Understanding Fur Mats
Updated: Apr 16, 2021
What are fur mats?
Human hair, especially long hair, can knot. To prevent this, we regularly wash and brush our hair. Cats are no different. Fur mats start as tiny tangles in an animal’s fur. Cats have bristly tongues that are made for combing. When cats groom themselves, they are also conditioning their skin by spreading oils around and exfoliating dead skin cells. When a cat cannot accomplish as much grooming as is needed for the situation at hand, the naturally occurring knots will grow larger, tighter and attract dust and dirt that makes them clump even more.
Summer is a time when many cats have trouble with mats. In truth, summer mats actually start in the springtime and often are not noticeable until the summer months. Cats undergo a “shedding season” twice a year, incited by the change in environmental temperatures in the autumn and spring times. This is when their fur literally changes to compensate for the hot or cool weather to come. They shed off last season’s fur to make way for the next season’s coat. A summer coat is typically thinner and longer, to allow for air to freely flow to the skin’s surface and aid in cooling the cat. A winter coat is typically thicker and some cats even grow a shorter under-coat, which helps to insulate them against cold and damp conditions.
Most of the time, cats can handle the shedding season quite well. They groom themselves more during this time to compensate for the shedding of old fur. This is why cat parents will sometimes notice that hairballs happen mostly in the spring and fall. Feeding hairball treats or switching to hairball formula foods during this time can help, but the key to both hairballs and mats is prevention.
Why does my cat’s fur mat?
The short answer is- any number of reasons or combination of reasons. Here are a few examples.
If a cat who has never had mats before, suddenly develops them, the first thing you should do it rule out medical reasons for the change.
Losing the ability to groom one’s self can indicate issues with their mouth such as periodontal disease, abscessed teeth or oral tumors. Cats who have systemic diseases such as diabetes, kidney disease or anemia often feel too sick to be able to groom themselves. These illnesses can leave your cat feeling lethargic.
Often, as cats age, they develop arthritis in the spine or hips. This can lead to a lack of flexibility and you will notice matting develop around the back, lower belly or hind quarters.
Obesity can also be a cause for being unable to reach these lower areas to groom. Helping your cat loose the weight will allow them to resume good grooming habits again.
Some longhaired breeds have been bred to a degree that they are no longer able to handle grooming without a little bit of help from their cat parents. Breeds such as Persians, Himalayan, Ragdoll, British and American Longhairs, Maine coons, are bred to have long, luxuriously soft coats. These coats make it more difficult for the cat to groom themselves and keep up with shedding season woes. Some of these breeds even have smaller mouths and tongues than other breeds, making the whole process something that they need humans to help with if they are to avoid matting. These breeds need to be brushed every few days and during shedding season, brushing should happen daily.
Cats are obligate carnivores, which means that most of their diet needs to be meat based proteins and oils in order for them to be healthy. Many varieties of hard food (kibble) and even some soft food (canned) are made mainly of grain or vegetable starches. This is not a healthy diet for cats and will eventually lead to health problems and obesity that results in a poor quality coat and issues with grooming. Your cats should be eating two meals of soft, protein-rich food per day. Hard food can be given in between, but should not be the mainstay of their diet. Leaving hard food out all day long can lead to weight issues and cats will fill up on this salty, starchy treat to the point that they will not eat their protein meals. Because of this, we recommend using hard food only as a treat or snack.
The best thing to do regarding mats is to prevent them from happening in the first place.
Why would a groomer have tips for mat prevention on their website?? Well, because it’s the right thing to do for the comfort of your cat. We will still play a role in mat prevention, even if it’s in teaching pet parents how prevention is best accomplished.
Brushing your cat is the best way to prevent mats from happening. The frequency if brushing might have to change with the seasons. Brushing more often in spring and autumn months will compensate for the shedding that is happening then.
A wire toothed “slicker brush” is the best tool for the job. These brushes get through the thickest of fur coats, right to the skin. Using a bristle brush only gets the top coat and leaves the lower portion uncombed and prone to matting. A wide-toothed metal comb is also a good tool and a must for getting the armpits and groin on long haired cats, which are usual trouble zones for mats. Another amazing tool is a brush called the “Furminator”. It doesn’t look as if it would do much, but these brushes are incredible loose fur grabbers. They make them for short and long-haired animals. They are a bit pricy, but well worth the investment.
If your cat is difficult to brush, daily brushing might not be a battle that you want to undertake. However, there is something to be said for a little brushing every single day to both train your cat to tolerate the practice and if they do not let you get a full brushing in, doing small sections every day can get the task accomplished just as well.
While you are brushing feel along the belly, chest, the base of the tail and leg pits for the beginnings of matting. If caught early, you may be able to comb small tangles out with ease.
During shedding season, another tactic that can work wonders to prevent mats is a water bath. Cats don’t typically need a regular water bath unless they have difficulty in grooming or have gotten themselves into something messy. However, some breeds benefit from bathing every few months. If shedding season is a problem for your cat, whether the problem is hairballs or matting, a biannual bath might be the solution. After a bath, ENOURMOUS amounts of fur is able to be brushed out all at once. If timed properly with the change in season, a bath followed by a few days of vigorous brushing can prevent mats and hairballs and can make shedding season a painless time for everyone involved.
The sooner you address fur mats, the better. Once fur starts to mat, it acts much like a clog in a drain, it catches every little thing and becomes worse very quickly.
Mats are uncomfortable. At best, loose mats can be itchy because of the knots of fur. Mats prevent the normal process of grooming and itchy dandruff will develop under and around mats, which causes an over-production of oils, which catches more hairs, which worsens the whole process of matting. It becomes a vicious cycle. This can lead to skin infections, if left long enough.
If mats are left unaddressed, they grow closer and closer to the cat’s sensitive skin. They begin to pull on the skin, making every movement painful. If mats collect near the groin and base of the tail, they will trap urine and feces that cats are unable to get out by themselves. This can lead to bladder and skin infections and clogged anal glands.
While prevention is the best option, sometimes mats happen anyway. Don’t ignore the problem because it can quickly escalate into a severe issue.