What are matts?
Matts are unsightly to look at and very uncomfortable for your dog. They pinch and pull, making him chew and try to dematt his own coat. So, where do they come from?
What causes matting?
Most matts are created from external influences. The most common is lacking of proper or regular GROOMING. Of course, there are other reasons. Fleas can cause a dog to chew frantically at his fur, causing knots and tangled mess. We frequently see a matted dog is also infested with fleas. The matts provide a perfect hiding place for fleas and ticks that medication and shampoos may not be able to penetrate. Ear infections, excessively dirty ears, or ear mites can cause excess scratching of the ears, which will result in matting behind the ears. If you allow your dog to become wet (bath, swimming pool, rain, etc.) and neglect to brush out his coat before and after he's thoroughly dry, this will cause knots to form and existing knots to swell and grow worse. Skin allergies, food allergies, and certain skin diseases can contribute to matting as well. Allergies are very common now in dogs, especially those with white or mostly white fur. Conversely, matting can cause skin disorders! such as hot spots, sebhorrhea, dandruff, etc.
How can I prevent matting?
Brushing removes dead hair "shedding" from the coat. "Shedding" hair that is allowed to remain in medium to long coated pets can easily tangle and matt, especially in "moving" areas like armpits and ears. ALL DOGS AND CATS SHED, some just shed less than others. There is no such thing as a shed-less dog or cat. Owners must address their own responsibility to care for their pet's coat with regular brushing and combing. A common excuse we hear is, "Fido is the kids' responsibility." Most, if not all, children are not able to take full responsibility for a pet. Whether they are 5 years old or 15. Yes, they may help fill the food dish or take him for a walk around the block, but if your child were to forget to feed Fido for a week, a month, or a year, you would obviously step in and take care of him. The same applies to all aspects of pet ownership, especially grooming. In a nutshell, ask your groomer, vet, or pet store professional how to properly brush and bathe your particular breed of pet. Schedule regular professional grooming and vet appointments. These simple, but sometime tedious, tasks will go a long way in keeping your pet healthy and matt-free.
But my pet HATES being brushed...
Start young pets with brushing at an early age. Talk with your groomer and obedience instructor about ways to work with your pet so that the grooming process is a pleasant one. Older pets who already resent the process CAN be taught to enjoy or at least tolerate it... but it will take a lot more patience and a lot more treats! Or, just face the fact that you will either have to schedule more frequent grooming appointments, or deal with having a frequently shaved pet.
My pet is already matted, what should I do?
If your pet becomes matted, don't make excuses... get him to a groomer and let them remove the matts safely, even if it means he'll "look funny" for a little while. There are worse things in this world than a bad hair day. Sometimes, though rarely, depending on the severity of the matts, the type of fur, the temperment of the dog, and the patience and availability of the owner or groomer... SOMETIMES, the matts can be carefully combed out. This process is called de-matting. There are special tools that can be purchased to assist in de-matting. These tools should really only be used by professionals, as they usually contain razor-sharp blades and are complicated to maneuver. Dematting is a long, arduous process for both the pet and the groomer. If the groomer does think that dematting can be accomplished safely, and she offers to do so, you should expect additional charges on your bill, and a longer appointment time.
It should be noted that certain breeds are especially dangerous to dematt. Maltese, for example, have paper-thin skin and tiny bodies and legs. They also become matted very easily! This popular and cute breed is supposed to have long, flowing white hair by its standard... but if yours becomes matted, the best solution is a shave down.
Will the hair grow back?
Most of the time, especially if it is the first time or the only time the pet has become matted, the hair will grow back just as it was before it was shaved off. However, some breeds do run a risk... double-coated breeds such as golden retreivers, german shepherds, collies, shelties, etc. shouldn't really be shaved unless necessary, because of the nature of the coat. However, in matted cases, it is always better to get the matted fur off than to leave it on. If you are worried about the hair growing back properly, talk to your groomer about vitamin supplements and proper brushing that might help with the process
What about detangling products?
Detangling conditioner sprays are available, but rarely work, and never on severe knots.
What if I try to dematt my pet myself?
