What is Matting?
“Matting” refers to densely tangled clumps of fur in a pet’s coat. If a coat is not properly and/or frequently brushed, loose and live hair become embedded in large masses. Sometimes mats can be combed out but, if left too long, it is impossible to do without seriously harming the animal.
Mats can form in both the outer coat as well as the deeper undercoat. Sometimes severe mats form in the undercoat and are unnoticeable because of a heavy outer coat. If left completely unattended, a pet’s fur can become matted to such an extent that the only recourse is to shave the entire coat. (This is an animal we would refer to as “pelted”, as the mats are so tangled together they look like an animal’s pelt.)
As groomers, we are presented with two options when given a matted dog: we can either shave the dog or de-mat the dog. De-Matting is the process of removing the mats from a pet’s coat by very careful brushing techniques.
Dangers of De-Matting
Brushing matted fur causes live and dead hairs to be pulled out of the skin which is painful to your dog. Even mild matting can cause your pet a great deal of pain. Tight mats can cut off blood supply to the outer layers of skin on extremities such as toes and tips of the ears, plus deny regular air circulation to the skin. Skin denied fresh air and stimulation from regular brushing becomes quite unhealthy. The skin will become irritated, open sores can form, even organic matter – like weeds and stickers – can become embedded in the skin. Mats can contain urine, feces, and even fly larvae that further irritate the skin. And even if we can de-mat, it may cause your dog’s skin to become irritated and itchy. Remember; sometimes these mats and their consequences can be completely hidden from view. Some severely matted pets may require the attention of a veterinarian.
How Do I Know If My Pet Can Be Safely De-Matted?
In most cases, it’s about the volume and tightness of the matting. Many pets will have small areas of mats, such as the chest, belly, in between the back legs, arm pits, collar area, behind the ears. If your pet is matted in a couple of these areas, often we can de-mat or shave the area and blend it in to the rest of the coat.
Insides of back legs, belly and armpits are areas we often shave and it’s unnoticeable unless the pet rolls over and exposes their belly. If your pet has extensive matting on the bulk of the body, outside/back of the back legs, extensively on the front legs, these are areas that we must either de-mat or shave short. If the mats are not tight to the skin or are clumps of blown undercoat we may be able to de-mat them. Dogs, like people, have varying levels of tolerance for discomfort. If we feel we cannot de-mat safely and without pain and irritation to your pet, our next step is to shave.
My Pet Is Too Matted to Safely De-Mat; Now What?
If we have determined that we cannot safely de-mat your pet without causing excessive pain, our only other option is to shave your pet.
Shaving a matted coat is a delicate and slow process requiring experience and expertise. In order to shave the mats, we must select a blade length short enough to fit between the mats and the dog’s skin – which can be a tight squeeze! A dog’s skin is thin like tissue paper, and dense mats can cause it to become loose due to the weight of the matting. Clippers can easily cut loose skin. After shaving, a pet may develop an itchy skin response. This can be due to irritation from the matting, or from circulation returning to areas which were constricted (this often occurs on pets with matted ears causing them to shake their head frequently). Owners should watch to ensure that constant scratching or head shaking does not cause the skin to become irritated. Some pets will also have areas that appear bald – this is from large amounts of hair becoming uprooted by the mats, and new growth being choked out.
We’ve Shaved Fluffy, How Do We Prevent This From Happening Again?
Brush, brush, brush! Regular, thorough brushing is the only way to prevent mats. If you don’t have the time to brush at home, then talk to your groomer about maintenance baths and brush outs. Most groomers offer a bath/brush, or “tidy up” for pets in between full grooms. If you go this route, plan on visiting your groomer every 2 weeks, more if your dog has an active outdoor lifestyle (and therefore gets dirty and matted faster). Another option includes keeping your pup’s hair in a short (less than 1/2 inch) trim, which is easier to keep up with.
An added benefit is that you may see your pet’s attitude towards grooming improve. When a pet only goes to the groomer a few times a year to get matting brushed or shaved off, it makes their experience uncomfortable, and they view it as a random punishment they are forced to endure. On the other hand, dogs who are frequent flyers at the groomer’s learn that grooming is a pleasant, regular part of life – which is a win for everyone!