The problems of matted hair

… what could go wrong?

One of the most important care tasks of your best friend involves looking after their coat.   Customers often say “Fur Baby need longer hair to keep him warm in winter” or “I like Fur Baby to have a longer, fluffier coat”!  And that is fine IF you are willing to put in the extra brushing work.  Particularly in winter, as cold weather stimulates hair, it grows and the regularity of brushing needs to increase.
Sadly, matting doesn’t just occur in winter … lack of brushing will result in fur getting tangled, knotted, matted at any time of the year.
A dog’s natural coat is like a thermos flask as it maintains and regulates the body’s temperature.  In cold months, more and thicker hair grows to keep the dog warm and in warmer months this hair is shed to cool the body.
If you have a long haired, drop coated, double coated, curly or fine coat breed, your dog’s hair must be brushed regularly, possibly daily, to ensure you do not get those dreaded dreads (or matts, as we call them).  In other words, if your dog requires regular grooming, ignoring this basic regime may lead to matting, at best.
And don’t kid yourself, matted coats do not insulate your dog nor keep them warm!  In fact, even minor matting will provide discomfort and, in severe cases, pain, infections, irritations, hot spots, broken skin and more. 

So, what is matting?

Matting occurs when hair next to the skin gets knotted, tangled in clumps or masses. If un-brushed, the clump attract more fuel and continues to get bigger, tighter and closer to the body.  This may be simply caused by scratching, biting or lack of brushing.  It may be because wet coats have not been brushed out, your dog has rolled and picked up any number of foreign matter such as sticks, burrs, faecal materials etc.

Matting may be minimal and only affect areas behind the ears, on the feet, in armpits or other friction areas, in the hygiene area…  Yet even minor matting may place tension on the fur and underlying skin, which the dog will lick to relieve the discomfort.  And this, in turn, may make matting worse and lead to stress.   
In severe cases, matting may impede regular air circulation to skin, cut off air supply to extremities, damage, bruise and discolour skin, open up sores and rips, become a breeding ground for fleas and parasites and be very smelly.
Simply put, matting is painful for your dog.  Even mild matting can cause your pet pain, stress and discomfort.  And brushing out established matts involves a process of pulling live hair out of the skin as healthy hair has become enveloped by matts and clumps.  This causes further pain, irritation and the dog may lick the area to alleviate discomfort, further spreading redness, irritation, spreading infections and potentially causing swelling and sores.
To understand how your dog feels, twirl your hair until you have a solid piece that is starting to pull on your scalp.  Now give it a gentle tug!  Now imagine that tugging is occurring in your armpits, groin, all over your body!  Perhaps now you are starting to understand the pain your dog is exposed to when s/he is matted.
Matting may occur in both the outer coat and undercoat.  At times, undercoat matting can’t be seen because of a heavier outer coat.  If not managed, the coat may become so matted that the only option is a complete shave.
Once the hair is matted there are fewer choices to a solution. If the matting is somewhat loose and not close to the skin, it may be possible to brush through and remove. This process is usually painful and stressful for most dogs. The kindest way to remove matting is to shave the dog down, whether the matting is sparse or covers the dog.  No one knows what lies below the thick dense mats. The skin could be infected, irritated, sore, paper thin or have skin tags/moles underneath. For this reason groomers will always take the upmost care when removing matting. Additional charges occur for matted dogs due to the time taken to ensure the matting is removed in the safest way for the pet.

Managing matting

Let it be said loudly: Dog grooming professionals never enjoy shaving off matted dogs!  The professional calls on the mantra “HUMANITY BEFORE VANITY”.
Matting is painful, ugly, may cause health issues and cannot be left in that condition!  It is a matter of health and stress, and not just appearance!  The process of removing matts is time consuming, labour intensive and realistically, a dog can only put up with only “so much”.
A professional will do nothing to hurt, stress, injure or make a dog uncomfortable.  Yet that is what faces dog groomers when a dog presents in a matted condition.
There are two solutions to treating matts:
–   The first is de-matting, that is brushing out the matts. This is extremely time-consuming and potentially very painful for the dog and can only be attempted if the matting is not severe.  If possible, a dog may need to sit and stand for hours on end, may end up with a brush rash due to the repetitive brushing of the affected area.
–  The second solution is a short haircut, using clippers to get in and underneath the matt, against the skin.  Remember the twirling hair?  This procedure is still painful for the dog and the length of the coat will depend entirely on the severity of the matting and its proximity to the skin. 
Shaving a matted coat relies on experience and expertise and is a slow process.  A dog’s skin is thin and heavy matts may cause it to become loose. Clippers can easily cut loose skin, especially if the dog is unsettled, uncomfortable and in pain.  The slightest movement on the table, with clippers against fragile skin, may result in nicks or cuts.
Once the matts are removed, as skin is exposed to air, it may become itchy.  The dog may scratch or lick the area, causing the skin to become irritated and inflamed from mouth saliva.

In some cases, owners will be educated about the effects of matting on dogs and declarations completed to ensure they understand the seriousness of the condition.

The process of removing matts, regardless of the process, is a complicated one.  For this reason, professional groomers will ask you to sign a Matted Dog Release Form.  If there is matting, there is risk to injury.  The form explains the process the dog is about to face, explains complications, potential outcomes and challenges and explains why additional fees may be charged.

Prevent matting

As a responsible dog owner, take every step to PREVENT your dog from matting.  If your dog is prone to matting, brush daily. 

  • Brush your dog after every walk, once you have removed the harness and collar.  Pay attention to all areas where the tethering has occurred and in highly mobile areas prone to friction, eg chest, armpits.
  • Pay attention to areas prone to matting: behind the ears, legs, armpits, chest, feet, belly and neck area.
  • Make sure you dog’s coat is dry before you start brushing.
  • Use the right brush for your dog, ask your groomer to teach you the best technique to brush your dog. Get the brush down to skin level, the top layer brushing will not avoid matting.
  • Pull your brush from the skin to the outer coat – if it glides easily, without interruption, there is no indication of matting.   If it gets caught or you can’t get it through, the matting process has begun.
  • In the latter case, take action immediately – the longer the matting is in place, the worse it becomes.
  • If small knots appear, get them out immediately.  Brush small sections at a time or use a comb to separate strands of hair, and make sure you get to the base of the hair, at the skin level.  If you have a double coated dog, this becomes increasingly important.  Make sure all debris is removed from your dog’s coat
  • If you are brushing out a matt, try to loosen it a little with your fingers first.
  • If you are considering cutting out a matt with scissors at home, DON’T! Do not use scissors to cut out matts unless you are trained, have grooming scissors, and have a good first aid kit handy.  The DIY attempt usually results injury to your dog.
  • If matting is something you have faced in the past, choose a shorter, more manageable style.  A longer style means higher maintenance at home
  • Book your pet in for regular grooming appointments to prevent a matted coat and for healthy skin and coat care.
  • Follow your regular grooming routine, do not extend the times between grooms as matting may result.

Remember …

Your dog’s health is at stake.  Their comfort and well being is the first priority.  Keep them healthy and manage their coat by regular (more regular) and effective brushing.

  • Remember, that once the weather starts to warm up, you will need to maintain the brushing to ensure the winter coat is brushed out.
  • If brushing is not something you can manage, keep your dog’s coat length manageable and short.
  • Keep regular appointments with your dog grooming professionals.
  • If matting occurs, there is a limit to what you and your groomer can do and, more importantly, a limit to what your dog can tolerate.
  • Your groomers are not magicians, they will do all that is possible to give you what you want.  In situations where dogs are matted, they cannot wave their wand and make it all right!