With mats, there's more to worry about than just the cosmetic aspect. Sure, your dog looks a little bedraggled and scruffy, but there's more to the problem than meets the eye. When matting occurs in a dog's fur, it's important to know what to do and what not to do.
Those gorgeous long-haired coats fashionably worn by old English sheepdogs, poodles, bichon frises, Malteses and a host of other dogs are lovely to behold, but can be high maintenance. The good news is many of the dogs with long hair won't shed all over your furniture and clothes. The bad news is there's a trade-off. If you don't take your dog to the groomer on a regular basis or learn to groom him yourself, you will end up dealing with a matted coat. Mats are not easy to remove and should only be eradicated by someone who knows what they're doing, or you can inflict some painful rashes or lacerations.
Mats are caused by the tangling of fur and it happens for several reasons. When the dog sheds, the dead, shedding fur can become tangled in the live coat. If your itchy dog scratches herself often or bites at hot spots, the fur becomes wet, dirty and tangled. Tangling occurs when long-haired dogs are not brushed on a regular basis, much like a human's long hair would tangle after a few days of no combing or brushing. A mat begins as a small problem, but quickly grows into a much bigger problem if not addressed.
Mats not only make your dog look like a ragamuffin, but they present some very real health dangers. The skin under the mats gets caught up in the fur as the tangle becomes more severe, causing the dog agony. The flesh becomes irritated and inflamed, causing foul-smelling ulcers and pus. The circulation is cut off, causing the skin to become necrotic. Insects lay eggs under the mat because the warm, moist and dirty conditions create a perfect nest. Mats are excruciatingly painful and serious -- so serious that in some states, such as Florida, allowing a dog to become severely matted is punishable as a misdemeanor under the animal cruelty statute.
Dealing With Mats
It's tempting to just take a pair of scissors and cut the mat off, but that's not the best course of action. If you are unable to shave the mat yourself, you will have to pay a groomer or veterinarian to do it for you. Mats must be shaved or combed out, never cut with scissors because the risk of cutting the skin is very high when you can't tell where the skin ends and the mat begins. There are de-matting tools you can use if the mat is not too big. Preventing mats is simple. It's so much easier to run a grooming brush through your dog's coat every day than it is to deal with matting. Your dog may hate being brushed, but he'll hate mats much more.
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.