My Dog’s Hair is Matted: What Do I Do?

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If you own any breed of dog with long hair, you know the pain of matted hair. Even those who groom their dog and brush their hair on a regular basis can sometimes still suffer from matted hair. The truth is that some dogs are just more prone to matting than others. Sadly, that long, silky coat you loved so much when you got your canine fur baby can quickly become an arch nemesis when you struggle with constant tangling and matting.

However, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Dogs with “fur” instead of “hair” tend to shed a whole lot more, so it really becomes a case of “pick your poison.” Dogs with hair will often become matted and tangled even with your best efforts at grooming them and controlling it, so don’t get too discouraged.

My Dog’s Hair is Matted: Why Does it Happen?

There are many reasons a dog may have matted hair. Hair mats develop when there is a lot of friction and movement. Certain areas like under your dog’s chest, around his ears, in his armpits, beneath his collar, and between his legs, are all places that are susceptible to matting.

Dogs that sit a lot on one side or another may develop matted hair on the side they sit on most. Plus, some longhaired dogs just tangle more easily than others, especially if they aren’t groomed on a regular basis or their hair has been wet recently.

Speaking of wet, if you live in a damp or humid environment, your dog could be more vulnerable to frizzing and matting as well, because wet and damp hair tends to tangle and knot easily. Another reason your dog’s hair can mat is that they may be shedding. This can happen to dogs that are either shedding their old coat or shedding their puppy coat to make way for their adult coat.

Some dogs get matted hair because of things like burrs that get caught and tangled, or because small leaves and twigs get stuck in their hair. And of course, some dogs are just downright neglected. That is the worst. Though there are breeds that are more prone to matting than others, in most cases, it’s very preventable.

Breeds Most Vulnerable to Matted Hair

There are a variety of breeds that are prone to matting. Dogs with long, silky hair like Yorkies and Shih Tzu’s can develop mats and tangles. Dogs with hair that is soft, curly, or wavy, like Poodles, Golden Doodles, and Bichons are vulnerable to matting. And dogs that have double coats with a thick undercoat, like Golden Retrievers and Cocker Spaniels can mat easily.

Why Matted Hair is Unhealthy for Your Dog

You might think matted hair is no big deal. Just brush or comb your dog’s hair and the tangles will come right out. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Mats are very difficult to detangle once they’ve really set in, and matted hair can become painful and extremely dirty, causing a whole host of problems you wouldn’t expect.

Matted hair is dangerous. It can put pressure on your dog’s skin, causing it to weaken, and prevent moisture and oxygen from reaching the skin’s surface. Moisture and oxygen are both necessary for healthy skin in a dog. Not only that, but circulation can be cut off and the blood supply to your dog’s extremities can be hampered.

Plus, the pulling that happens when hair becomes matted can cause pain and irritation and further bother your poor dog. They may lick the area in an effort to alleviate their discomfort. Unfortunately, the constant licking can quickly turn into a major skin issue, spread bacteria, cause redness and irritation, and cause sores to pop up. Those sores can become infected.

To make matters worse, knotted hair can be a parasite’s dream, creating a nice cozy home for bugs and fleas and other pests to live. The dense, matted hair makes them difficult to get rid of.

Though matting is frustrating for you as you attempt to detangle your dog’s hair, it’s not a real treat for your dog either. Some dogs won’t even stay still as you attempt to untangle them, while others may get snappy or aggressive because they don’t like it when (surprise, surprise!) you pull on their hair. When matting is really bad, sometimes the only recourse is to shave your dog completely. This can be a real bummer if you live in areas that are cold, where your dog needs that warm undercoat.

The best way to deal with matting is to do all you can to prevent it in the first place. Though you won’t be able to eliminate matting completely, it does happen, you can greatly reduce your dog’s propensity for matted hair by grooming them on a regular basis.

If your dog has long hair, you should brush them at least three to five times per week. If your dog has short hair, you can get away with less brushing, but you should still try to brush your dog at least two to three times per week. You can also try feeding your dog supplements like fish oil or omega-3. Both help keep your dog’s coat healthy, and a healthy coat means less matting.

Tips for Untangling Your Dog’s Matted hair

If your dog’s hair isn’t matted too badly, try using your fingers to work it apart first. You can use a brush or comb to untangle the rest of it once you’ve gotten the biggest part undone.

