If you’re familiar with cats then you are probably also acquainted with matted cat hair.
Your cat’s hair has very specific structures and functions. When the natural fall and placement of your cat’s coat is impeded, it can create a series of cascading problems. There are two layers in cat hair: the fine undercoat closest to your cat’s skin and the coarse outer coat. The undercoat keeps your cat warm while the outer coat protects your cat from the elements and possible irritants.
When matting occurs, it prevents you cat’s hair from doing its job. Hair that is caught in a mat gets weighed down and pulled in strange directions. This can be uncomfortable and even painful to your cat. Also, when a mat forms, the airflow across your cat’s skin is interrupted by a thick, almost solid, mass of hair. Aside from being difficult to lie on and thus disturbing your cat’s sleep and rest, this level of matting prevents moisture from being whisked away from your cat’s skin. Such a situation can lead to irritation and infection of the skin. Mats that form around your cat’s tail and back legs have a heightened possibility for infection because they can be caused or worsened by your cat’s waste. Another consequence of hair mats is that your cat will try to groom matted spots even more. Increased grooming will lead to an increase of hair ingested by your cat, which can lead to intestinal complications.
As you well know, your cat’s coat goes through cycles of shedding. If hair that has been shed remains in the coat, it becomes trapped and tangled and begins to form a mat. That is why your cat is normally very fastidious about grooming herself: she is dislodging that extra hair. However, there are times when your cat’s grooming is not enough. For example, a chunk of mud or dirt may stick to your cat’s coat and be difficult for her to remove. Seeds and burrs are other problem causers. If your cat grooms over them without removing them, the loose hair that she is trying to brush out of her coat gets caught on these obstructions. In other cases, your cat may be unable to reach certain areas of her coat, such as around the neck, between the back legs, in the armpits, and along the back. An overweight or pregnant cat may particularly have difficulty grooming these areas where the fur rubs together and is more likely to tangle.
You can help your cat to avoid matting or catch it early by giving her routine brushes. If you have a shorthaired cat, you can brush her down weekly. If you have a longhaired cat, you will want to spend some time brushing her every day since tangles in her fur can develop and worsen very quickly. Start by using a comb to work through the hair and undo any tangles. Next, use a brush to remove dead skin, dirt, and other particles. Pay particular attention to the problem spots.
If your cat already has small hair mats, take the time to work on them, untangling as much hair as possible. You may successfully pick apart the mat, thus avoiding the need to remove any of your cat’s hair.
For larger mats, rather than going straight for the scissors, consider buying a mat remover. This type of tool will have protected blades that will cut out any tangles but will leave behind any untangled hair. Alternatively, if you decide to use scissors, use a comb to pull the mat up for easy access and to create a barrier between the scissors and your cat’s sensitive skin.
In particularly severe cases, especially if you notice that your cat’s skin is becoming irritated or infected, take your cat in for a professional groom or take her to the veterinarian. It’s possible that your vet will shave off the most serious areas, giving your cat’s coat a new start and her skin a chance to heal.
Remember that your cat’s skin is thin and sensitive, so always brush and groom her gently. Do not pull at the hair mats but instead gently work them apart. You may also be tempted to get your cat’s hair wet to try and work out the tangles, but this will actually make your job harder as the mat tightens with moisture. In the end your best approach will be prevention. If you brush and monitor your cat’s coat regularly, mats will not have the chance to develop and grow into an unmanageable situation.