Monday, February 11, 2013

Danger Danger Danger! The Danger of Matted Fur

I have always been amazed at the danger of matted fur. Its just hair, what can it do?

The answer is plenty. I remember the first time as an animal cruelty investigator that I confiscated a matted shih tzu who had been tied outside in the winter without any shelter. I took him back to the shelter and after taking photos, we got out the clippers and got to work.

Getting out blades to go under the mat was most certainly a task. Once we did however, it came off in one big piece like a toupee shaped like a dog. It took quite a bit of time to finish the legs and face but what we found underneath was a very grateful dog! A beautiful shih tzu that had once been a cute little puppy that was thrown outside when he wasn't a puppy anymore. The sores caused by the matting were treated with antibiotic cream and he found a new home. Unfortunately, that wasn't the worst matted pet I saw in my career.

This little guy was lucky that it was winter. Winter means no flies. No flies means no fly larvae, commonly known as maggots. As the fur twists in a mat, it often tears the skin and opens a wound. Most of you have watched CSI enough to know what happens when a fly finds an open wound. Eggs are laid which hatch into fly larvae. I'll just leave it at that.

Another issue that can escape notice on a dog that doesn't like to roll over for belly rubs is matting between the legs. This can become so serious that the dog cannot sit or stand properly without ripping off the flesh. For dogs with longer hair on the tail and around the rectum, the hair can gather feces, mat together until the pet becomes impacted and cannot defecate. The last serious matting I can recall is a one that cuts off circulation to an extremity. I have known dogs to require leg amputations because of this very issue.

Cats are not immune to this problem. Younger, healthy cats are excellent at keeping themselves well groomed. However, once that cat becomes elderly, the ability to turn around enough to groom properly can cause some issues. The worst case of this I saw in my time as a veterinary technician was in an older cat who kindness dictated we sedate before even attempting anything. What we found was that under the matting, a horrible skin infection had set in. If we tried to remove the mat, no matter how gentle (even brushing), the entire upper skin layer came with it. There was no way we could allow this cat to wake up in good conscience knowing the unimaginable pain that would come with it, so the owner opted to euthanize.

In most cases, it is not an intention of cruelty that causes these situations, but just not understanding what a problem matted fur can be.

I hesitate to show you some of the images below, but its necessary to see the before and after. These images were borrowed from DogTipper, and the full story can be read HERE

To the right is Ripley who was found in Louisiana in a ditch in this condition. While I would like to say this case is extremely unusual, its not.

Below is the wonderful dog underneath all that matted fur. A beautiful little dog who needed love and regular grooming.

Regular grooming does not necessarily mean professional expensive grooming. It means brushing the hair, trimming the nails, cleaning the ears, plucking the fur in the ears if necessary, checking the anal glands and even shaving the fur a few times a year to prevent matting.

More about grooming, including how to do all the above can be found in my book "Secrets of a Vet Tech".

This is what I am saying about the importance of proactive care. It saves you money, and most importantly, it saves the pet misery. There is no way to calculate the cost of the pain a matted pet endures, but there is a way to calculate the price you would pay to have a matted dog or cat shaved. Call your local veterinarian or grooming salon and ask for an estimate.

Love your pet enough to learn how to keep him or her as happy and healthy as possible. Its the least we can do for the unconditional love they offer us.


  1. Where I live there is friendly cat who lives outdoors and doesn't seem to groom himself well. His fur is very dense, dull and greasy, but short, with no clumps that I would consider mats. I have tried combing him before but it is very slow progress. If I keep combing him will his coat eventually return to normal? Is there anything I can do myself besides a comb and some water to try to get him cleaned up? (I can't shave him because I believe he does belong to someone else.)

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