Matted dog hair can be a real challenge to safely remove, especially if you’re not sure what you’re doing. Read our comprehensive guide on how to remove matted dog hair and your pooch will be back to their soft and silky self in no time.
What is matted dog hair?
Matted dog hair occurs when the loose/dead hairs become tangled together with live hairs, forming a mass of hair. Mats can form in both the outer coat, as well as the deeper undercoat. They occur mainly in areas where there is a lot of movement or friction, for example under the collar, behind the ears, or in the armpits.
Severe matting is actually a lot more serious than many people realise: once the mats are embedded the pulling can become so intense it can cut off blood supply to extremities, deny regular air circulation to the skin, cause pain, and even restrict movement. Mats can also form around the dog’s buttock area causing the matt to trap faeces, which causes discomfort, irritation, and infection.
Sometimes severe mats form in the undercoat and are concealed because of a heavy outer coat. If left completely unattended, a pet’s fur can become matted to such an extent that the only recourse is to shave the entire dog.
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Hair vs fur: what’s the difference?
Whether your dog has hair or fur is determined by their coat. A single coat is known as “hair” and a double coat is referred to as “fur”. The key differences are how they feel, what their maintenance needs are, and how their growth cycles change.
Hair coats are normally longer, thinner and smoother. They could be curly, wavy or straight. Dogs with hair coats only have one layer of hair. Examples include Yorkshire Terriers and Afghan Hounds.
Fur coats are shorter in length and very dense. Dogs with fur have double coats which consist of an outer layer of thick guard coat and the undercoat which is lighter in colour, denser, and fluffier. The Siberian Husky, German Shepherd and Alaskan Malamute are good examples.
Why does my dog’s hair get matted?
Ultimately, friction is the key cause of knots and mats: when the dog's hair or fur becomes tangled, it traps fur in a clump. There are many factors that can influence why a dog’s coat can become matted.
The length of the coat can impact how readily the hair becomes matted. A long-haired dog, such as an Old English Sheepdog or Bearded Collie, is more prone to mats and knots, especially in areas where the coat moves a lot such as between and behind the legs. Dogs with medium coats, with feathering on the legs and tail, can also be prone to mats and knots, such as long-haired German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers. Dogs with short coats, like Jack Russels and Dobermans, almost never get knots and mats.
The type of coat is also a factor. Dogs can become matted whether they have a single or a double coat. However, dogs with a double coat can have mats forming in the undercoat, which makes them hard to see.
Texture is another reason for hair to become matted. Curly-coated dogs like Poodles and Airedales tend to form mats pretty quickly, as dirt and debris get caught in the coat and will remain there until brushed out or removed by hand. For easier maintenance owners could clip/shave the coat regularly to a certain length that is more manageable. Dogs with silky coats, like the Irish Setter or Yorkshire Terrier, have soft, flowy coats that can mat and knot easily if not regularly brushed. Wire-hair coats are rough and bristly, and though they don’t mat as fast as others, they do not shed naturally. The dead hair needs to be brushed out or hand stripped to prevent mats from forming.
There are certain behaviours that can increase the risk of matting. An example of this is swimming. Always ensure your dog is thoroughly brushed and dried after swimming to prevent this.
Finally, the season can affect how easily your dog's coat mats. Dogs are more likely to develop mats and knots when their coats are shedding, which happens seasonally.
How to groom a dog with matted hair
There are two distinct methods to groom a dog with matted hair, depending on the kind of mats and knots. Either method can be used to groom your dog at home. If a coat has small mats which are newly formed, these can usually be removed with a dematting rake or comb. However, if it has been left too long or the mats are large and solid, you will need to use a mat splitter or scissors.
Dematting with a dematting comb
Dematting tools are most useful on double-coated dogs like the Border Collie or Australian Shepherd. Trying to remove a mat by brushing it with a normal brush will cause pain for the dog: ensure you have a proper dematting tool.
1. Inspect the dog’s coat for any sores, open wounds or skin issues. If you find any of these, you may want to see a professional, or simply avoid the affected area.
2. Start from the neck and work your way down the body, gently stroking the dematting tool through the coat in the direction of the hair growth.
3. Work from the root of the hairs to the tip to ensure you don’t brush over underlying mats.
4. Use short, gentle strokes and light pressure to remove all knots and tangles. Do not rush the process.
5. Remove the clumps of hair from the tool and discard them as you go.
Dematting with a mat splitter or scissors
A mat splitter or scissors is most useful to remove knots and mats in single-coated dogs like the Yorkshire Terrier. If you are not 100% confident, it’s best to use a mat splitter rather than scissors, to avoid the possibility of nicking the dog's skin, or to call a professional. If you’re determined to learn how to take great care of your pup yourself, why not upskill with the Shaw Academy online dog grooming and care course?
1. Inspect the dog’s coat for any sores, open wounds or skin issues.
2. Use straight scissors or a matt splitter to separate the knot/mat into two sections. By doing this you will not cut a visible hole in the coat.
3. Use a slicker brush to brush the section out, if the matt is too severe try step two again.
4. Once you think the knots have been removed, check through the coat again thoroughly using the stainless steel comb.
What is the best dematting tool for dogs?
- GoPets Dematting Comb: Online pet store My Pet Needs That has voted GoPets the best tool on the market, as it consists of a double-sided dematting comb with stainless steel rakes and a non-slip silicone handle.
- Pat Your Pet Safe DeMatting Comb: This is an affordable and effective rake to use with a 2-in-1 dual head. It can be used for either dematting or for deshedding. This device has an ergonomic handle and has a soft non-slip grip.
- Safari Pet Products Dematting Comb: This instrument is affordable and an overall good grooming tool. The blades can be reversed for left-handed use.
How to prevent a dog’s coat from matting
There are many ways to look after your dog’s coat and help to prevent the hair or fur from becoming matted.
- Bath your dog regularly with the correct dog shampoo.
- Brush your dog regularly.
- Give your dog quality dog food.
- Protect your dog against parasites.
- Use coconut oil.
- Use a rolled leather collar and remove harnesses when not in use to prevent matting around the neck.
- Deshed double-coated dogs regularly.
- Trim longer-haired or curly-textured dogs (but never shave a dog with a double coat).
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