your cat more prone to matting.
What Causes Matted Cat Hair?
Everything from the weather to your cat's health can cause matting, says Daniel Lioyryan, Ph.D., cat groomer and co-owner of Cats in the City in Portland, Ore. Here's a quick overview of what could be causing those stubborn mats in your cat's fur.
"If the undercoat accumulates excess fur because the fur does not easily shed away or isn't brushed regularly enough, then mats will form," Lioyryan says. This is especially true for our long-haired cats, but short-haired floofs aren't in the clear! The undercoats of short-haired cats are often thicker than the undercoats of long-haired cats, meaning they can get mats too.
Like curly-haired humans, Lioyryan says that the undercoat of a cat can't expand and relax in humid or moist conditions. Especially during peak shedding season (spring and fall), this could easily cause matting.
Weepy skin infections or wounds can cause matting over the affected area. This, in turn, can restrict airflow worsen the underlying infection.
Lioyryan says some cat breeds have a thicker undercoat, making them more susceptible to matting. Breeds with thick, luscious locks include:
Excess Body Oils
The production of excess body oils is common in cats with hyperthyroid disease, intact cats (especially males), and cats with a condition known as seborrhea. Any condition that causes excess oils can also cause the fur to become matted, Lioyryan explains.
A healthy, spry cat can turn her spine nearly 360 degrees to bathe every nook and cranny. But as cats age, mobility decreases and it becomes increasingly difficult to groom those hard-to-reach spots. "Most noticeably," Lioyryan says, "this leads to oily patches of fur on the back, hips, and base of the tail—all of which could lead to matting."
Just like an aging cat, an overweight cat can't rotate and groom like she should. Not to mention excess body weight could mean an overproduction of oils, compounding the issue.
3 Ways to Prevent Matting in Cats
Having mats and getting them out can be an uncomfortable experience for your favorite feline. But with some changes in diet and a grooming routine, matting in cats can be prevented. Here are a few tips from the experts.
1. At-Home Grooming
Take it from a professional groomer—hair appointments for your cat can quickly add up. While Lioyryan loves grooming cats, he says to simply stick to a grooming schedule at home and you might not ever have to see a professional groomer. A brushing session a few times a week will do wonders for your cat while providing quality bonding time.
If your cat has an oily coat, first see your vet for the underlying cause. Then, Lioyryan recommends regularly bathing your cat with a groomer-approved shampoo and conditioner.
2. Professional Grooming
"Many long to medium-hair length coats benefit from what we call a "de-shedding service," which is a significant undercoat thinning, about two times a year in the early spring and mid-fall," Lioyryan says. If you have an extra floofy feline, they might benefit from a professional de-shedding up to four times a year in addition to at-home brushing.
Butzer says an easy way to boost skin and hair health is by adding an omega-3 fatty acid supplement to your cat's regular meals. When it comes to omega-rich cat foods, look for omega-3 and omega-6 acids or cold-water fish oils, staying on the low end 25-35 percent fat (on a dry matter basis) to avoid weight gain. And speaking of weight gain, talk to your vet about your cat's ideal weight and caloric intake.
How To Get Mats Out of Your Cat's Fur in 3 Steps
When it comes to getting mats out of our cat's fur, there is one thing experts agree to never use: scissors. "Sometimes owners don't even realize that they injured their cat because it can be so hard to tell what's going on beneath a mat in a thick coat," Lioyryan tells Daily Paws.
Wondering if olive oil can help? Nope, don't do that either, Lioyran says. Any type of oil will promote clumping, worsening the matting. He says it's best to avoid the use of products altogether or bathing a cat with a matted coat.
Instead, Butzer says to follow these steps:
1. Gather Your Tools
If the mat is small, the only tool you need is your hand to work the mat out with your fingers. For bigger, more compact mats, you'll need the right brush. When it comes to matting, Butzer and Lioyryan agree that metal-toothed brushes like slicker brushes, de-matting rakes, and skip-tooth brushes are the ones you want to reach for.
2. Work out the Mat
When your cat is relaxed, Butzer recommends separating the unmatted hair from the matted hair, isolating the mat as best as you can. To prevent the pulling of her skin, gently rest one hand on your cat. Using your other hand, slip the teeth of the comb underneath the mat, gradually detangling the hair.
3. Consult a Groomer
"There are certain areas, such as behind the ears, sanitary area, and armpits that are likely too sensitive for the comb to be effective," Butzer says. In these cases, and when your cat is severely matted, it might be time to throw in the bush and call the groomer.