Can Lick Mats Calm My Anxious Dog?
As loving dog parents, we are always looking for new and effective ways to provide for our best friend’s happiness and well-being. This includes boosting their mental health with regular mental enrichment and addressing concerns like high stress levels or anxiety. One simple and budget-friendly addition to the world of canine enrichment is the dog lick mat.
But is a lick mat the right choice for your dog? Let’s look at what a lick mat is and how you can use it to contribute to the happy, healthy life your pup deserves!
What Are Lick Mats?
Lick mats are mats made from rubber or silicone with a textured surface. This texture creates small pockets and spaces for you to spread your dog’s favorite soft, spreadable treat. As your dog licks the top of the mat, they use their tongue to get the delicious reward. Not only does this keep your dog occupied and entertained, but it may also provide a calming effect.
Studies have found that licking is a naturally soothing activity. This is why dogs experiencing stress or anxiety are prone to excessive licking of their paws or stomachs to the point of fur loss. Studies have shown that as your dog licks, they release endorphins, chemicals that create a feeling of calmness and euphoria. This burst of happiness can help them adjust to an otherwise difficult situation.
The Different Styles of Lick Mat
While lick mats are, at their root, a mat, several different designs and interpretations have emerged to address different situations. Some of the more common options available include:
- Traditional Lick Mats: As the name suggests, traditional lick mats are flat rubber or silicone mats. They are commonly found in a square or rectangular shape, but some companies get creative with fun shapes and designs.
- Lick Mat Bowls: These feature a rounded bowl shape with texturing on the inside. Most lick mat bowls can also be flipped inside-out to create a textured dome for another fun experience.
- Suction Cup Lick Mats: Traditional lick mats with suction cups on the back, these are often used as a distraction during bathing by hanging them on the tub or shower wall.
What Are the Benefits of Dog Lick Mats?
These little mats may seem super basic and not too special, but you may be surprised to learn that they offer many benefits for you and your dog.
As I mentioned, dog lick mats are an excellent solution for reducing stress and anxiety. If you know your dog will be facing an otherwise stressful situation, consider preparing a lick mat to make the experience easier to handle. You can take this anxiety-reducing effect up a level by filling your dog’s lick mat with foods that offer natural calming properties, like sweet potato, turkey, and blueberries.
Lick mats can also be used as a form of distraction. Groomers and veterinarians commonly use them to capture and hold the attention of dogs during procedures like nail trims, bath time, and physical exams.
Do you have a dog with a lot of excess energy? A lick mat may be the perfect choice to keep your dog busy, giving them a positive outlet and eliminating boredom. I often use lick mats to distract the pups while working from home or on important Zoom calls.
Finally, a little-discussed benefit of lick mats is their ability to support your dog’s dental health. As your dog licks the ribbed textures on the mat, any bacteria on their tongue will be naturally scraped away. This helps to reduce the amount of unwanted bacteria in your dog’s mouth, reduce plaque buildup, and improve your dog’s breath.
Do Lick Mats Help with Separation Anxiety?
Yes, having access to a lick mat can help to reduce separation anxiety. These mats will offer a distraction from the fact that you have left, making it easier for your dog to overlook that they are home alone. At the same time, the soothing act of licking will address the feelings of stress and anxiety that they often feel when you leave the house.
However, you must consider your dog’s behavior with toys before filling a lick mat and leaving them unsupervised. These mats are made from rubber or silicone, so they aren’t the most durable option. If you have a heavy chewer or a dog known to be destructive with their toys, a lick mat can be easily torn apart. If pieces of the mat are swallowed, this can lead to a dangerous or even life-threatening gastrointestinal obstruction.
How Do You Use a Dog Lick Mat?
After reading about the benefits of using a dog lick mat, does this sound like something that could be useful in your dog’s life? If so, you may be wondering how to use this tool with your pup. The good news is that it is incredibly simple! Spread a treat across the top of the lick mat, filling the little grooves in the texture. You can also add some non-spreadable treats on top, like kibble, using the soft base treat to hold everything in place.
If you want to take the challenge to the next level, place it in the freezer after filling your dog’s lick mat. As your dog licks the mat, they slowly thaw the treat, releasing it from the mat.
Some treat options to use with your dog’s lick mat include:
- Mashed sweet potato
- Greek yogurt
- Mashed fruit or fruit purees
- Veggie purees
- Peanut butter
- Cottage cheese
- Canned tuna or salmon
- Baby food
- Wet or canned dog food
- Lickable or creamy commercial treats
When Should I Use a Lick Mat for My Dog?
