How to Cut Mats Safely out of your Cat’s Fur

This article is republished from my column on Examiner.com, with minor alterations.

If you have a medium or long-haired cat, you’re probably aware of how easily her fur gets matted. Most of the time, mats develop between the front paws and back legs, along backs of her back legs, and sometimes on her chest. Mats can develop anywhere though, and it’s important to learn how to cut mats safely out of your cat’s fur.

Unlike most tangles in our own hair, mats form very close to the cat’s skin, making it very easy to hurt her while you’re trying to get it out. For that reason, many people recommend taking your cat to a professional groomer, because it’s their job to know how to cut mats safely. However, not everyone has the time or the money for that. If your cat has a lot of mats, or if the mats are bigger than your thumbnail, then yes, a professional groomer is your best and safest bet.

You can always try to brush a mat out with a pin brush or flea comb before you resort to cutting it. Cats, however, tend not to like that either, because pin brushes can pull hard on the fur, and remember, the mat is probably already uncomfortable. So your cat likely won’t put up with you trying to pull it out for very long.

Preventive measures are always best. Experts recommend daily brushing for long-haired cats, but three to four times a week is the minimum. You can brush a medium-haired or short-haired cat two or three times a week.

Mats may form despite your best efforts though. So, for smaller mats that can’t be brushed out, here are some tips to help you cut mats safely out of your cat’s fur.

These 2 pieces of equipment are necessary to cut mats safely

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First of all, to cut mats safely, you need the right equipment: A metal flea comb, and a pair of blunt-tipped or ball-tipped scissors. The best scissors to use are a pair of grooming scissors because they’re designed to cut fur, and usually have a blunt tip. The reason you want blunt-tipped or ball-tipped scissors is in case your cat struggles; you don’t want to accidentally stab her while trying to cut out a mat.

The flea comb is so you have something to create a solid barrier between the scissors and her skin. Both of these items are readily available at stores like Petsmart and Petco.

Step 1: Make your cat as comfortable as possible

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Get your cat into as comfortable a position as possible for her, where the mat is easily accessible to you. One of the positions in which you normally brush her is preferable, but may not be possible if the mat is on her chest or tummy, or between her legs. If she’s skittish, try and soothe her by scratching her and stroking her, or whatever you know of that may work, since every cat is different. Make sure you can get at the mat easily. If she’s unhappy and struggling, you may need some help to cut mats safely from her coat.

Step 2: Working the flea comb into the mat

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Take the flea comb and gently work it into the base of the mat, as close to her skin as possible. Her fur will be tightly tangled, so this might take some time and patience. Having another person help you hold her is especially beneficial here, because mats tend to be uncomfortable, or even painful, for cats. Working a comb into the mat might make her even more uncomfortable, so expect her to put up at least a little bit of fuss. Be patient, and work the comb in all the way to the spine if possible. This is an absolute must to cut mats safely.

Step 3: Cut the mat out

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Take the scissors and start carefully cutting away at the mat, pressing against the comb where it’s necessary. Remember, the comb is there to prevent you from accidentally cutting her, so if it comes loose you’ll need to take the time to work it in again; without the comb there, you can’t cut mats safely.

If you have a complex mat, before moving to step two of this list, try sliding the scissors into it perpendicular to her skin, so that the edge of the bottom blade is facing up and away from her. Make sure you can see the blade through her fur. Cut the mat into sections so it’s more manageable, and then move on to step two. This makes it easier to cut mats safely.

Step 4: Comb out the rest of the mat

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Pull the loose fur away from the comb, and see if there’s anything else you need to cut before removing the comb. She may still have matted fur in that spot, but now it’s so short that the remaining tangles will come out a little more easily. If that’s the case, gently pull the comb towards you, through what’s left of the fur there. That will usually loosen it enough so that only a few more passes with the comb are needed to completely remove it.

That’s pretty much it for how to cut mats safely out of your cat’s fur. It requires a lot of patience, and a lot of love. You may want to have some treats on hand for her to help her calm down if she seems really upset. If she takes off and hides, let her calm down on her own.

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