If you've got a cat, chances are you'll notice a solid clump somewhere in his coat at some point in his lifetime. Mats are a fact of life for all kitties, long- or short-haired alike. Tightly-packed and uncomfortable, mats can cause skin conditions and self-inflicted baldness if ignored.
Shedding and Mats
Unless you have a Sphynx or other hairless breed, your cat has hair and that hair will shed throughout the year. And unless you and your cat are absolutely obsessed with grooming, your cat will develop the occasional mat. This matted mass is a tightly tangled collection of dead and living hair. Mats can form anywhere on your kitty, but the typical problem areas are usually places Mr. Snufflebottom can't reach as he's grooming; for example, his back end and around his neck. Some areas may mat because he essentially pushes the loose, shed hair to a different part of his coat as he grooms, thereby creating a pile of dead hair that becomes all tangled together.
Mat Caused Bald Spots
Since mats are created from a tangled collection of dead and live hair, the solid, ratty mass will not simply fall off your cat. In fact, mats tend to grow, collecting more dead hair as time goes on and becoming larger and more entwined in the living hair around it. This creates a large, uncomfortable mat that can trap moisture, parasites and other equally irritating debris underneath. Your cat, overcome by the need to groom and rid himself of this bothersome, tangled mess, will continuously lick and pull at the mat, essentially tearing the living hair out that anchors it to his body. Over time he'll succeed in removing the mass, leaving a bald spot in its place.
Proper Mat Removal
As flexible and fastidious as your cat is, the poor pussy is just not equipped to deal with mats without tearing bald spots into his coat. It's up to you, his loyal and loving owner, to help rid him of these mats before they become such troublesome tangles. Retail stores sell mat-splitters, which look like little rakes with a number of blades that slice through matted hair and allow it to be brushed out. Some mats, however, are so large and tight that they need to be cut off. Have your vet or a professional groomer do this, as one tiny slip could slice your pet's skin open and cause a serious wound.
Dirty, unkempt hair is more likely to mat, so the two most important factors in preventing mats are to keep your cat's coat clean and well-groomed. Brush your cat regularly to remove dead hair before it has a chance to gather and cause trouble, and increase the frequency if he's going through a heavier shedding season. If your cat doesn't groom himself well and feels dirty or greasy, give him a bath -- yes, it is possible, most cats just don't like it -- or let a groomer spruce him up. Stay ahead of the shed and your kitty shouldn't have mats or bald spots to deal with.
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