Ideally, you should start training your dog as a pup to enjoy being groomed. Not only will that help you get them to stay still during the process, if you do it regularly, it can become a pleasant, soothing, bonding ritual between you and your dog.

Even if you didn’t start them young, you can still prepare your dog for a grooming session. Do a little gentle petting and soft brushing to help your dog relax. Once your dog has relaxed, you can begin to tackle the undercoat, which is where all matting starts.

Use treats and reward your pooch for good behavior. The goal is to get your dog to associate feeling good and being happy with the grooming process itself. Then, untangling the occasional mat will be stress and hassle-free.

You can try using sprays like a detangling solution to help keep your dog’s hair smooth and sleek. Use it while detangling a knot to make the process easier and use it after baths and swimming to prevent future tangles.

Use the right tools. Talk to your groomer to discover the tools that are best for your dog and breed, and what kind of routine will be most effective in preventing matted hair. Your groomer may recommend several tools. A slicker brush is common and works well in untangling matted hair.

Some groomers use a comb, especially on the really stubborn tangles. Just be careful, it’s easy to accidentally hurt yourself or your dog with the pointy teeth. Another essential is an undercoat rake, especially if your dog has both short and long hair.

A mat splitter will come in handy too for those really nasty mats. It’s basically a little one-sided blade used to saw mats apart. Just make sure you don’t accidentally saw your dog’s skin.

Keep clippers on hand just in case you need to cut your dog’s hair to get rid of the mat. Clippers are also great for keeping your dog’s paws trimmed. Your dog can get mats in the hair in between their paw pads, so keeping it clipped short there can help.

Avoid using scissors to remove mats, especially scissors that are sharp and pointy. You could accidentally snip or pierce your dog’s skin and open them up to the possibility of infection. And if your dog happens to go crazy on you while you’re trying to cut a mat loose, you could accidentally cut them pretty badly, creating a wound that may need stitching.

Note that you should never bathe your dog before attempting to detangle his hair. You will only make the mats worse. Remove the mats first, then give your dog a good bath. You can spray them down and brush them out with a nice detangling solution after the bath to help prevent future matting.

Consider taking your dog to a professional groomer on a regular basis. Especially if your dog breed is high maintenance in the hair department. This can help keep your dog’s hair neat and mat-free. Just make sure you keep up with it because it can get expensive if your groomer has to always detangle your dog.

When you’re brushing your dog and removing mats, remember that just because the top layer of hair looks untangled, it doesn’t mean they’re mat-free. Mats start at the base of a dog’s hair, so even if the top layer looks smooth, it could be a knotted mess underneath. Use your fingers to search out hidden mats and untangle them before they get worse.

You can try sprinkling corn starch on your dog’s hair to help try and loosen up the knot. Rub the cornstarch in and then use a brush or comb and smooth the hair out. This is a little home remedy trick that has been passed down for ages and can really work wonders.

Treat your dog’s hair like human hair. Rinse with cooler water to help close the shaft of the hair and smooth it out. This helps prevent your dog’s hair from breaking. Healthy hair is less inclined to become a tangled mess like broken, damaged hair.

Remember that technique matters as much as your tools matter. Use a slicker brush and brush out one small section at a time. Use your hand to lift the hair up, pat with the brush, and pull away with gentle strokes. Using this technique helps you get to any matting and tangling that is at the base of the coat and work it free.

When all else fails, you may have to resign yourself to shaving your dog in order to get rid of the mats. At the end of the day, you want your dog to be healthy and comfortable, and matted hair is neither of those things. Thankfully, if you do have to shave your dog, it grows back fairly quickly. In six weeks or so, your dog’s coat will have grown in more than you might expect, and you can get back into a regular grooming routine.

In the meantime, if you do have to buzz your dog, why not have some fun with it? Tell your groomer to be creative and see what they come up with. Leave a little powder puff on your dog’s tail and feet or give him a dangerous looking mohawk. You could even leave a little lion’s mane around their neck if you’re really feeling the creative vibes.

Finally, be committed. If you’re going to own a dog that requires a lot of upkeep and maintenance, make it your business to know all that entails. Research the breed and their grooming needs, ask your groomer for tips on keeping their hair tidy and untangled and commit to brushing your dog as often as it takes.

It’s okay if occasionally your dog’s hair gets matted, that’s natural. But do your best to ensure it happens as infrequently as possible and take pride in your fur baby’s healthy, shiny, tangle-free coat.

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