Why Does My Older Cat’s Fur Get So Matted? (Curiosity, keywords)


As cats age, it becomes more common for their fur to become matted and tangled. Matted fur is clumps of hair that have twisted and merged together, forming tight balls against the skin. This condition often develops in older cats as they become less mobile and flexible, making it difficult for them to properly groom themselves. Matted fur does not shed naturally and can trap moisture, dirt, and debris next to the skin, leading to irritation, itchiness, and even skin infections if left untreated. Many factors can contribute to matted fur in senior cats, including changes in grooming habits, medical conditions, decreased shedding, coat changes, lack of bathing, and obesity. While preventing and managing mats in older cats requires some effort on the part of owners, it is important for reducing discomfort, maintaining skin health, and preserving your cat’s quality of life. This article explores the causes of matted fur in geriatric cats and provides tips for prevention and treatment.

Changes in Grooming Behavior

One of the most common age-related changes in cats is a decrease in self-grooming behavior. As cats get older, they often develop arthritis and joint stiffness that makes it more difficult and painful to twist and contort their bodies to groom themselves properly (VCA Animal Hospitals). Older cats may lack the flexibility to reach all areas of their coat, especially around the hindquarters and base of the tail. This reduced mobility restricts their ability to groom thoroughly.

Senior cats are also generally less active and may groom themselves less frequently. Areas like the stomach and hind legs can be difficult for aging cats to access. When combined with a natural decrease in shedding, this reduced grooming causes dead hairs to accumulate and tangle into mats instead of being removed.

Underlying Medical Conditions

Certain medical conditions can contribute to matted fur in senior cats. As cats age, they become more susceptible to diseases like hyperthyroidism, diabetes, kidney disease, and dental disease. These conditions can cause increased thirst, changes in grooming habits, coat changes, and mobility issues – all of which can lead to matted fur.

For example, hyperthyroidism is a common disease in older cats that causes an overproduction of thyroid hormones. This speeds up the cat’s metabolism, leading to increased thirst, appetite changes, and poor coat quality. The excessive drinking leads to increased urination and decreased grooming. The poor coat can become dirty and matted more easily. Treating the hyperthyroidism can help resolve these issues and improve coat health.

Untreated dental disease is another contributor. Dental pain makes it difficult for cats to groom themselves properly. The bacteria from dental infections can also alter the normal oils in the cat’s coat. With treatment of the dental disease, grooming habits tend to improve.

Any chronic medical condition in an older cat that causes mobility issues, grooming difficulties, or coat changes can allow matted fur to develop more readily. Getting to the root cause with a veterinary exam and treatment can help minimize unwanted mats.

Decreased Shedding

As cats age, their shedding patterns tend to change. Kittens and young cats will shed frequently as their coats grow in. Adult cats between 1-6 years old will go through predictable seasonal shedding cycles in the spring and fall. However, senior cats over the age of 10 will often shed less than they did when younger. This is because hormonal changes lead to decreased hair growth and shedding as cats get older [1].

Since older cats are not shedding out dead hair as frequently, the old hair stays trapped in the coat rather than being replaced by new growth. This buildup of dead hair can tangle and felt together into mats if not removed through grooming. Senior cats often groom themselves less due to arthritis and flexibility challenges. The combination of decreased shedding and inadequate grooming causes matting in elderly cats.

Changes in Coat Texture

As cats age, their coats often become drier, thinner, and more brittle. According to this source, a cat’s fur can become stiffer starting around 12 years old. The natural oils that keep a cat’s fur smooth and hydrated can diminish over time. Older cats also shed less frequently. This means dead hair remains in the coat instead of being shed and replaced. The combination of dry, brittle fur and infrequent shedding leads to more matting in senior cats.

Lack of Proper Grooming

As cats age, their ability to properly groom themselves often declines. Older cats tend to be less flexible and agile, making it difficult to reach all areas of their coat [1]. This is especially true for long-haired breeds that require extensive grooming to prevent matted fur.

Long-haired senior cats need daily brushing to keep their coat smooth and tangle-free. The hair around the rear, belly, legs, and behind the ears are common problem spots. Without regular brushing, knots and mats quickly form in these areas. Matted fur pulls on the skin, causing discomfort and irritation.

