How to De-Mat a Cat

Tips to Painlessly Groom Your Pet

how to de mat a cat

cunfek / Getty Images

Mats in cat fur are not only unsightly, but they are also painful to your cat. They can lead to skin irritation and infection if they're not removed.

De-matting a cat is typically not a fun experience for the feline or the human. Take things slowly, and don't be surprised if you can't remove all the mats in one sitting. You may want to enlist the help of an assistant because even though this technique is the easiest and least painful way to get rid of mats, it takes a lot of patience.

Before You Begin

Most cats groom nearly constantly (or so it seems), and it's not just due to vanity. Fur licking keeps a cat's skin healthy and stimulates sebaceous glands in their skin to produce oil to lubricate the fur.

Usually, grooming keeps the fur clean and prevents fleas from taking hold. But sometimes, if something becomes stuck in its fur or a cat neglects its grooming, mats may form. These clumps of fur can be painful for the cat. Certain breeds of cats (Persians, Maine Coons, and other long-haired breeds) are more likely to develop mats.

If your cat has stopped grooming altogether, this could be a sign of a serious health issue, and a trip to the veterinarian is in order. But if there are one or two spots of stubborn matted fur, you should be able to take care of them at home.

Removing mats from cats takes a steady hand, a lot of patience and sometimes more than one person, to keep the cat calm.

What You Need

Start with a relaxed cat. You won't want to suddenly decide to remove a mat in the middle of a play session, or you'll suffer serious damage from claws. Gather a few tools before you start:

  • Blunt-end scissors
  • Fine-toothed comb
  • Spray bottle/conditioner
  • Cornstarch
  • Cat treats
illustration of how to de mat a cat
Illustration: Catherine Song. © The Spruce, 2019

Prepare the Matted Area

Sprinkle a little cornstarch or talcum powder in the area of the mat, and gently work it around with your fingers. Gently pull the mat up away from the skin, so you can see where the skin is.

If the cat resists, take a break and speak in a soothing voice, petting the cat until it relaxes. Repeat this soothing at any point during the procedure if your cat starts getting stressed out.

Cut the Mat

Using sharp blunt-nosed scissors, carefully slide the scissors along the skin into the mat, holding them perpendicular to the skin; the bottom blade should slide along the skin. Cut up, into the mat. Make a clean cut and try not to pull the hair while cutting.

Give your kitty a small treat and praise it for its patience.

Move the scissors over half an inch or so and cut again. Once you are able to, you should start working the separated mats apart with your fingers, and loose pieces will easily pull away.

Comb the Mat

Starting with a separated section of the mat, use your non-dominant hand to hold the base of the mat down with thumb and forefinger, so the comb won't pull hair out.

Using a fine-toothed flea comb, gently start combing through the mat piece, starting at the very tip of the hairs. Move down into the mat as you work, occasionally using only the first three or four pegs of the comb, for stubborn sections.

Preventing Problems With Your Cat While De-Matting

Give your cat a final treat and stop for the day. Depending on the severity of the mats, it could take several days to tackle them all, and you need your cat's cooperation and patience, so don't push it all at once.

With short-haired cats, a small slicker brush may be used next to slowly and gently brush through any remaining tangles.

Seriously matted cats require veterinary attention. Affected cats are lightly sedated and their hair coats are shaved to remove all affected mats. If this drastic step is necessary, be sure to maintain a regular program of brushing and combing when the coat grows back, to prevent future problems.

Tips

  • Never bathe a cat before removing mats. You'll only have worse problems on your hands.
  • For small tangles that haven't yet formed "felt," try spraying with a hair conditioner before combing. Be sure to use a pump-type spray rather than aerosol, which will scare your cat.
  • This tedious procedure will almost always work better if you have a helper to hold and comfort the cat while you work.
If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.