How to Remove Mats and Tangles From a Dog's Fur
Mats forming in a dog's fur aren't just unsightly, they're dangerous. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) mats and tangles can create severe medical problems. As an example, they can cause skin irritation which can lead to infected lesions that could become infected by maggots. If that happens, you're looking at an expensive visit to the vet. Fleas and ticks can live out of sight in matted fur and if a mat becomes tight enough it can cut off the blood supply to that area of the skin. Dematting is especially important for breeds with long hair but even short haired dogs should be brushed regularly to keep their fur tangle-free.
Get the Right Tools
A dematting rake and a stainless steel comb are necessities. A deshedding glove is also useful to brush off the loose fur left behind after removing mats and tangles. Loose fur can get stuck on your furniture or in rugs so it's good to have a tool that gently removes it. Dematting is uncomfortable. Brushing with a deshedding glove gives your pet a relaxing massage. You can either buy these items separately or get a value pack.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says to "NEVER cut mats out with scissors. Your pet can unexpectedly move or jerk resulting in a severe laceration or puncture." I do use scissors but I use the rounded type designed for young children. I also don't cut near the skin. I'll explain further down how I use scissors.
You can also get a dog shaver and clipper set. Sometimes mats are so tight they can't be removed using rakes and combs. If they can't be removed, they will need to be shaved. Ideally, this should be done by a professional groomer. Many pet store chains like Petsmart and dog daycare and boarding companies offer dematting services. These types of services tend to be inexpensive. I pay $14 for professional dematting for my dog. However, mats form quickly, often within days so I need to keep fur as mat-free as possible between visits.
If you don't want to pay a professional you can buy a grooming kit with a shaver. You can get a good one for around $25. But this is something you have to be cautious with. Depending on where a mat forms, your pet may end up with bald patches. However, even a professional groomer may have no choice but to create bald patches to remove very tight mats.
Last of all, get a dog detangling spray. BioSilk is an affordable brand made specifically for dogs.
How to Remove Mats and Tangles
Once you've got the right tools, you're ready to demat. But your dog might not be. Dematting can be uncomfortable for them so make sure they're tired before you begin. Take them for a nice long wall or play catch with them. A tired dog will be less likely to put up a fight.
You can find mats by using a slicker brush or a dog brush with pins to brush through the fur. You'll know when you've found one because the brush will get stuck. Or you can use your hand to search for clumps of hair. Once you've found a mat spray it with a detangler spray. Use the rake, stainless steel comb and your fingers in combination to pull apart the clumps of hair. Once you start you'll have a good idea of which tool will work best. The rake is ideal when the clump is thick but the comb is better when you've pulled apart a lot of it.
I often alternate between the rake and comb as I take apart a mat. And I continue to spray the detangler into the mat when necessary. Try not to pull too much on your dogs hair. Holding a knot between your fingers can help reduce pulling on the skin.
If a knot is very tight I use rounded kid's scissors to cut out stubborn parts. Again, the ASPCA doesn't recommend using scissors. If you do decide to use them, avoid the type with sharp points. Dogs can move when you least expect it and could be injured. When I'm removing mats I often encounter knots that I can't brush out with either the rake or the comb. In those cases I cut them out with scissors. Typically, these knots have been brushed high in the fur, so they aren't near the skin when I cut them.
During dematting make sure to have some treats on hand, and take breaks to pet and relax your dog.
If a Mat Is too Tight
Even with the right tools, some mats may not come out. When this occurs shaving may be the best option. I recommend having a professional groomer do this. Dematting can be inexpensive so call around. If you do decide to do it yourself, you will need to buy a shaving kit for dogs. The kits sold in pet stores are usually very expensive. You may find a better deal online.