Skip to main content

How to deal with matted cat fur the right way

If you notice that your cat is developing mats, then it’s important to know what to do to quickly help stop this problem. Matted cat fur can occur in any cat, but it’s a common occurrence with long-haired cats. Mats form when your cat’s fur gets tangled together. The mats can feel like little knots in your cat’s fur, and they can gradually get larger.

Mats require prompt attention since they can become painful and affect the health of your cat’s skin, too. But removing mats needs to be done carefully. Before you start removing mats, be sure you know how to do it well and safely.

A woman patting a cat and inspecting its fur
Image used with permission by copyright holder

How to de-mat fur

If your cat’s fur gets matted, take care of the mats right away. Leaving them can cause them to get tighter, bigger, and closer to the skin, causing your cat additional pain. Mats can make it difficult for your cat to groom himself and stretch, and that can cause more mats to form, creating an even bigger problem.

To remove mats, you’ll need a wide-toothed comb or a mat comb. Hold the skin underneath the mat with one hand, so you’re not pulling the hairs and the skin. With your other hand, gently work the comb through the mat, separating the hair.

This can take time, and it’s important to go slowly and keep your cat comfortable. It’s easier if you work on a small section of the mat at a time. Avoid getting the mat wet, which can make it tighter. You may need to give your cat a break in between sessions. As you progress, you may get to a point where you can work the mat loose with your fingers and release the rest of the hair.

Know when to get help

Some mats that are large, extremely tight and close to the skin, or that are highly painful for your cat may make him too uncomfortable to tolerate your removing them. In this case, the mats will need to be clipped off.

Don’t use scissors to remove matted fur from your cat. If your cat moves suddenly or if you get too close to the skin, you might need an emergency trip to the vet.

Instead, you may be able to gently use electric clippers to clip the mats close to the skin. Some cats will tolerate this, while others may need a little help from some sedation at your vet to tolerate this clipping.

White longhaired cat grooming itself
Deedee86 / Pixabay

Prevent mats from forming

If you can spot mats early on and quickly remove them, you can often solve the problem without significant discomfort for your cat. However, it’s best to prevent mats from forming in the first place.

Regular, thorough grooming plays an important role in preventing mats. Long-haired cats, particularly, may need some extra maintenance help with regular trips to the groomer or frequent brushing at home. If your cat can’t groom himself, — if he’s older, for instance, or experiencing arthritis that restricts his movement — you’ll need to take a more active role in grooming him to keep him mat-free.

You can support your cat’s ability to groom himself with regular veterinary care. Dental issues might cause your cat pain and discourage him from self-grooming, and regular trips to the vet can ensure that your cat is healthy and comfortable. If your cat is overweight, grooming will be more difficult for him. Your vet can recommend an appropriate weight-loss plan to help keep your cat healthy and more comfortable.

Even if you diligently care for your cat and groom him frequently, it’s still possible that some mats will develop. However, when you regularly inspect your cat for mats and quickly address them when they do occur, you can keep the problem to a minimum and keep your cat healthier and more comfortable. Mats can be tricky to remove, depending on their size and how long they’ve been in your cat’s coat. Some cats are more tolerant of allowing you to de-mat their hair than others are. If your cat is stressed during the process or is trying to hurt you, be sure to contact your vet for additional help. While you want to remove the mats gently and as soon as possible, it’s just as important to keep your cat safe during the process.

Editors' Recommendations

Paige Cerulli
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Paige's work has appeared in American Veterinarian, Business Insider, Healthline, and more. When she's not writing, Paige…
Cat panting: 5 reasons behind this behavior and what you should do about it
Cats pant for all sorts of reasons some of which require medical attention
Close up of a cat sticking out her tongue

Just about any cute dog account on social includes plenty of panting pics. But cat influencers? Not so much. That might cause you to panic a little any time your lovable feline sticks out their tongue or breathes heavily, even when you don't have to worry. Cats can pant, too, and many of the reasons pose no danger. So when should you intervene? We'll cover the five most common sources of cat panting.

Why is my cat panting?
Some kitties never pant at all, which doesn't indicate anything bad. It's not necessary for a lot of cats to pant. On the other hand, certain animals are more likely to breathe heavily on occasion. As always, a sudden change in behavior should mean a trip to the vet, but you may have also just landed an animal that wishes to act like a canine.
Dogs do it. Humans do it. And yes, cats do it, too. Panting from high temps seems to pervade the animal kingdom. Much of the time, your mouser will be able to cool themselves down by lying in a cold spot until they get back to normal. Sometimes though, cats get heatstroke and need you to intervene (more on that later).
Asthma and respiratory illnesses
In the case of a cat cold, you'll likely notice other symptoms that go along with the panting, like sneezing and coughing. A stuffy kitty could pant to get oxygen to their body. Many illnesses work themselves out, but they might need medicine to help it along. You'll also want to check for asthma, which affects many cats. Your vet will help with the right treatment to manage the condition.
Assuming the foreign object is lodged in their upper digestive tract, you can often find a way to take care of this on your own. Don't ever pull anything out of your cat's throat, though, if they aren't able to remove it with a few coughs. Assuming your animal can breathe well enough, take them to the vet or emergency where a doctor can safely remove the obstruction, sometimes after x-rays to diagnose.
Heart problems
Heart problems often lead to breathing problems. An older cat or one with a previous condition like congestive heart failure might develop some tricky issues. Heartworm can cause some coughing or panting as well, but it's completely treatable when caught early on. Your vet will routinely test your pet for this parasite and you should administer preventative as prescribed.
If you've ever stubbed your toe and then found yourself trying to breathe through the pain, you'll get why your cat might do this, too. Sadly, this reason nearly always necessitates an immediate trip to the vet or pet ER. The only exception is if you discover a minor injury that explains it and can fix it at home; for example, a thorn in their paw that's easy to remove.

Read more
Why do cats spray? This obnoxious behavior, explained
It's important to understand why cats do this
a ffuffy cat in a cardboard box

Cats can be a curious bunch. They attack the holiday tree annually and stare at you until you start questioning what's happening in their heads. The hijinks may leave you thinking, "Cats, can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em."

If you have chosen to shack up with a cat (or keep an indoor-outdoor or solely outdoor kitty), you know you signed up to deal with some potty scooping up. For indoor cats, this means cleaning a litter box. The good news? Cats are pretty reliable about going in the box once trained and not around your home. Why do cats spray, though? You may ask this question if you notice small amounts of urine around your pad. You'll want to get to the root cause (and determine if a cat is spraying in the first place) so you can fix the issue and save your sofa and carpet.

Read more
8 essential tips for disciplining cats
8 Easy and effective tips for training your cat
Two kittens on wooden shelves

Cats may be one of the most popular pets worldwide, but even they have reputations (mostly with non-cat people). Felines are known for indifference, sass, and even attitude. Cartoons, comics, and movies portray them as impossible to reason with, but if you ask a cat owner, they'll assure you cat discipline exists. Here's the catch: you need to know how to discipline your cat -- safely and properly -- for that training to stick. With these seven simple tips and tricks, though, you'll be on your way to perfect feline behavior.

Rule out medical concerns as a cause for misbehavior
Surprising as it sounds, the source of a lot of cat misbehavior has roots in medical conditions. Cats may stop using the litter box, demonstrate new aggression, or start hiding in unexpected places -- all from changes inside their body. So, before you start wondering how to punish your cat, make an appointment with your veterinarian. You may find a medical cause for the behavior. If not, you'll get peace of mind and can move on to further tips on cat discipline.

Read more