When a long-haired or double-coated dog or cat develops tangles in its coat, these snarls can develop into mats. The best way to prevent mats is to brush your dog or cat routinely, making sure to tackle common problem areas like behind the ears, around the collar, near the tail, between the back legs, and underneath the front legs. If your dog is active outside and tends to bring home burrs and sticks in its hair, it's even more important that you comb regularly, since these areas can turn into mats even more quickly.
Mats begin as small tangles that accumulate dirt, debris, and loose hair. Over time, the mat can incorporate hair from farther and farther away from the original snarl-spot, making things very uncomfortable for your dog. Whenever the dog gets wet, the mat tightens, making things even more painful. To make matters worse, pet skin is especially tender -- it's thinner and more fragile than human skin. Skin near a mat can become ulcerated from the pulling, causing a serious health problem.
Small mats (the size of your thumb or smaller) can be combed apart with a mat rake or special mat-breaker brush. For larger mats, scissors may be required. However, this requires special care, since it's easy to cut your pet when working on tough mats. If your dog is at all resistant, you should probably take it to a professional groomer who has better tools for handling mats and for keeping your dog still. Also, never cut at mats that are very close to the skin, since the risk of cutting your pet is far too high.
If your dog is calm, begin by brushing all around the mat, clearing away loose hair and dirt. Then you can begin work on the mat with scissors and a mat-breaker. Begin at the outside of the mat, farthest from the skin, and work your way in gradually, taking small cuts. Remember that your dog's skin is very sensitive, and be aware of the way your dog is feeling. It might be best to work on the mats in stages, doing a little more every day. Never try to pull the mats out by hand or chop them off abruptly -- if this is a painful experience, your dog will remember and may not allow you to work on its hair in the future.Looking for more information and other great articles about camping with pets? Visit PetCamping.com