In addition to daily brushing, bathing an older long-haired cat every 4-6 weeks can help prevent mats. The bath will loosen and remove dirt, grease, and dead hair that can clump together. Be sure to thoroughly brush out all tangles before bathing an elderly cat.

Short-haired cats also benefit from more frequent brushing as they age. Aim for 2-3 times per week to keep their coat looking its best. This will distribute skin oils, remove loose hair, and prevent small tangles from forming.

Decreased Bathing

Many senior cats do not get bathed as often as they should. Bathing helps remove dirt, debris, and excess oils from a cat’s coat. According to How to Groom Your Senior Cat, long-haired cats should be bathed once a month while short-haired cats and senior cats may only need to be bathed every few months or so. However, many senior cat owners bathe their cats much less frequently.

Lack of regular bathing can allow dirt, debris, oils, and shed fur to accumulate in a senior cat’s coat. As noted by How to Groom Your Senior Cat, bathing helps remove these accumulations that can cause matted fur in older cats. Senior cats often do not groom themselves as thoroughly as younger cats. Their decreased mobility can also make it difficult for them to reach all areas that need grooming.

Therefore, decreased frequency of bathing often contributes to senior cats developing matted fur. Owners should aim to bathe their older cats regularly based on their coat length and grooming habits. This helps prevent dirt buildup that can exacerbate matting in aging cats.


Overweight and obese cats often have difficulty properly grooming themselves due to their excess body fat (The Facts of Grooming Fat Felines). The extra weight around their abdomen and thighs makes it challenging for them to reach areas like their backs, tails, and hindquarters in order to groom thoroughly. Obese cats may end up with matted fur in these hard-to-reach areas because their size and body shape prevents them from properly self-grooming.

Additionally, the decreased mobility and flexibility that comes with obesity also inhibits a cat’s ability to twist, extend, and maneuver themselves into grooming positions. Older cats that become obese may lose their agility and range of motion, limiting their grooming capability. With weight loss and exercise, some of these limitations may be reversed. However, in severe cases of long-term obesity, the impacts on flexibility and mobility may be permanent (Obesity In Cats).

Obesity also causes changes to a cat’s skin and coat that can contribute to matted fur. Obese cats tend to have more oily skin that can cause matts and tangles (Obesity in Cats – VCA Animal Hospitals). The decreased grooming capability combined with oily and potentially matted fur puts obese cats at a much higher risk of developing severe mats, especially in hard-to-reach areas.

Tips for Preventing Matted Fur

There are several things you can do to help prevent your older cat’s fur from getting matted:

  • Brush your cat more frequently – aim for daily brushing if possible. Be gentle and work out mats slowly rather than ripping through them. Use a dematting comb or slicker brush designed for cats.
  • Give your cat more frequent baths to keep their coat clean and detangled. Ask your vet how often is appropriate. Use a moisturizing cat shampoo.
  • Make sure your cat maintains a healthy diet and gets adequate exercise to prevent obesity. Obese cats can have more difficulty grooming.
  • Bring your cat to the veterinarian regularly. Your vet can check for any medical issues causing matted fur and provide tips for senior cat care.

With more frequent grooming, bathing, and vet checkups, you can stay on top of your older cat’s coat care and prevent painful mats from forming.

When to Seek Veterinary Care

If your cat’s fur becomes severely matted, it is important to seek veterinary care. Matted fur can irritate a cat’s skin, leading to lesions, ulcers and possibly skin infection. Matted fur also retains moisture, further contributing to skin issues. According to PetVet Care Centers, signs of skin irritation or infection that warrant a vet visit include:

  • Red, swollen skin
  • Scabs or open sores
  • Foul odor
  • Excessive scratching or licking of the skin

Severely matted fur can be painful and difficult to remove. Well-meaning owners may attempt to cut out mats themselves, which risks injuring the cat’s skin. The ASPCA recommends bringing severely matted cats to a veterinarian or professional groomer for safe detangling and shaving. They can sedate the cat if necessary to painlessly remove the mats without causing trauma to the skin. Leaving severely matted fur unattended can lead to serious skin damage and infection.

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