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When it comes to caring for our best dog friends, food, water, shelter and plenty of love are of course the basic requirements that must be met in order to sustain the well-being of a four-legged family member. However, for a variety of dog breeds with long or fluffy hair, there is another need that is just as important as the rest: building a consistent grooming routine to avoid painful matting.
Matting is a condition where a dog’s fur becomes so tightly knotted or tangled that it cannot be brushed through with a comb. Not only is matted hair extremely painful to your dog, but it can also cause a variety of serious skin problems that require professional attention. To avoid the pain of matting, we spoke to two professional dog hairdressers about how to recognize matted fur in a dog, when and how it can be treated at home, when to seek professional grooming and how to prevent it altogether.
What causes my dog’s fur to look dull?
Matting occurs when a dog’s fur holds together – often when the fur is wet or damp – and the curls are left untreated, causing them to tighten and tangle even more over time, said Kēnya Stoute, a professional dog groomer with over 10 years of experience and owner of Doggy Downtime in Denver. “Wet pet hair sticks together naturally, and if your pet is even slightly damp, it will attract dust and dirt to it,” she said. “As the hair dries, these curls pull together and tangle, making them difficult to brush and comb.”
A common misconception about mat prevention is that bathing a dog at home prevents mats. “In fact, it’s just the opposite,” said Stoute. “Dogs that are bathed at home are often air-dried and then not thoroughly brushed out. This type of home grooming essentially ensures your dog develops mats quickly.” That’s not to say you can’t or shouldn’t give your dog a bath at home. “It’s just imperative that you brush and comb your entire body thoroughly after it’s completely and completely dry,” continued Stoute. “You need to be able to slide a fine-toothed comb (the one that touches the skin with the comb and moves outward) easily over and under your dog’s entire body, from head to toe to tail, without first calling in a mess to get it’s a day. “
Clothing and harnesses can also cause your dog’s hair to dull if left on for long periods of time. “These items let the fur press against the skin, which then results in mats,” said Arisa Thomas, owner of the Blue Pooch salon in Los Angeles and a professional dog groomer who specializes in Japanese-style grooming.
How do I know if my dog’s hair is matted?
The first sign? If you can see any tangles or knots in her fur that are visible. If you can’t see it but can’t pull a comb from the fur root to the ends either, it’s matted as well. If a mat takes more than three to five brushstrokes to pull through a fine-toothed comb, it’s time to get help, explained Stoute. “In extreme cases, it can be difficult or even impossible to part your dog’s hair enough that you can see the skin clearly,” said Stoute. “Mats can sometimes be like dreadlocks, with rope-like strands or more packed and flat against the skin. When you try to pull any type of mat apart, in many cases the strands of hair appear to be woven into and apart from each other in different directions.”
Are there certain breeds or hair types that are more prone to matting?
Absolutely. “Really, any dog with a longer textured coat can be matted,” explained Thomas. The breeds that are most susceptible are Bichon Frises, Havaneses, Schnauzers, Wheaten Terriers, Poodles, or Poodle mixes (think Goldendoodles, Labradoodles, Sheep Doodles, etc.), and dogs with straight, silky coats like Shih Tzus, Malteses, and Yorkies. “
What does a dog feel when its hair is matted?
It’s not comfortable for your pup. “Matting can be very painful for your dog, especially if the mats are close to the skin,” said Thomas. “Mats make the skin feel like it is being pulled on all the time, even when your dog is not being touched,” added Stoute. “Areas of high friction (such as around the legs and joints) can be particularly uncomfortable.” In addition to the pain, both experts agree that severe skin and health problems can occur with severe matting. “Matted dogs can also suffer from overheating / heat stroke,” said Stoute. “Often times, mats cause skin problems such as hair loss, sores and infection due to trapped moisture and the inability of air to move freely to the skin.”
Thick mats can disrupt blood flow to your dog’s skin and cause many painful ailments, including bruises that resemble a blood blister. Mats can also cause hotspots (raw, red patches of skin) to form. “Hotspots can be very uncomfortable for dogs because they keep scratching and licking this area, which makes the skin even more irritated,” said Thomas.
It is important to note that untreated heavy duty mats can cause irreversible damage to your dog. “Mats become thicker and tighter around the skin in a short time and in extreme cases have even led to a loss of circulation, which has led to decayed body parts that can no longer be amputated,” said Stoute. This is why it is best to have your dog groomed if you ever experience matting.
How can I safely take care of matting at home?
If your dog’s hair is prone to dulling, the best way to make sure there is no pain is to study fully how to keep the fur from becoming tangled in the first place. For home prevention, both Stoute and Thomas agree to get used to brushing your dog daily. “Brush and comb your dog at home with a gentle, smoother brush and fine-toothed comb,” said Stoute. Also, see a professional groomer regularly every six to eight weeks.
If your dog develops minor tangles (which seem like they come out within three to five brushes), apply a leave-in grooming spray first to soften the mats. “Follow that with a smoother brush to loosen and separate the tangles / mats,” said Thomas. “Then use a metal comb to work through this section, making sure the teeth go straight through from the root of the hair to the tip. If the comb doesn’t go all the way through, your dog still has tangles / matting.” “It is It is very important that you only try to comb out any slightly tangled knots as trying to untangle heavy mats at home is very painful for your dog, Stoute explained.
“If you’re trying to brush your dog’s mats at home and you can’t, stop and make an appointment to see a groomer the next day,” said Thomas. It doesn’t matter how big the mat is either – it’s safer to let the pros handle it. “There is absolutely no advisable way to safely untangle or remove heavy mats at home without injuring your dog and / or damaging its fur,” said Stoute. Cutting out mats with scissors or a razor at home can injure your pet and result in an expensive visit to the vet. “Removing mats can be very difficult and risky even for professionals, as they are often very close and can cover skin problems such as wounds,” said Stoute. “Most snow groomers even require you to sign a waiver before agreeing to work on your pet’s mat as it increases the risk and difficulty.” For this reason, it is always in your dog’s best interests to do everything possible to prevent matting. And if they do happen, be honest with your dog groomer – they can help you learn how to prevent matting from occurring in the future.