All about Cat Matting (also affects some long haired Rabbits)
The following will hopefully help you understand the type of problems that you might encounter with your cat or rabbit's coat and looks at the possible options and solutions. If you cannot get a comb freely through the fur then you are most likely looking at one of the following conditions:
Just a word of warning before we go any further: Cats and rabbits have a particularly thin / fragile skin which is easily torn or cut. It is unwise to tackle these problems yourself unless you know what you're doing. Even brushes and combs can cause damage so imagine what scissors can do!
This is simply tangled or knotted hair that has not formed into any sort of firm lump or "matt". Most cats will remove this on their own through self-grooming. If they don't, then it's worth dealing with it sooner rather than later before the tangle turns into a matt and becomes more difficult to remove.
Generally speaking a tangle can be teased out using a soft slicker brush followed by a comb. You can probably clear these yourself if your cat will let you. If not, do please bring your cat in and we can advise and remove the tangled area.
Dead or Shed coat
This is simply old hair that has been naturally shed from the coat to be replaced by new hair; a normal and natural process. Many cats will groom this out for themselves to make way for the new growth coming through. On some short haired cats this deadcoat may also simply fall out and leave the cat naturally - but not always.
In some cases, particularly in long and fine haired cats, this shed coat can build up within the coat and is often the first stage towards a more serious matting problem later on. Some cats simply can't be bothered to groom out the shed coat and some, as they get older, become less supple and unable to reach all parts for grooming.
It is important that this dead or shed coat is not allowed to build up. If the cat won't or can't groom it out then do try and groom it out for them or seek professional help before it develops into a bigger problem.
A "matt" is where fur has gone beyond tangled and formed a solid lump, similar in texture to a piece of felt. You are unlikely to be able to "tease" these out but, providing they are not close to the skin, it will usually be possible for us to thin the matt and remove it without leaving too noticeable a hole in the fur. Matts like these we regard as "minor" as long as they are fairly isolated.
If the matt has formed next to the skin then generally the only option is for it to be clipped out professionally. See below.
Matting / Severe Matting
Once matts have formed close to the skin they become more of a problem. Cats cannot generally remove these by themselves and may even cause damage in the attempt as they pull at them. They can be localised, forming typically in areas of friction such as armpits, tummy, behind the ears and commonly round the back end or "trousers". In severe cases the matting can cover the whole body.
The matts may not always be immediately obvious from just looking at the cat; the topcoat may still look relatively normal. Feel through the topcoat however and if, where you should find skin, you find a felt like layer, this is very likely matting. It won't get better on its own. It needs attention.
Problems associated with matting:
It can be distressing for the cat. Once it has formed it tends to tighten and shrink, particularly if it gets wet. It is not unusual for us to find stretch marks on the skin after removing it. In extreme cases this can cause restricted movement. One badly matted cat we know of appeared to have arthritis, as it couldn't move its legs properly. Once the matting was removed, however, it was fine.
The matted layer can harbour all sorts of problems: air can't get to the skin and dead skin can't be shed. This provides an opportunity for fleas and other parasites to move in and live under the protective layer of matting. It's not uncommon to find sores and infections in these areas