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Detangling cat matted fur

The essentials

  • Cats are their own best groomer (until they’re not) — Factors like arthritis, extra fluffiness, humidity, dirtiness, excessive rubbing, weight, and age can lead to a bad hair day that requires some taming.
  • Matted fur is more than unsightly — Tangles, matted fur, and knots aren’t pretty, but it goes beyond that. Matted cat fur can be painful and pose health issues like skin irritation or infections.
  • Detangling can be stressful — Detangling your hair hurts, whether you’ve got four legs or two. Before detangling a cat’s matted fur, you’ll want to get the right tools, maybe even meditate and sniff some essential oils.

Self-grooming is a cat’s favorite hobby and an instinctual ritual. Habitual grooming keeps their fur cleansed, moisturized, and beautiful. If you’ve discovered mats on your cat’s fur, don’t fret. Cat mats happen for a variety of reasons. The important thing is that it’s addressed quickly. Depending on the severity, you may be able to take care of it at home with a few tools.

Before you start grooming your cat

Assess how many areas of matting there are and the severity of each. If you’re wondering how to remove matted cat hair without cutting, try the tips and supplies below before resorting to a trim.

Gather your tools and prepare for a gentle brushing

When detangling cat matted fur, it’s best to work with a relaxed cat. Start by setting the mood with your cat, using a soothing voice, gentle petting, and a treat or two. Your cat’s self-grooming is a source of pride, and your cat may not hand over the hairbrush easily. Speaking of tools: the ones listed below may not be enough for severe matting or long-haired or senior cats.

  • Metal comb. For short-haired cats, use a fine-toothed metal comb. For long-haired cats, use a wide-toothed comb.
  • Detangling spray. Lightly mist your feline friend with a soothing detangling spray like this TropiClean tangle remover to condition and make brushing easier. Mats can cause sores we can’t see, so use whatever will be most helpful and relaxing. You’ll also need cornstarch or talcum powder for the detangling steps below.
  • De-matting brush. An initial brushing with this popular de-matting comb may take care of mild to moderate mats on its own. The comb has two sides, and cat owners should use the lower-density de-matting rake for the initial brush.
  • Slicker comb. Start with the fine-toothed comb, then move on to the slicker comb when needed. Holding the base of the mat with your fingers, gently brush the matted hair with the slicker comb. These are especially good for short hair.

How to detangle your cat’s matted fur

Now that your cat is brushed out, it’s time to tackle detangling its matted fur. Here are three steps to do that.

  1. Start with your fingers — Gently run your fingers through your cat’s fur to loosen small mats. If you’re using a detangling spray, go ahead and give Kitty a spritz and follow with a soothing brush down with the de-matting comb if you choose.
  2. Prep with powder — After a nice run-through of the fur, sprinkle cornstarch or talcum powder on the matted areas and lightly rub it in.
  3. Begin brushing — Hold the base of the mat with one hand and gently pull it upward away from the cat’s skin. Using your other hand, lightly brush through the tangle with a fine-toothed comb, starting at the ends and working your way back.

You can follow up with a soft, slicker comb to release those more stubborn mats.

👉 Never attempt to pull or detangle a tightly twisted mat with your hands. 

Reassure your cat with lots of love and treats, and avoid a prolonged brushing session. Detangling matted fur takes great patience; pet owners can expect to work on it over several days. Aim to detangle one to two areas per sitting, then give Fluffy a break. The goal is to avoid causing your cat a stressful or painful experience.

Cutting out the matted hair

We know you love your cat’s luxurious coat and prefer to remove matted cat fur without cutting. Sometimes, cutting out a stubborn knot may be necessary to relieve pain and prevent infection or bruising, but you should do so with veterinarian guidance.

As a veterinarian, I have seen many cats with wounds from owners attempting to cut out mats with scissors. I would recommend shaving the matted hair out instead of using clippers.

Dr. Dwight Alleyne


It’s best to leave clipping or shaving your cat’s matted fur to your veterinarian or an experienced professional cat groomer. However, doing it yourself may be the only practical approach for cats prone to matted fur or multi-cat households.

Get guided, hands-on experience with a professional groomer or watch experienced professionals before attempting this at home. It can go a long way in preventing painful damage to your cat’s skin and emergency vet visits.

When to go to the vet

A cat’s self-grooming is both a necessity and a favorite hobby, so if your cat has abandoned or decreased the practice, there’s a reason. Cat owners should talk to their vet for an accurate diagnosis. This will help you know how to help them and prevent future mats.

Attempting to de-mat your cat at home may not always pan out. Whether it’s your cat’s stress reaction or the severity of the matting, there are times when medical intervention, clipping, or shaving is necessary for your cat’s health.

👉 If your cat is especially stressed out or refuses to let you do the job, you may need to see the veterinarian for a sedative.

Some pet owners will be inclined to visit the groomer for professional help, but we recommend the vet as your first stop. In the case of severely matted fur, some groomers will turn down a pet if they feel that there may be skin damage.

Why do cats develop matted fur?

A few things can contribute to a cat’s coat becoming matted. Senior cats, or those with obesity or illness, may not groom as regularly as they should. Some cats aren’t adept groomers and miss a spot. Outdoor cats are more susceptible to matting since dirt and oil contribute to tangles.

Matting can also occur naturally in areas of the body where there is more rubbing or a lot of movement, like between the legs or under the collar or tail. Just like humans with long hair get more tangles, long-haired cats are prone to more matting due to excess fur.

Preventing a cat’s matted fur

You can take preventative measures by brushing your cat daily with a soft bristle brush. The soft bristles will be soothing to your cat and establish grooming sessions as a positive experience.

Most cats are fantastic self-groomers. Tiny barbs on their tongues efficiently clean their fur down to the skin and regulate their body temperature (plus create a dashing appearance). Their little hairbrush tongues even improve circulation and spread moisturizing body oils around to moisturize.

But even the best groomers sometimes fall down on the job — if you notice knots or mats in your cat’s fur, human intervention is required. Matted fur can pull the skin and be painful for your feline friend, even leading to bruising and infection in some cases.

Frequently asked questions

Should I shave my matted cat?

Shaving may be required in severe cases of matting that pose a health risk to the cat. Talk to your veterinarian about how to best remedy the situation safely.

Does bathing prevent matting?

Yes. Bathing your cat every 4-6 weeks and regular brushing can prevent matting. However, don’t bathe a cat that’s already matted, as it can worsen matters. Address the matting first.

Should a cat be sedated before detangling?

It depends on your cat. Some natural calming options like Rescue Remedy or Pet Hemp may be appropriate, while other cats may not need it. Always seek medical advice before giving anything to your cat, even if it’s over the counter.

Why isn’t my cat grooming themselves?

If a cat stops grooming regularly, it’s usually an indicator they are in pain or some type of discomfort. If you notice your cat stops grooming or significantly decreases the amount of grooming, go to the vet.

Do cats hate being groomed?

It depends on your cat’s personality. Some cats love the attention, while others don’t respond well to the extra, sometimes intrusive handling.