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No avoiding it: they all need brushing: without it, nutrition, disease and allergies increase the likelihood of serious matting.

Does your dog have bad hair days? If his coat is long and fine, it's likely a frequent occurrence, says dermatologist William H. Miller, Jr., VMD, Medical Director of the Cornell University Hospital for Animals. "In addition to the nature of the coat, if grooming, nutrition and observation are suboptimal, the likelihood of matting also increases."

Other factors include skin or internal diseases that impact hair growth. "For example, dogs with itchy skin conditions such as allergies are more predisposed to mats," Dr. Miller says. "Likewise, dietary deficiencies that render the coat dull, dry and lusterless can also increase the likelihood of matting."

Humidity a Factor. Although matting is rare to nonexistent in shorthaired dogs, all dogs need to be brushed, Dr. Miller says. And while shorthaired dogs can get away with occasional brushing, silky long-haired dogs require daily brushing. They include Bichon Frises, Lhasa Apsos, Pekingese, Poodles, Shih Tzus, Maltese, Pomeranians and Yorkies.

Environment is another factor. "The care most shelters give their dogs includes grooming, but it's not like having an owner with them 24/7," Dr. Miller says, adding, "It's probably a given that puppy mill dogs would be ripe for matting." Low humidity, which increases static electricity, and playing in water also render dogs more vulnerable to matting.

"Mats are obvious, both physically and tactilely," says Dr. Miller. "If the dog has itchy skin, the mats occur in the itchy areas. Otherwise, mats tend to occur in the lower regions of the body because as the dog lies down, the hairs are pushed together and rubbed around by bedding or carpets." Once a mat begins, it causes the surrounding hair to mat and can become self-perpetuating.

If left untreated, mats can cause skin irritation and uncomfortable pulling of the hair. When this happens, the dog may bite or scratch at his skin, tangling the hair even more. "If the underlying skin gets wet and can't dry easily due to the thick mat covering, skin disease may result," Dr. Miller says. Matted dogs can also be predisposed to hosting fly larvae.

Home Treatment. A matted dog is not a happy dog. Mats must be removed. "With small mats, home treatment is the way to go," Dr. Miller says. "The hairs can be teased apart. When mats are large, they may have to be cut apart with a dematting tool. Never use scissors. Since you can't see where the skin is, you can inadvertently hurt your dog. And waxing and chemical depilatories are definite no-nos!"

If your dog is seriously matted, it is best to trim his hair down to the skin with clippers, or enlist a professional groomer's help. "If your dog is grumpy, a trip to the veterinarian might be warranted, because the dog can be tranquilized and be de-matted there," Dr. Miller says. "This makes the procedure less stressful for both clipper and clippee."

The best advice for avoiding distress to your dog and a costly grooming tab is prevention. "Keep your dog in good health and groom him regularly, especially at shedding time," says Dr. Miller. "Grooming is crucial to preventing matting."


You can make your own detangling spray by filling a spray bottle with water and adding a table-spoon of hair conditioner especially made for dogs. Shake it, spray directly onto the mat, and leave it on for a few minutes. Pet your dog and speak soothingly to set a relaxing tone.

Start with the outside of the mat, where the hair is less tangled, and work your way in with your hands, slowly picking apart the knots. Hold onto the base of the mat closest to the skin as you work to avoid pulling your dog's skin. If the mat is stubborn, follow up with a wide-toothed comb to slowly work the hairs free. Be patient. The process takes time.

Offer your dog small treats periodically to reward him for good behavior. Stop at the first sign of stress. Your dog's memory of an unpleasant grooming session can make future ones difficult. Several short sessions are preferable to one long one. Be sure to end with praise and treats.


In December 2014, an SPCA investigator was called to a Buffalo, N.Y., home after police discovered a small dog who was so severely matted she could not move. It took veterinarians two-and-a-half hours to remove four pounds of matted hair from her. The dog's owners surrendered her to the SPCA and were charged with animal cruelty.
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Title Annotation:HEALTH
Publication:Dog Watch
Date:Mar 1, 2015
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