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How to Groom a Dog with Matted Hair (Easy & Simple)

Kristin Hitchcock

By Kristin Hitchcock


Typically, grooming a dog isn’t difficult, though it does depend on the breed. However, when your dog becomes matted, it can turn an initially simple job into one that is much more difficult. You can’t easily brush out mats, and it isn’t always straightforward to shave them off either.  So, what are you supposed to do when it’s time to groom your matted canine?

In this article, we’ll take a look at everything you need to do when it comes to grooming a dog with matted hair. No matter how matted your canine is, this article should help you remove the mats and make your canine much more comfortable in the process.

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Attempt to Brush Out as Many Mats as Possible

In many cases, you may be able to brush out your dog’s mats with some ease. If so, this should be your first step. Cutting is possible. However, this will leave your canine with less hair than they started with, which may or may not be a good thing.

Furthermore, there is more room for error in cutting, especially if the mats are very close to the skin. For this reason, it is often recommended that you attempt to brush out as many mats as possible before you grab a pair of scissors.

How to Groom a Dog With Matted Hair (5 Steps)

1. Separate Mats

Your first step should be to brush and separate the mats as much as possible. Grab a slicker brush and separate the non-matted hair away from the matted hair. There may be some slightly matted pieces of hair that have started to weave themselves into the matt. These should be able to be removed with some ease.

Mats are most commonly found on the neck and behind the ears. Under the limbs and on the belly are also common. Basically, in creases and any place that sees a lot of movement. Be sure to thoroughly check your dog for mats before you begin so that you know exactly what you’re dealing with.

2. Apply Detangler

CHI Detangling Finishing Dog Spray

We highly recommend using a commercial-level detangler to help you detangle the mats. Follow the directions on the back of your detangling spray. Most will have you rub the spray into the mats and let it sit for a few minutes. However, this can vary from bottle to bottle, so be sure to check.

You aim to make the hair as slippery as possible before you start working on the matt. In a pinch, you can also use cornstarch, though a commercial product usually works better. Rub the product into the mat and on all sides of the mat if possible.

3. Start with Fingers

Your first step is going to be to use your fingers to work out the mat. Split the mat up as much as possible without completely pulling your dog’s hair out. You may be able to detangle some of the hairs around the edges, especially if they have not yet been wholly tangled up in the mat.

Even if you don’t feel like you’re doing much good at this step, working the matt with your fingers will allow the detangling spray to penetrate deeper, which will help with the next step.

4. Use a Brush

hand holding brush with dog's hair
Image Credit: sonsart, Shutterstock

Now that you’ve worked on the mat as much as possible, it’s time to get to the hard part – actually brushing it out. Use a slicker brush or a de-matter comb to break up the mat as much as possible. You’ll likely be able to switch between picking at the mat with a comb to using your fingers to pull it apart.

Either way, this step will take the longest and will likely be the most involved. Working through the mats can take time, but it is possible. Add more detangling spray as you get towards the mats’ center, where the spray may not have penetrated the first time.

Depending on the number of mats on the canine, you may need to let the Detangler sit again once you get to the middle. Don’t necessarily plan on removing all the mats at once. You and your dog can only do this for so long. You may need to do it in phases if necessary.

5. Bathe

Once your canine has been detangled as much as possible, they will likely need a bath. This will remove the detangling spray and help soothe their skin after so much tugging and pulling. Using a shampoo designed to smooth skin is your best option, especially if your canine already has sensitive skin.

This is the perfect time to check your pup for fungal and bacterial infections, which can be expected in matted areas. If you notice any skin problems, it is essential to talk to your vet, as these will need medication of some sort. Parasites may be present as well and will also need your vet’s attention.

Dog taking a bubble bath in grooming salon
Image Credit: Masarik, Shutterstock

Use Scissors

Sometimes, we just can’t seem to remove all the mats with a brush alone despite our best efforts. Maybe your dog can’t sit still for the time required. Or, maybe your dog needs a trim anyway.

Either way, using scissors is a very viable option for removing mats. You do have to do this very carefully, though. Cutting your dog’s skin is a genuine possibility, especially if the mats are close to your puppy’s skin.

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How to Shave a Dog With Matted Hair (5 Steps)

1. Get All Your Equipment

You’ll want an area where you can easily restrain your canine and prevent him from moving. Otherwise, you risk cutting your dog or scratching them with the scissors. You may need an assistant to help hold your dog when cutting hazardous areas, like around their face.

Grooming the yorkshire terrier
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

If your dog is particularly big or tends to move around a lot, you may want to have them groomed by a professional. Grooming tables are very good at keeping dogs still, but you likely do not have access to one. It is cheaper to take a dog to the groomer in most cases than go out and buy a grooming table. You might be tempted to set up something similar to a grooming table, but this can be somewhat dangerous.

2. Separate the Mats

If you haven’t done so already, you will need to separate the mats to make cutting them easier. You may also save quite a bit of hair while doing this.

In the process of separating the mats, you’ll also want to work the mats as far away from the skin as possible. This will help prevent you from cutting the skin and ensuring that your dog’s hair doesn’t cut short.

3. Use a Short Blade or Scissors

You can use either a small pair of scissors or a short blade. Unless you have a bit of grooming experience, you’ll likely opt for the scissors, as there is less of a chance of cutting your dog’s skin. It would help if you always held the scissors parallel to your pet’s body, as pointing down can cause accidental cuts.

Cut as near to the mat as possible. Do not cut close to the skin, as you don’t want to scratch or injure your puppy.

4. Remove the Mats

Dog grooming
Image Credit: Mylene2401, Pixabay

As you cut, you may find that you don’t have to cut the whole mat before it comes out. Often, once you disconnect about half of the mat from the underlying hairs, it will come free with a little bit of pulling. All the loose hairs will fall out since they are no longer connected, freeing the mat. However, don’t go around tugging on your dog’s mats. Cut them until they easily fall loose.

Start at the top of your dog’s head and work your way down. You may want to stop often and give your dog time to rest, especially if they have a “smushed” face, as these dogs are notoriously prone to breathing problems when being groomed. If your dog is distressed, give them a break.

Do the legs and belly last, as these places tend to upset dogs significantly. You don’t want your dog upset before you’ve done anywhere else—start the session with a manageable area, like your dog’s neck or back.

5. Bathe Your Canine

After a cutting session, your dog will need a bath. This will remove any loose hair and help calm their skin afterwards. We recommend using a gentle shampoo, as your pet’s skin may be a bit aggravated after the grooming session. This is especially true if your canine already has sensitive skin.

As we previously stated, bathing is a perfect time to check your dog over for infections. Infections will require a veterinarian and medication. They are often caused by moisture build-up under mats, so it is important to check after removing many mats.

Bubble Bath a lovely dog chow chow
Image Credit: 135pixels, Shutterstock

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If your dog has created his own mats with something like candle wax, have a read of our quick and easy guide to help you remove the candle wax from dog fur painlessly.

Featured Image Credit: Matthew Yoder, Shutterstock

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