If your cat is in optimum health, chances are you have very little problems with mats. Optimum health can be described as quality diet, glowing coat free of dirt and tangles, fresh smooth skin, and ideal weight.
If your cat is passing into the golden years, has a lifestyle that could use improving, parasites, or an underlying health concern perhaps not yet diagnosed, you may have problems with reoccurring mats.
A mat is a interwoven tangle of hair. Mats have three main ingredients: dirty greasy hair, loose or damaged hair, and moisture. The dirt and grease acts like a magnet attracting hairs to each other. The loose or damaged hair have open cuticles that snag and hold on to each other much like velcro or burrs. Add the final ingredient moisture, usually from salvia, and you have the glue that holds the woven mass together. Some cats are able to chew out the smaller reachable mats and self-maintain, others cannot.
Mats cause discomfort. With the constant friction of movement, the mats get ever tighter. Often there is secondary skin irritation underneath caused by the lack of air circulation, friction, and moisture - the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Sometimes a mat can form around a pre-existing problem as the cat chews or licks itself in attempt for relief.
Simply combing or shaving out mats may seem to be the obvious and simple solution. (Please don't ever take scissors to your cat. I've seen far too many well-meaning owners cut their own cats) In fact, that's exactly what many pet salons offer to fix your problem. Plus they often avoid giving your cat what is really needs; a bath. This quick remedy of action just spreads around the dirt and grease more, repeating the cycle faster. It becomes a vicious cycle of mats - shave- mats - shave. With every shave there is an element of risk, because cat skin is thin and easy to nick or cut.
The only way to break the mat cycle is prevention.
Take a good look at your cat's lifestyle. Maybe it's time for a makeover. Changing to a better quality diet is the first step. What's happening on the outside, is a reflection of what's going in. If you have a stout kitty, he simply can't reach all the spots he used to. If your cat spends less than 30% of his waking hours grooming, your cat may have a undiagnosed health concern or depression. Time to visit the vet to rule out any unknown problems. As a pet parent, part of your responsibility is to ensure the well-being of your companion and pick up a comb to help out.
To get back on track and break the cycle of mats, we need remove the ingredients that cause mats in the first place. A thorough proper, repeat twice, sometimes trice, cleansing bath, followed by a velocity blow dry will get rid of the dirt, grease, and loose hair. The velocity drying will often break-apart mats into manageable smaller pieces to comb out. The velocity blow dry is a critical step. If you just wash your cat and leave it to air dry, you have just made a definitive step towards creating FELT. The moisture will stay in the coat for days further cementing the mats into one large pelt. Image a moist sheet of wool rubbing up and down your back, weeks on end.
To break the cycle, properly bathing your cat is unavoidable. Pet wipes just wipe the surface. Image rubbing a moist toilette on your head once every few weeks, and you get the picture. Waterless bath sprays are a bit better, but it is necessary to completely soak your cat to try and get down to the skin, then pat dry thoroughly, followed by a high powered, but cool to warm, blow dry (not hot). Combing wet hair will stretch and damage the hair cuticles further, so start combing only after the cat is 90% dry. Either method is not as effective as a full immersion cleansing bath. The goal is to lift and remove dirt and grease from the skin and hair and to rinse it away. It simply isn't possible using wipes or sprays alone.
A clean cat is a happy, soft, silky, joy and wonder to behold. To maintain a mat-free lifestyle that promotes clean and less loose hair, I recommend bathing and velocity drying your cat a least once a season for short haired cats and bi-monthly for long haired. Your cat's maintenance cycle may be shorter or longer and vary depending on the health, age, and individual needs. No two cats (even littermates) have the same needs. Combing regularly between baths helps remove loose hair. Less loose hair = less shedding + less hairballs + less mats.
If your cat has mats that are in awkward places, too large or tight to remove safely, please get professional grooming help from a certified feline master groomer. You should never put your cat in discomfort, risk injury, nor damage your relationship of trust with your feline friend.
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