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How to Shave a Dog With Matted Hair: 8 Vet Approved Steps & Prevention Tips

Written by: Brooke Bundy

Last Updated on April 9, 2024 by Dogster Team

black poodle with tangled hair

How to Shave a Dog With Matted Hair: 8 Vet Approved Steps & Prevention Tips


Dr. Paola Cuevas Photo


Dr. Paola Cuevas

Veterinarian, MVZ

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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A shaved dog is probably not the style you’d prefer aesthetically. However, for dogs with severely matted fur, sometimes cutting their hair down to the skin is the only way to restore them to normal. Regular, frequent grooming can prevent you from having to shave your dog’s locks, but once the damage is done it’s extremely hard to untangle matted hair. Here are a few tricks about how to groom your dog if they have matted hair, including how to tell if their knots are too dense to be combed out.

divider-dog paw

Why Matted Hair Is Worse Than It Appears

Keeping your dog’s hair free from mats is more involved than simply brushing their fur for picture day. It’s important to brush your dog’s coat on a regular basis because severely matted fur creates a buildup of shed hair, dirt, and dead skin that decreases blood circulation and blocks airflow. Infections from poor air circulation, hidden parasites, and even hematomas can result.

Your dog’s skin is thinner than yours. When dense mats pinch the blood vessels at the surface of their skin, it can restrict blood flow and cause a hematoma, which is a bump that’s filled with trapped blood. Hematomas are most likely to form on a dog’s ears because the ear contains many fragile blood vessels. This is called an aural hematoma and requires medical care. In some cases, your vet may even recommend surgery to restore your dog to normal. Since most dogs like to scratch their ears, it also tends to be one of the most commonly matted regions of their body.

divider-dog pawThe 8 Tips on How to Shave a Dog With Matted Fur

When you’re ready to start working on your dog’s fur, grab a brush and your clippers with a few varying guards. We’ll guide you through the process, starting with less invasive methods of dealing with mildly matted dogs, and leading to what to do if your dog’s fur is tangled beyond repair.

1. Don’t Bathe Them First

While it might seem right to start the grooming session with a bath, you’ll need to remove your dog’s mats first. Wetting tangled fur only makes the knots tighter.

2. Comb Through Your Dog’s Fur

Comb through your dog’s fur with a wide-toothed comb to assess whether shaving is necessary. If the comb becomes stuck, that means you’ve found a mat.

Safari De-Matting Dog Comb

3. Locate the Mats on Your Dog’s Body

Determine whether the knots are regional or widespread. If your dog only has a mat or two in certain areas, you can probably try to work out the mat with your fingers or cut it out with clippers instead of shaving their entire coat.

matted Shih Tzu dog
Image Credit: Eric Isselee, Shutterstock

4. Try to Untangle the Mat with Your Fingers

You can use a detangling spray at this stage to help you. Beginning at the base of the mat, try to pull apart the hair. You can use a comb to help you. Remember, the fur is attached to your dog’s sensitive skin. You’re essentially pulling their hair, so you want to be extra gentle, so it doesn’t hurt them, and never pull their skin.

5. Determine Whether Their Fur Is Pelted or Matted Only on the Ends

Insert a comb below the mat to the base of their skin and gently pull upwards. If your comb has room to wiggle a little before reaching the mat, the knot might be able to be detangled with your fingers or strategically removed with clippers. However, if your dog clumps of knotted fur that’s seemingly attached to their skin, this is called pelting. A dog with severe pelting will need to be shaved as close to the skin as possible. 

close up matted dog hair
Image Credit: munalin, Shutterstock

6. Bring Out the Clippers

Never try to cut out the mat with scissors without a comb’s protection. Your dog can twitch, and you can accidentally puncture them severely. Its safer to cut out the mat with clippers. The length of the clipper guard depends on the condition of the fur. If you’re only removing a few random mats, you can choose a longer guard so that it blends better with the rest of the fur. However, if you have to shave your dog, then opt for the shortest guard that can safely get the job done.

7. If Your Dog’s Fur Is Pelted, It’s Time to Start Over

Pull the skin tight, away with the clipper blades. Go slowly so you don’t startle your dog or accidentally nick them. Find the base of the mat and nudge your clippers into the mat. Never pull on the mat itself because this can raise your dog’s thin skin and catch it in the clippers.

grommer cutting dogs tangled hair
Image Credit: Focus and Blur, Shutterstock

8. Go to the Grooming Salon

If the mats are severe or if your dog is uncooperative, it might behoove you to ask a grooming professional for help. Untangling your pet’s hair can be a painful process and you don’t want to hurt your pet more than necessary. The groomer has more experience in how to deal with your dog’s hair and behavior and is less likely to injure them.


How to Prevent Matted Fur

After dealing with severe matting, you’ll probably want to do everything you can to prevent the issue from recurring. Thankfully, there are a few ways you can maintain your dog’s new ‘do as it grows.

Brush Before and After Bathing

It’s necessary to remove any tangles from your dog’s hair before their bath. Imagine jumping straight into the shower without bothering to comb through your hair after you’ve been in a wind-blown park all day. I’m sure you can picture the frustration and the painful snags you’d experience once you washed your hair as it is and then tried to get the tangles out only after you’ve applied shampoo. The same is true for your dog.

person brushing white and brown do
Image Credit: ron lach, Pexels

Only Use Detangling Sprays If the Mats Are Mild

These sprays are nice for simple mats that can easily be removed with your fingers but are not good for pelting. Again, you want to avoid getting your matted dog’s fur wet until the harsh mats are gone.

Keep Up with a Hygiene Routine

Depending on your dog’s fur, they might need to be brushed anywhere from daily to once a week. Dogs who don’t shed actually have hair rather than fur. These breeds, such as poodles, need to be brushed more frequently than those who shed. Conversely, shedding dogs who “blow” their coat twice a year will need to be brushed more often during those times of the year.

Regular Baths Can Help

Try to wash your dog at least once a month. Smaller dogs with hair rather than fur can be washed up to once a week but take care not to strip their coat by washing them excessively.

a little dog in the bathroom with shampoo foam on his head
Image Credit: Aleksandr Finch, Shutterstock

Use the Correct Brush for Your Dog’s Fur

There are so many options, but not every type will care for your dog’s fur. In fact, using the wrong type of brush can actually cause tangles since it can separate the topcoat from the undercoat, allowing mats to form near the surface of your dog’s skin. Rake brushes are best for long-haired dogs who shed, such as the German Shepherd. Boar’s hair brushes gently distribute natural oils in dogs with short coats such as the pug. Pin brushes can be used on practically any dog, although they’re not the most effective. Slicker brushes work well on medium to long-haired dogs, regardless of if they shed or not.

Regularly Inspect Trouble Spots

Areas of high friction such as around your dog’s collar, under their armpits, or anywhere they frequently scratch are more likely to build up mats than random patches of fur on their back. On the days you don’t have time for a full-scale brushing, you can quickly target these areas to help your dog stay free from mats.


Final Thoughts

It’s important to remove tangles from your dog’s hair quickly in order to prevent widespread pelting, which will require them to be shaved. If your dog’s coat is severely matted, starting over is better than dealing with adverse health issues. You might want to take your dog to a groomer if they display signs of extreme discomfort or if the tangles are out of control. Your groomer can also give you more pro tips on how to care for your dog’s fur to prevent matting in the future.

Featured Image Credit: winfinity, Shutterstock

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