Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Cat mats: How to treat them (and how to prevent them, too!)

Lucy the long-haired cat often gets cat mats

I brush all of my cats every week. They enjoy the extra attention. Up until yesterday, I thought a once-a-week grooming session was adequate.

Turns out, I haven't been brushing long-haired Lucy as often as I should. I've found two spots of matted hair in two days.

Long-haired cats can develop tangles of dead, matted hair very quickly. Typically, they form in areas of friction (armpits, neck) or areas where they cat isn't vigilant about grooming (withers and back). Left untreated, the mats get bigger and pull in more hair. This can mean that it becomes difficult for the cat to move, as her movements lead to pulling hair.

I've seen many websites suggest that you cut out cat mats with scissors. I am much too fearful of cutting skin rather than hair. Cats have extremely elastic skin. It's simply too easy to pull up on a mat, get a clump of skin and whack that with scissors.

Instead, I use a professional grooming comb. The comb has widely spaced teeth on one end, and fine teeth on the other. I use the wide teeth first. I hold the mat between my fingers (so I am not pulling on the skin) and use the large teeth to pull on the mat, very gently. It takes patience, but I can work through a mat and break it apart, bit by bit. The next day, I go over the same area with the small teeth, making sure all of the mats are gone. Lucy will not tolerate both steps in one day.

You may be tempted to use a helper during the process, to hold the cat down while you work. I think this is a bad idea. You can judge how painful the cat is by her movements. If you restrict her movements, you may be hurting her without receiving signals. Additionally, the cat will likely learn than grooming means restraint, which means it'll be harder to brush her next time, which means she'll have yet more mats. It's best to be patient and gentle here.

And the best bet? Groom a lot. That way, you won't have any mats at all to remove. Bonus!