Mat Matters - Dog Hair 101

Matted Dog Hair... It's 'Knot' To Be Ignored

One of the most problematic areas of maintaining a dog's coat at home is keeping it mat-free. This is not only a challenge for dogs with medium to long coats but also for shorter-haired dogs that have curly or woolly coats.

Read on to learn about different coat types and how to help keep your dog mat-free.


Mats are a serious problem and can be detrimental to your dog’s well-being. Many owners may not understand how miserable this condition makes their dog. Often people obtaining a dog are unaware of how much time and care is required to properly maintain their chosen breed.

A dog with mats will chew and dig at itself if the mats are not removed. A mat can become so tight it can cut off blood circulation to the affected area, with sores and infections resulting from unmaintained coats.  When matting occurs in a dog’s coat it’s important to know what to do.

grey Labrador icon  

Dog Hair 101

To understand how a dog’s coat becomes matted it’s important to understand the structure of a dog’s coat. A dog’s coat does a lot more than just define your dog’s colour.

The coat serves as an insulating layer between your dog’s skin and the external environment. It protects them from the heat and sun in the summer, the cold in the winter, and cuts and abrasions. So correct grooming practices, coat length, and coat care are essential to your dog’s ability to regulate its temperature and protect its delicate skin.

Depending on the breed your dog will either have a smooth, wire, double, curly, long, or hairless coat; each type requiring a different level of grooming. Dogs can have 2 types of hair in their coat. First is the guard hair which comprises the top coat and has a coarser structure than the undercoat.

The guard hair helps prevent injuries to the dog's skin, it forms a layer of insulation and determines the coat's appearance. The undercoat (secondary hair) is soft and fluffy and provides further insulation. Each hair follicle can have one guard hair and up to 15 secondary hairs growing from the same follicle, depending on the breed.

The structure of a dog's coat varies between breeds. For example, smooth-haired terriers have the highest density of follicles with lots of guard hairs and the fewest number of secondary hairs, German Shepherds have half as many follicles but twice as many secondary hairs in each follicle. Single-coated dogs do not have an undercoat.

In addition, a dog’s hair grows in a 3-phase cycle. Each follicle has a period of rapid growth followed by a slower growth rate - then a resting phase. For some dogs, the first 2 phases last over a year, in dogs that shed a lot these cycles can often be as short as a month.

These cycles determine the rate at which your dog will shed. The growth of their hair is affected by nutrition, hormones, and changes in season. Dogs normally shed hair in the early spring and early autumn, they may also shed in response to changes in the amount of sunlight.

Each of these factors contributes to a dog's tendency to develop mats.

 Lhaso Apso with long coats

Facts about Mats

Mats are caused by the tangling of the hair and can happen for several reasons. When your dog sheds their dead hair it can become tangled in the growing coat. 

If your dog scratches or bites the skin or hair it becomes wet and tangled. Friction areas such as the armpits, the neck, and the groin are also prone to matting. The neck and body can also become matted from collar and harness wearing.

Tangling occurs in dogs the same way it occurs in our hair. If not thoroughly brushed on a regular basis the hair will tangle in a few days. These mats can be removed with careful brushing and the correct tools and products.

However, if a mat is left unchecked it will grow much bigger and result in severely matted hair. Severely matted hair causes a wide range of problems for a dog. Healthy skin will become irritated and can result in open sores.  Excessive matting is an extremely painful and unhealthy condition.

 Dog in bathtub with shampoo


Maintaining a Dog’s Coat and Preventing Mats

Dogs with coats prone to matting should be brushed daily, and dead hair should be removed regularly. Whilst at-home brushing will remove some of the dead hair brushing alone has its limits.

Professional grooming should be done on a regular basis to help prevent matting.

Your groomer will pay particular attention during the bathing and brushing process to the friction areas where mats form and can style your dog’s hair in a cut and length to support the prevention of mats.

Combs and brushes for cats and dogs 

Removing Mats

Sometimes mats can be combed out, but if left too long it is impossible to remove them without hurting the dog. A pin brush and comb can be used at home to tease out loose mats. When combing out a mat always hold the hair at the base of the mat when brushing.

Never brush and pull at the skin when brushing out mats as this is painful for the dog and can damage the skin. However, trying to brush matted hair can be extremely painful for a dog so this should only be done if there is a minimal amount of matting.

A good groomer will have the tools, products, and techniques to remove mats without causing discomfort to the dog.

If a dog’s hair is severely matted the humane thing to do is to clip the dog’s coat taking it back close to the skin to allow the skin to recover and the hair to start a healthy growth cycle supported by a regular grooming program.

This is a delicate and slow process as a dog with severe matting can have sore skin that can be easily cut. This should only be undertaken by an experienced groomer or in extreme cases a veterinarian.

A regular home grooming routine combined with a professional grooming program will help to maintain a healthy coat and skin and prevent unnecessary pain caused by matting.