Dogs with long coats often get knots and tangles in their fur. These can develop into mats if they are not brushed regularly. Mats are nasty entanglements of hair that may involve the topcoat, undercoat, dirt, burrs, loose hair or just about anything your dog may have gotten into.
Mats often occur in areas of friction, like under the collar, behind the ears, in the armpits or on the lower legs where the legs rub together.
One reason a mat develops is the undercoat grows at a faster pace than the guard coat. Once tangles start to occur in the guard coat, the undercoat quickly packs up very tightly. If the coat becomes wet while it’s matted, the matting will become tighter and more extensive.
Matting can hide other problems like fleas and skin conditions; severe matting can cause discomfort or, in more extreme cases, damage the underlying skin or constrict a limb. They can also lead to bacterial infections.
As a dog groomer, I have encountered dogs with fur so matted the only option was to carefully remove the entire coat. The coat falls away like a piece of felt. This process is a stressful experience for dogs, so it can take hours to complete because I need to ensure the dog remains relaxed.
Keeping your dog mat free is an ongoing task. It begins with you establishing a good foundation of regular grooming habits. A coat that is brushed and clean stays in better condition and is less likely to develop mats. I recommend washing your dog with a high-quality dog shampoo every three to four weeks.
Determining your dog's brushing frequency depends on the length and type of the coat. Dogs such as poodles, Shih Tzu, Lhasa, Maltese, Yorkies, Bichons, Pekingese, Poms and many others have coats that require daily brushing. As do dogs that play in the water. Wet hair tends to stick together and, before you know it, a mat forms.
Brushing just the top coat will not suffice to keep mats away. It is so important to use a brush with bristles that penetrate the coat down to the skin, such as Les Pooch Brush or Furminator.
Removal of the Mat
You can remove your dog's mat at home following these steps:
- Make sure your dog is calm. Removing mats can be an extremely uncomfortable process for your dog. Pet her, talk to her in a calm voice and give her treats as you begin.
- Apply a generous amount of detangling serum to the matted area. This will help loosen everything up and make the mats easier to brush out. Massage the serum into the coat then leave it for five to ten minutes to absorb into the coat and soften the mat. Pampered Pooch’s detangling serum contains conditioning agents and extracts that soften the coat and add an element of slip.
- Brush your dog gently using a slicker brush to locate the mats. A slicker brush has wire bristles that are slightly bent at the ends. Put your hand on top of the mat as you brush to avoid pulling or contacting your dog's skin.
- When you locate a tangle or mat, separate out the worst tangles with your fingers. Ease the hair in the mat apart little by little. This will take time, so you need to be patient and calm for your dog’s sake.
- If the mat is very tangled and your fingers aren't doing the trick, try picking through it with a comb or other dematting tool. This picking action helps break up the hair. Lift the tool in and out of the hair instead of pulling it through the hair. Work from the ends back up towards the base. You want to loosen the hair. Don't worry about separating completely.
- Hold the mat at the base. Take the base of the mat into your hand; the section closest to your dog's skin. Your hand is now in between your dog's skin and the mat. This protects your dog's skin from excess pulling and damage as you try to work out the mat. It also prevents you from giving your dog's skin brush burn.
- Once you have loosened the mat, use your slicker brush to complete the removal. Make sure to brush in the direction the hair grows. Continue brushing out the rest of your dog's coat.
Always avoid using scissors. You can seriously injure your dog, especially around sensitive areas like the ears. Scissors can cut the skin or pull and strain it. Even some dematting tools can be dangerous with razor-sharp blades. If you are uncomfortable using these sharp tools on your dog or the matting is extensive, take her to a professional dog groomer.
Prevention of Mats
The best way to manage mats is to not let your dog get them in the first place. Regular brushing is key. Your technique is also very important. Use a slicker brush with wire pins and follow this process:
- Brush a small section at a time. Push the coat up with your hand to the skin line, pat the brush into the coat and pull away from the dog’s body gently.
- Continue with this method of lifting, patting and gently stroking the brush through the coat a small section at a time. This method allows you to thoroughly brush the coat and find any tangles hidden under the top coat.
- Once the dog gets used to this technique, it’s very soothing and it can be a lovely bonding experience for you both.
- Lastly, it is important to bathe your dog regularly using a high-quality dog shampoo. A clean coat is less likely to knot. See our blog on How To Wash Your Dog.