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.
Never, ever take scissors to your cat. I can’t tell you how often we see open scissor cuts on cats from well-meaning owners trying to cut mats out.
Don’t be satisfied with a comb-out only. You might get some of the mats, but you will be just spreading around the source of the matting: the greasy oily hair. Your cat will mat again, but even faster. A proper bath cuts the grease and makes a HUGE difference.
Don’t just wash your cat without a professional blow-dry. Any loose hair still left in the coat will become hairballs or matting later if left to air dry. It’s the same method we use to create felt.
Don’t use products or equipments not specifically designed or made for felines. It can result in toxic reactions, even death.
Don’t assume short-hair cats don’t need baths. They actually shed more and mat too when they are dirty.
Don’t wait. If your cat is greasy, smelly, dandruffy, has hairballs, sheds, or a dirty bottom GET PROFESSIONAL HELP. It is the humane and sanitary thing to do.
Do keep an open mind and educate yourself and others on the humane treatment of cats. Cats actually like water. Cats enjoy baths if properly introduced and with the right equipment and procedure.
Do think like a cat. Consider their perspective and their nature when grooming.
Do prepare ahead before attempting any grooming or bathing. Anything you need should be within arms reach.
Do trim nails first. There are a least 18 of them that they will not hesitate to use should they disagree with you.
Do have your feline friend professionally groomed regularly. They will be healthier, shed less, be happier, and you’ll love the results.
Do consider different grooming styles for your needs. Got allergies? Asthma? Heavy shedding? There is help available. Talk to a feline professional for options and solutions.
This week there was a challenging groom. A badly matted elderly Persian with a bad attitude. Although the hair hadn’t formed a solid pelt, yet, it was still badly matted throughout, even the legs and head. As usual, the tightest mats were in the trickiest, most dangerous places to access on a cat. I wasn’t going to torture the cat by trying to de-mat it. The only option was to shave it all off and start over.
Doing a temperament and physical assessment confirmed my first impressions. This cat needed help desperately but was going to fight every step of the way. Being properly prepared in advance with an action plan, tools and equipment within easy reach, plus speed certainly made all the difference. No one was injured, except maybe a certain kitty’s pride. She was certainly feeling much better afterwards, especially after the bath. How could any creature have a positive outlook when every step is painful from hair tugging from the knots. The bruising exposed under the knots tells the tale.
This groom could have gone very badly in the wrong context, fortunately this cat came to the right place. Not to say I will or can do all cats. If I can’t handle it alone, I will refer those cats to grooming under vet supervision. That option is unfortunately very expensive. Using multiple people to handle or restrain a cat, in my opinion, makes the cat even more defensive, aggressive, and multiplying the risk of injury.
So why intervene? Why risk hurting the cat, or getting yourself hurt? Compassion actually. Call it tough love, or advocating for cats, but someone has to help them. You can’t just ignore the filth, the mats, the sores, or the bruising. They won’t go away by themselves. So risk assessment is necessary, a plan of action to correct a situation, and a maintenance schedule put in place to prevent it from happening again. It is the right and humane thing to do.
I had had a cat. Typical short haired domestic. Was I prepared to groom them professionally? Was I really qualified for the title Master Pet Stylist?
No way. Master Dog Stylist, perhaps.
Looking back I realize how completely out of my depth I was, and how unprepared the majority of “pet groomers” are when it comes to professionally grooming cats. Now to make myself very clear, I am NOT trashing fellow groomers, because it’s not their fault. I know this because 15 years ago when I started doing cats, I realized I knew nothing about their specific handling or breed standard grooming. So I went searching for feline mentors, a school or course. I found none. So here is truth unleashed.
1. They don’t teach cat grooming at pet grooming school. When I went to one of the top grooming schools in the U.S. to later fine-tune my pet styling, I saw ONE cat (for 30 students). One very brave cat. It wasn’t part of the course curriculum, no zoology was discussed and there was no quantity of cats coming through the door to learn on. I didn’t learn anything about feline temperaments, handling skills, diseases, styling options, etc. It was all dog biased. Like typical grooming salons everywhere, a cat is a novelty tacked on at the end of all the other dog services.
2. Dog Pet salons are designed for dogs. The cat is a very different species. Everything from the tables, tubs, dryers, tools, shampoos, restraints, and cages are designed for dogs. This does not bode well for the feline who has more sensitive hearing, highly reactive to change, tissue paper thin skin, different hair and a fight or flight mentality. They also hate the car ride. They are also well-armed. The whole grooming process we are taught, from start to finish, doesn’t work for cats. So it can be very dangerous and hazardous to the cat and the groomer.
3. They don’t feel good about the end result. I’ve been there. I also know that most groomers will tell you that your cat (who is shedding, has dandruff and messy bottom) doesn’t need a bath because they don’t want to be the one to do it. Think about it. The odds of a cat groom going well is heavily stacked against success. They didn’t get proper training. They don’t know safe and quick procedures to minimize feline stress. The salon environment is noisy and filled with dogs. They don’t know or have access to feline specific tools and products. What typically ends up happening is you get a damp, greasy and freaked-out cat back, plus a hefty price tag. What pet groomer could feel good about doing that? They don’t. So they prefer, consciously or not, to avoid it. “Cats groom themselves.” If the cat ends up a a pet salon, it’s because there is a problem. Shedding, mats, etc. As professionals we want to help, but the majority of us are ill-equipped. Fortunately, change is on the wind.
