Grooming Matted Cat Fur

Matted cat fur on what seems to be an indoor/outdoor cat - photo by Jodi Green

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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

Friend responded:

~~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.

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Grooming Matted Cat Fur

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Jan 07, 2011 Matting and the Mainecoon
by: Littlebit's Mom

Our Mainecoon (Littlebit) is far from little and is 6 going on 7 yrs old. We have had 3 yrs of very bad matting only on his backside. Each time the vet has had to shave just that area because it becomes very painful for him (not me). Littlebit likes to lie on his back and sleep that way. However the matting gets so bad (almost like dreadlocks) and he won't let us cut them out. There are hard and scissors don't work well. Let's say there would be blood involved and it won't be the cats blood. He cleans himself very well everywhere else. He loves to be rubbed and petted everywhere else, but not the backside where the matting occurs. The vet told us that it is not necessarily the age, but the size of the cat. If the cat can not reach the matted area, there will be this problem. We love are cat and do not want him to suffer. So he will have the bad matting shaved when he shows it hurts.

Jul 31, 2010 Furrminator
by: Joyce Sammons

I purchased a Furrminator from and its the greatest. I don't know if we have Furby spoiled or trained. Since he came to live with us he's used to us filing his claws with an off brand of Pedipaws. He doesn't like the noise but he allows it. When he's on the marble table we groom him with the furrminator. We only do it for a couple of minutes a day but that's all it takes.

My dog Cody is a different story. She's a husky mix and I swear the first time we used it on her there was a whole other dog under all the fur.

Jul 30, 2010 Hi VG
by: Michael

Hi VG, thanks for the comment and the idea for the post.

Maybe Maine Coons are averse to being groomed. If it is true, it may be for a number of reasons one being that the long hair, even when not matted, might pull more easily. The MC coat is very shaggy isn't it. Difficult to comb I would have thought but you will know better.

The best coats are single close lying coats. Combs and even fine flea combs just slide through this sort of fur. Charlie has a single coat.

But cats will generally dislike anything that pulls.

Michael Avatar

Jul 30, 2010 p.s. follow up
by: Valley Girl

As I noted in my previous message, it seems that reports from Maine coon humans that many Maine coons do not like being combed or brushed, whatever their age!

So, that's another topic- how to "induce" the cat to like it, so that they can be groomed as you advise.

As you will see from two of my other posts at my blog, I tried at least five different brushes on Tootsie, and all were "no go". And, a bunch of different types of combs too, before I found one she was okay with, when she's in the mood.

One thing I have learned is that even with the "okay" comb, it really matters how I approach her. I start with combing her head and face, which I think feel like really nice "scritches" to her. And then she flops over, belly up and purrs, and accepts more combing.

Even with that, I have to be careful. What seems to work best is if I keep one hand at a steady location (say gently "scritching" her on her neck or chin) and use the other hand for the combing.

It's hard to be a cat psychologist, but seems to me that keeping one hand on her in the same place serves as an "anchor" for cat- human contact. And, I comb her with the other hand. If I don't have one hand touching her (while combing with the other), she is not nearly as happy with the procedure. All I can figure is that without the extra contact, it seems to her that the comb is swooping down on her out of nowhere...

Oddly enough, I think my approach was prompted by info (long forgotten from conscious memory) I read decades ago in a Ten Speed Press book about giving massages to humans (no, not X rated)- that as one moves from place to place, always keep one hand touching the person. (Hope that makes sense, and doesn't seem to outre!)

Jul 30, 2010 Thanks Michael-
by: Valley Girl

Great article, Michael. You certainly brought up a lot of things I hadn't considered.

And, even though I said that Tootsie "loves" getting combed, that was not quite correct! As I said in a comment on my flickr entry-

"I should have added Tootsie loves getting combed, WHEN she's in the mood for it! And, it works best when I do it in her preferred order, starting with her head... but it's really this particular comb (Ace human hair comb) that works.... I've tried others, no luck."

(and as you see from my piece at tka, I tried several brushes before that, w/o out success)

I just checked back at the flickr page, and I see that some more Maine coon humans (Dave W. and cajaflez) have added comments since we last "talked"- both reporting that their Maine coons are distinctly adverse to grooming, and that mats are also a problem.


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