Owners should remember that matts should never, I repeat, NEVER be cut out with scissors. This is extremely dangerous and could result in a severe injury. Matts that cannot be brushed out must be shaved off. There are special tools that can be purchased to assist in de-matting. Matt-breakers, detangling combs, knives, thinning shears, etc. are some of the tools you might find at a better pet supply store or catalog. These tools should really only be used by professionals, as they usually contain razor-sharp blades and are complicated to maneuver. You can ask your groomer to demonstrate proper and safe usage of a dematting tool on your pet, but be aware that it takes a lot of patience and a lot of practice to operate them safely and effectively.
Again, once a coat is matted, we strongly suggest pet owners seek a professional for assistance with matting and possibly coat removal for the welfare of the pet.
Why does my pet seem so upset while he's being dematted?
Pet owners need to understand that de-matting is uncomfortable for all pets, and they should leave it to a professional that knows how to minimize the impact of de-tangling and de-matting on your pet. It is not a simple process. In fact, there can be significant risks involved. Skin denied regular air circulation and stimulation from regular brushing becomes quite unhealthy. It is often dark pink to red, and can be riddled with sores, warts, pimples, fleas, ticks, sticks, sticker burrs, or scabs. There may be foul odors, and even organic matter like weeds or feces embedded in the fur or skin. Skin that appears healthy at first, may become red and enflamed as it is uncovered, as it begins to "breathe." It's a delicate and slow process to remove the coat on such a pet, requiring significant and lengthy grooming experience. He'll be tired of standing still, weary of the groomer entirely, and possibly sore from all the brushing and pulling.
Why is my pet so itchy after dematting or shaving?
Coat removal can sometimes result in "razor burn" or little red itchy bumps or patches. Professional groomers take many precautions to avoid this, but in some cases, it will still occur. The skin has been under heavy fur for so long, that when the fur is removed, the blood rushes to the surface and becomes "irritation." On floppy ears, there is a risk of a hematoma developing.
What is a hematoma?
A hematoma is a pocket of blood, or a blood-blister. In dogs with long, floppy ears, if the ears get severely matted, there is a risk that these will occur. What happens is similar to the itchy spots that occur after shaving... the dogs ears will "feel funny" to him because they are lighter now and the air will tickle them. He will probably respond to this tickling by shaking his head and flapping his ears. Repeated flapping causes the blood in the ear to run to the tips, sometimes to the point that it causes a blood blister. Since the ears are very thin-skinned, this pocket can sometimes rupture. The bleeding can usually be stopped by applying direct pressure to the ear and preventing the dog from shaking his head any more. It looks terrible, but is not typically a life-threatening or serious injury. If your dog is at risk for this phenomenon, talk with your groomer on how to potentially avoid hematomas, or at least avoid a rupture. Of course, if you can't get the bleeding to stop, call your vet immediately.
What's the worst case of matting you have seen?
The worse the matting, usually the shorter the fur needs to be shaved in order to get the clippers safely "under" the matts. The safest and shortest clipper length is about 1/16th of an inch, aka a #10 blade. Shorter than this would be considered "surgical" length (as short as a vet would prep the area for surgery). Imagine being surgically shaved all over your body. Not a pleasant picture, is it?
In many severe matting cases, when shaving the fur, it will come off all in one piece, like a sweater! Imagine wearing a thick wool sweater all year long, that you can never take off or scratch under.
In extreme cases we have seen skin so damaged and unhealthy under heavily-matted coats that its outer layer "peeled" away as the clipper was lifting and removing coat! In all cases, the grooming process was immediately halted for veterinary attention.
Why did the groomer deny me service?
During our grooming years we have seen some pets that were so badly matted, infested, or injured, that we wouldn't put them through the discomfort of de-matting, OR, that the matts were so tight to the skin that we couldn't get our clippers through safely. If the dog does not have a nice enough temperment, this could also seriously affect the decision. Sometimes we have had to deny service and return the animal ungroomed or unfinished, even if it meant the pet owner taking the dog elsewhere or possibly to a vet for grooming. The safety of your pet (and that of the groomer!) is always top priority.
regular professional grooming + brushing at home = healthy, happy, and handsome pets!
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