Cats do need baths. Some more than others. Educate yourself, and advocate for your cat. Prevent mats, shedding, hairballs, and other nasties that come from dirty loose hair. Get professional feline specific training. I’m grateful for mine and it made all the difference. By the end of a grooming session that includes dematting, bath, high velocity drying and sanitary trim, I have purring clients. How is that possible?I know know what I’m doing. I became a Certified Feline Master Groomer with the National Cat Grooming Institute of America. Teaching pet grooming in the Middle East where most of the client are washed and styled cats, not dogs, certainly accelerated my learning curve and skills
When done correctly, the bath is what felines like the best of the cat grooming process. I know this after doing hundreds of cat baths. But it has to be done right. With the right handling, equipment, and products. And no dogs allowed.
Did you know that Domestic Short-haired cats are the most prone to obesity?
What does this mean for grooming?
If you are still in the Dark Ages and believe cats groom themselves, more than 1/2 are having a grooming and hygiene crisis. We are creating a situation where cats can no longer groom themselves. Their body mass is getting in the way. They just can’t stretch and reach like they are supposed to. Take a look at these pictures. Sad but true. I see this on a daily basis, and I’m happy to situation better for the cat and owner.
- 2x greater risk for skin conditions
- heart and respiratory distress
- 4x higher risk for diabetes
- strain on the the joints
- liver disease
A cat that doesn’t feel good is a very cranky cat. A cranky cat is a tough customer to groom. They get very upset about the state of their backend which they can’t reach. It’s probably pretty sore back there too from neglect.
This doesn’t mean you should avoid grooming. In fact, they will feel much better after grooming.
Some people opt for shaving their super sized cats to help keep themselves clean. While this is a good short-term solution along with regular bathing, it does not address the overall mental and physical health of your feline friend. Your cat is hardwired to hunt, scratch, and self-groom A blob can’t do any of these, which can lead to depression.
Professional grooming a super-sized kitty requires special handling skills. Any sign of stress can be particularly dangerous to the health of the cat. Handing the equivalent of 20 lbs of mud or more in a 10 lb bag armed with sharp nails and teeth can be awkward and hard to handle.
Which leads to questions of extra service charges for the over-sized cat….
Is it unreasonable to charge extra for an oversized cat?
It uses more product, time, and energy to complete a groom and they usually arrive in “crisis” condition before getting on a regular grooming routine.
How would YOU feel you were charged a “plus-size cat fee”?
What would be a reasonable cut-off point for healthy-size vs. super-sized?
Would a weight scale be required to be objective and fair, or would it be more humiliating?
I’d love to hear your opinions.
Bathing is good for the mental and physical well-being of your cat. No, it won’t dry out the skin and coat unless you are bathing twice a week or more. Whether you are bathing to resolve current issues or bathing for prevention, proper introduction and regular routine will help to make the process enjoyable for everyone. And yes, even short-haired cats get mats and dandruff.
Here’s how to tell when your cat needs a bath.
#1. It is shedding.
Most animals have a bi-annual shed cycle if it lives outdoors. If you have an indoor or indoor/outddor cat, you will experience shedding all year round. This is because the hair growth cycle is triggered by hours of light.
Loose hair is bad news. The cat’s tongue barbs are designed so that once hair is collected while self-grooming it it can’t be spat out. It can only go one way – down the gullet – and that means hairballs. Brushing definitely helps but a warm exfoliating bath followed by a blow dry makes a huge difference. Short-haired cats actually shed more than long-haired due to the more frequent life cycle of their hair.
If no outfit is complete without cat hair, or you think you need to buy hairball laxatives, what you really need is to get your properly cat groomed.
Only a thorough bath regularly will help resolve this problem. And please, don’t use conditioner or a medicated shampoo. On a cat, this is NOT the answer (trust me) and it will only create a vicious cycle of flakes. More on this subject, another time.
If you can mohawk it, create parts and peaks, looks clumpy, feels like Brillo cream; it needs a bath. Cats are naturally oily for weatherproofing. As a matter of fact, they are oilier than dogs, plus they have finer hair to absorb all that grease. Being indoors does not turn off Mother Nature’s grand design of waterproofing.
Ever seen an unwashed Sphynx cat? It gets yellow, lard-like deposits in the folds of it’s skin and black grease covering the nails. We only see it because it is a hairless cat. Your furry cats produce the same oils, it’s just absorbed into the hair.
Greasy hair attracts dirt. Dirty hair velcros to other hair stands, creating mats, (even on short-haired cats) resulting in greasy, dirty, smelly, matted, messy, and unhappy kitty.
Don’t neglect your cat just because you assume myths like “cats groom themselves” and “cats hate water” are true. How bad does it have to get before humane intervention is considered? A regular routine of bathing will keep your narcissistic feline clean, a pleasure to snuggle and caress, and mats, a thing of the past.
Final word: If your cat has mats, please seek professional help. If you attempt to bathe a matted cat at home it will only shrink the existing mats and make it much, much worse and tighter.
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