Part of the appeal of dogs is the beauty and elegant shine of their coats. Unfortunately, this can be easily ruined by the formation of mats. These are clumps of hair that have stuck together forming a solid ball of fur. Not all dogs mat, however. Usually those that have long hair or dogs that are heavy shedders are more prone to developing hair mats. That being said you should know how to manage your dog’s matted hair; unless you don’t mind having a professional cut and manage the mats for you.
Why Dogs Mat
First thing’s first. Let us try to gain an understanding as to why dogs form hair mats.
The individual hair of dogs is not really as smooth as we think it is. Instead, its shaft or the entire length of the exposed hair comes with barbs that look more like briar brush. Some dogs have fewer of these barbs per hair while there are those that have numerous barbs. You know where we’re going. The greater the number of barbs in a particular hair shaft, the greater is the risk for developing hair mats.
Why? The barbs are irregular surfaces that can ‘hook’ up with the adjacent barbed hair shaft. When these hair shafts are pressed together for a significant amount of time, they tend to stick to one another. It is for this reason that hair mats typically occur in areas where there is greater chance of friction. When the dog moves and rubs these barbed hair shafts together, they tend to hook up and stick like glue. That is why you see them forming under the dog’s collar, in the dog’s armpits, just behind the ears, and even on the dog’s lower legs.
It can also develop in areas where the dog can come into contact with equally-barbed materials like grass. Dogs that tend to sit a lot can also form hair mats on their behind. If the dog likes to sit on either its right or left hip, then you can also expect to develop on that side where it usually sits on because of compaction of the fur in that area.
Not grooming your dog frequently can also lead to knots and tangles which can eventually result in hair mats.
Since hair mats develop because of the natural latching on of individual barbed hair shafts onto each other and made worse by the application of pressure or friction or the general lack of grooming for the dog, this condition is easily preventable.
Regular brushing of the dog’s coat is very important; we cannot emphasize this enough. However, it is very important to know how to brush your dog’s hair correctly. Since excessive dryness and static electricity can increase the risk of developing tangles, it is important to spray a light mist of water onto the dog’s hair before and during brushing.
When brushing your dog’s coat to prevent hair mats, it is imperative that a slicker brush be used. It is equally important to work with smaller sections so you can be more thorough in your brushing. Lift a small section of your dog’s coat and pat the slicker brush into the fur. Gently pull the brush away from your pet’s body. Continue lifting, patting, and stroking your pet’s coat gently so you can easily find tangles that may be hidden.
There are also dog dematting tools available in the market that are designed specifically to help remove tangles, knots, and mats. Some of these dematting tools can also be used as grooming brush so you’ll get the best of both worlds.
Managing Matted Dog Hair
In case hair mats still developed despite your best efforts of preventing them from ever forming, you should prepare to cut and manage your dog’s matted hair.
Check the hair mats if they are not really that stubborn (they are not difficult to untangle). In such cases, you may want to get a detangling solution spray and spritz some of this solution onto the tangle. Use a dematting comb or brush to slowly work your way on the hair mat. Always start on the outside and work your way towards the main body of the mat. This will help remove the knots and tangles that are often the precursors to hair mats.
In case an ordinary dematting brush will not work, you will need to purchase a mat rake. It’s just like your gardening rake except that this one comes with really sharp tines. The tines are spaced a little nearer to one another than your conventional rake. As you run the mat rake through your dog’s matted coat, the sharp edges of the tines easily cut through the stuck hair. However, it is imperative that you be very careful in running the mat rake through your dog’s matted coat. You don’t want any of the rake’s sharp tines to hit and scratch your pet’s skin. Having hair mats is painful enough. The last thing you want to do is to add to the discomfort or pain experienced by your pet.
If the mat rake proves to be useless simply because the hair mats are really stubborn, then you’re left with no choice but to cut through the mat. To do this you will need a mat splitter. This is a device that looks more like knife with its sharp edge pointing upwards. This is used for cutting through the hair mat. The tip of the mat splitter is also sharply pointed so you can easily insert it through the mat and work your way from there. It looks like a really sharp single-edged dagger with a needle-point tip that can easily pierce through the hair mat. If you need to be careful using a mat rake, you’d have to increase your caution a thousand-fold when using a mat splitter as the sharpness of the instrument can really leave a deep wound on your dog’s skin.
When using a mat splitter it is best to start an inch from the surface of the skin. Simply pierce through the mat and try to slice about an inch outwards. From there you can start separating individual sections of the mat. If this doesn’t work, you can use the mat rake to continue the work of the mat clipper. Again, we really have to emphasize safety for both you and your dog. Spritzing a dematting solution can also help in the loosening of the matted hair.
If neither the mat rake nor the mat splitter works to remove the hair mats on your pet, you’d have to say goodbye to its luscious coat. We don’t want to call it hopeless case, but it sure looks that way. If the hair mats are in their worst possible form, there is only one thing left to do – shave your dog completely using a guarded electric pet clipper. This is the only way you can bring comfort for your pet. Hopefully, as your pet’s fur starts to grow back, you’d have already learned your lesson. Make sure to brush its coat very frequently so you get to retain the full glory of its coat.
Problems Associated with Dog Hair Mats
Hair tangles and mats do not only make your dog look dirty and unkempt, they also predispose your hound to a host of problems. This is especially true if the matting occurs very close to the skin. This traps air and provides a very nice and cozy place for microorganisms to flourish right under the hair mat. These microorganisms can proliferate and overwhelm the other microorganisms that may be present on the skin. This leads to an imbalance in microbial flora.
Because hair mats are large sections of hair that have clumped together, they can hold urine, feces, and even tears a lot closer to the dog’s skin. This can lead to irritation, swelling, and pain and could potentially cause infection. Over time and without proper care, the skin can become dark or form really thick skin, a condition called hyperkeratosis.
Not only are there issues in the health of your dog. Severe hair mats can also impair its mobility especially if the mats develop in the limbs around the joints. As the mat pulls on the skin, it can impair blood circulation as well. This can produce a number of conditions whereby inadequate oxygen supply can lead to a reduced function in the organ. In really extreme cases of hair mats, it is even possible that the matting can grip and tighten the dog’s tail or limb, slowly squeezing it until the mat itself has already affected the underlying bone.
This is not to mention the cost of having the hair mats professionally removed. And even if you are going to remove them yourself, you’d still have to invest in good quality dog dematting tools.
Given that dog hair mats can be avoided with a simple and correct daily brushing of its coat, you don’t really need to worry about such a hairy mess. But if you like the challenge, then by all means let hair mats develop on your dog so you can give your newly-found dematting skills a try.