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When matted fur takes its toll: Duncan’s story

15 March 2024

Longhaired cats are particularly susceptible to matting, where the fur becomes knotted and tangled. When left to progress, the knots can grow tighter and cause pain and health issues. This is exactly what happened to Duncan.

When matted fur takes its toll: Duncan’s story

At SPCA it’s not uncommon to meet long-haired animals suffering with matted fur. It’s important to recognise what matting is and what causes it, so that pet owners know what to look for, and how to keep their animals happy and healthy.

Matting can occur when animals shed their undercoat, and the fur becomes caught in the top coat. For cats, it can also happen when fur becomes dirty or oily, making it easy to tangle.

Most cats are able to take care of their coats themselves, self grooming, using their tongues to remove dirt and loose hair. The problem? Health issues may prevent cats from being able to do this. Arthritic cats or cats with oral injury or disease may struggle, as can overweight cats or those lacking flexibility. Some simply have fur that is too long for them to keep on top of, and require regular brushing. If you're concerned that your pet has matted fur, or you notice they're not self-grooming, reach out to your local vet for advice.

Duncan had severely matted fur when he came into our care.
Duncan had severely matted fur when he came into our care.

Duncan's rescue

After being found wandering all alone, Duncan was brought into our Dunedin Centre. He had some of the most severely matted fur our team had seen.

Though we were unable to determine his exact age, our vets estimated him to be about eight years old. Being a long-haired stray, and an older cat too, it was clear that the matting had been present for a long time.

What broke the team’s hearts wasn’t only his poor condition or the unknown length of time he’d been suffering - but that he was absolutely terrified of humans. Duncan would do whatever he could to hide, and would flinch away whenever somebody came near.

After his check-up, Duncan was vaccinated, and given flea and worm treatment. With somewhere warm and safe to sleep, and plenty of food, the exhausted boy at last had some time to rest and recuperate while the team were able to think about how to tackle his extensively matted fur.

Unfortunately the matting was so severe that simply brushing it wasn’t going to be enough. The team decided that shaving his fur off was the only way forward; but with Duncan’s extreme anxiety and fear of humans, they knew the kindest option was to sedate him while he was shaved.

Only the fur on his tail, paws and head was able to remain, giving him a unique – but still very sweet – look. With shaving completed, Duncan remained in the care of our Dunedin Centre, but sadly wasn’t making any progress with his anxiety.

"He was like a completely different cat."

SPCA Animal Attendant Robbie was one of the team who worked closely with Duncan, and was saddened by the boy’s lack of behavioural improvement.

“We had him at the Centre for five weeks, and during this time he made no progress. He seemed anxious and depressed… he would let us pat him eventually, but it always seemed like he was tolerating it, not enjoying it,” Robbie said.

“I had a feeling that Duncan had the potential to be a lovely, friendly cat if we could get him out of the shelter environment.” We know that no animal thrives in shelters, and in Duncan’s case, this was especially clear.

With that idea, Robbie decided to take Duncan home with him, and set him up in his spare room. It didn’t take long for Robbie to know his gut instinct had been spot on.

Duncan went home with Robbie to experience life in loving foster care.
Duncan went home with Robbie to experience life in loving foster care.

“After a few days and lots of treats, Duncan started to come out of his shell, and for the first time actually seemed to be enjoying pats and attention!” Robbie said. “After a couple of weeks, he was a completely different cat. He would purr, roll over onto his back, and sometimes when I took my hand away he would actually use a paw to gently grab my hand back, and pull it back for more pats.”

Duncan soon started to show affection.
Duncan soon started to show affection.

This is an occurrence we see frequently. Some animals are terrified in shelter environments, where there are just too many new people, noises, smells, and other animals for them to feel settled and secure. Visitors may write them off as being “too shy” or “unfriendly”, while the reality is that they simply need a loving home for their real personalities to shine.

Ready for adoption

As Duncan had been so extremely timid, it was decided that he shouldn’t return to the Centre to be put up for adoption after all the progress we’d seen while he was in foster with Robbie. The risk was too great that the poor boy would slip backwards, and return to the anxious cat he was at the very beginning.

The team listed him for adoption, with the condition that any potential adopters be comfortable coming to meet him in his foster environment. Any initial concerns that this might take a while were quickly dashed, as he received his first application within just a few days!

Robbie and the team were thrilled. The kind adopter even drove three hours from Temuka to come and meet Duncan.

“It was love at first sight,” Robbie said. “While Duncan was a little apprehensive of this new person at first, it wasn’t long before she had him eating treats out of her hand.”

Duncan went on to his new home, and seeing these results and the complete change in his behaviour is what makes all of the hard work worthwhile. Robbie checked in with his new owner recently who told us that he’s started to settle in to his forever home well.

“Duncan is great,” new owner Dale said. “While he can sometimes be timid still, he lets me pat him and he has such a great appetite. I love him to bits. And I’m sure he loves me too!”

We want to say a special thank you to Robbie and his partner for taking Duncan in to their loving home, and showing this sweetheart how to trust again. We’re so grateful for their dedication, as it’s often this short-term care that makes the difference for animals trying to find a forever home.

If you’re interested in fostering an animal like Duncan, you can learn more here.

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