Matted cat fur on what seems to be an indoor/outdoor cat - photo by Jodi Green
Grooming matted cat fur is a reactive process and far worse that taking long term proactive steps.
Generally speaking grooming matted fur is not required because cats groom themselves efficiently...until they become old that is and then things can change (the tongue is a great comb). I have personal experience of this with Binnie who is about 17 - 18 years of age. She is active still but can't reach certain parts of her body when grooming. This results in mats on her backside caused by the twisting of her body against the ground when she is grooming her top half! She dislikes me fiddling around with these mats. I gingerly cut them off with scissors and then comb the remainder out over time; a troublesome procedure.
The important point about this is that she doesn't give a damn about the few mats on her backside but I do! I conclude that I am doing this for my benefit; provided there are no health issues and I see none as she is predominantly an indoor cat. Nothing gets trapped in or under the mats, for example. She doesn't need a perfect coat to keep the rain and cold out as is the case for a wildcat or feral cat where matting would be a problem reducing as it does the efficiency of the coat.
No, I confess I am doing this for myself as I like to see her well turned out. Although this is a controversial point, I think we should ask the question whether we are taking out mats from an old cat for our benefit or the cat's benefit.
I say this because the overall process should be beneficial to the cat. And if as is usually the case the procedure of demating is troublesome and even hurtful for the cat you are going to have to find a lot of benefit from somewhere to overcome that automatic downside.
I am thinking about this because a great colleague of mine Valley Girl - VG - (TEH KITTEH ANTIDOTE/ANECDOTE) put a question to me about one of her contacts from one of her Flickr pages on grooming. Here is the question she put to me yesterday 29th July 2010 on behalf of one of her contacts. The words are those of her friend not hers please note. It is in the form of a Google IM (instant message).
VG: Quick question about our aging kitty (Tiberius Maine coon). He has always needed constant combing to keep his fur from developing mats. But after he had surgery two years ago to remove a stone from his urinary tract, he has resisted combing. As a result, he has developed tangles in his fur on his chest and hips that have now become almost hard. When I got aggressive about the mat on his right hip last week, the mat eventually came out but it left a bald spot. I’m afraid now that if I go after the mat on his left hip the same thing will happen.
Do you know of any cat sites that might be able to give me advice on how to handle this problem?
When he was a lot younger and we didn’t know enough to keep combing him and we got behind on the mats, we had him completely shaved by a groomer at our vet clinic. But the event seemed to traumatize him and we’re not eager to do it again. But maybe we have to.
Above is his question.
I suggested using scissors to cut out mats
~~I do use the scissors on the bigger mats (the thin wads generally comb right out without too much discomfort). But even though I’ve cut the hip mats down they’re still in pretty tight and the comb bothers Tiberius. Even touching the mats can get me scratched. Our little boy is 85 years old in cat years, but he’s just as fast with his paws as he was in his prime.~~
Me: Hi VG. I think the person is and has been too forceful in combing out mats.
Me: Also when a cat gets older they become more difficult and resist that kind of fiddling around. There is no easy answer except to shave the mats off and then comb daily or twice daily but gently. If the coat is mat free the combing won't hurt the cat and he will accept it although he may be too resistant now.
The conversation continued and I said the following:
Cats are individuals. Some will dislike being groomed by us. VG lives with a polydactyl Maine Coon called Tootsie. She loves being combed. You can read and see this here: Maine Coon Grooming Summertime and the Shedding is easy.
But...and this is a big but, all cats will in general dislike and some intensely, the grooming out of their mats. It pulls on the skin and hurts. Do this a few times and a cat will resist and we will lose....surely as I sit here writing this.
A purebred Maine Coon is a majestic looking cat, big and proud. He or she should look great and mats don't look good. But does the cat want to look good? The cat is purely utilitarian in thought. If it functions it's fine for the cat. They don't know that they are purebred, gorgeous cats. They are individual cats with minds of their own.
Accordingly, if there are no health problems and if it is very difficult to remove mats I would leave them. And I am not sure about professional groomers and vets either. Your cat goes in matted - comes out beautiful with no shaving. What happened in between? It might have been traumatic for the cat. Grooming matted cat fur is likely to be traumatic if done forcefully, which is the only way to remove mats without shaving or cutting.
The key to grooming matted cat fur is to prevent the fur becoming matted in the first place. As it is likely to become matted in the cat's old age (say 13 onwards) if the cat caretaker grooms the cat twice a day every day from aged 10 for the rest of the cat's life, I would not foresee the coat matting! Problem solved and your cat will enjoy it too.
P.S. Elderly cats should be combed or brushed daily anyway. They should also be flea combed regularly. These actions allow us to examine the skin for parasites and disorders. The fur can be cleaned with a damp cloth. These actions also help restore the cats self-esteem making them more buoyant and content.
P.P.S. Drs Carlson and Giffin (Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook) say that a matted and soiled coat becomes a target for flies. This can lead to maggots in the fur. I have never seen this and with indoor cats it is extremely unlikely, in my opinion especially as most domestic cats will not have a soiled coat despite being matted. Regular inspection will prevent this occurring.