Offering your dog a lick mat isn’t going to be a quick fix for every negative situation they face. But they can provide some much-needed comfort in a wide variety of otherwise challenging or uncomfortable situations. Here are a few examples of circumstances where a lick mat may prove to be beneficial:
New Experiences or Surroundings
Are you planning on bringing your dog somewhere new and unsure how they will respond? New surroundings can be overwhelming for your pup. They introduce new sounds, smells, and sights. Introducing the lick mat can distract them from anything else happening around them, giving them time to adjust to this new environment.
When You Have Company Over
Do you have a dog that often gets over-excited or worked up when you have friends or family over to the house? Before your guests are expected to arrive, fill your dog’s lick mat and place it in the freezer. After everyone has settled, pull out the lick mat to give your dog something positive to focus on. This is a great way to ensure you and your loved ones can relax and enjoy one another’s company.
Slow Fast Eaters
Eating too quickly can lead to serious health complications, including gastric dilation-volvulus (or bloat). One of the best ways to prevent this is to find ways to force your dog to slow down. This includes interactive toys, food dispensers, food puzzles, and, of course, lick mats! If your dog usually eats a diet of canned food, spreading it on the lick mat is a quick way to make a significant difference. If they are kibble fed, choose a healthy spreadable treat to create a surface in the lick mat to stick the kibble into. Freezing the lick mat will slow your dog down further.
Crate Rest or Recovery
Do you have a dog that is recovering from an illness or injury? If so, you may be in a situation where you need to keep your pup calm and relaxed. While some dogs adjust to crate rest easily, this isn’t true for all pups! For those that struggle with pent-up energy while on crate rest, having a mental outlet for that energy is the key to success. Consider giving your dog their meals on a lick mat to help exercise their mind and burn some energy, making it easier to stay calm and relaxed.
During Thunderstorms or Fireworks
If your dog is afraid of loud noises like thunderstorms or fireworks, you may be searching for a solution to distract them and help them get through these otherwise frightening situations. A lick mat may be the answer that you’re looking for. Fill the lick mat with your dog’s favorite treats, something they don’t regularly get, to make it an extra special reward. Set your pup up in a quiet room of the house, away from windows and doors, where the sound is louder. If you know that a big holiday or event is coming up that is likely to bring fireworks, like the 4th of July, prepare a lick mat or two in advance and stick them in the freezer so that you are ready to respond quickly if the noises start.
Our Go-To Solution: Hyper Pet IQ Treat Mat
The concept of the dog lick mat and its ability to help reduce stress and anxiety is one that I have been familiar with for quite a while. Having been actively involved in the rescue world, I have spent much time helping dogs from less-than-ideal situations adjust to their new (and better) lives. This often means finding ways to keep them calm as they learn that the world doesn’t have to be seen as scary.
More recently, we brought our youngest pup Lucifer into the family. Before adopting him, he had been through a traumatic situation that left him with some serious injuries to overcome – both physical and mental.
One of the best solutions we have found to help Lucifer deal with uncomfortable situations is to provide him with a Hyper Pet IQ Treat Mat and some of his favorite dog-friendly snacks.
For example, shortly after adopting him, we realized that car rides were uncomfortable for him. He would try to climb into my lap constantly for comfort or completely shut down due to his anxiety. We could distract and calm him during the ride by preparing a lick mat before heading out. Doing this regularly not only offered an immediate solution but also helped to create a positive association with the vehicle for future rides.
- Budget-friendly option to address anxiety
- Can be used with any soft or lickable treat
- Provides mental enrichment and helps address pent-up energy in high-energy dogs
- Can be chewed up easily by heavy or destructive chewers if left unsupervised
- May create a messy situation if the mat is flipped
Dog lick mats are a low-cost and easy solution to helping your dog calm down in an otherwise stressful situation. This can be used effectively to address all forms of anxiety or nervousness, including encountering new situations, fearful situations like thunderstorms, or moments of high stress. At an even more basic level, they can be paired with your dog’s favorite treats for a fun form of mental enrichment. Lick mats are a great way to support your dog’s happy, healthy life – physically and mentally.
Britt Kascjak is a proud pet mom, sharing her heart (and her home) with her “pack” which includes her husband John, their 3 dogs – Daviana, Indiana, and Lucifer – and their 2 cats – Pippen and Jinx. She has been active in the animal rescue community for over 15 years, volunteering, fostering and advocating for organizations across Canada and the US. In her free time, she enjoys traveling around the country camping, hiking, and canoeing with her pets.
More by Britt