What Are the Benefits of Snuffle Mats for Dogs?
Snuffle mats may be the perfect solution if you’ve ever wondered how to engage your dog’s senses while turning mealtime into a fun adventure! While they don’t look too fancy or elaborate, these interactive mats are an excellent way o tap into your dog’s natural foraging instincts and provide a host of benefits beyond just meals or playtime.
In this article, we’ll dive into the wonderful world of snuffle mats, including the many benefits from keeping boredom at bay to keeping their mind sharp well into their senior years. Plus, I’ll share a little insight into the snuffle mats we love most for our pack of 3 crazy (and lovable) pups.
What Is a Snuffle Mat?
A snuffle mat is a flat feeding mat incorporating strategically placed strips of felt or material, pockets, folds, or other places where food and treats can be hidden. When treats or kibble are placed in the snuffle mat, they challenge dogs to sniff and forage. The soft fabric construction can easily be moved around while searching and is gentle on your dog’s face. The process mimics the experience of hunting for and seeking their food in the wild.
Do Snuffle Mats Make Dogs Tired?
Yes! The most effective way to wear a dog out is through mental enrichment – even more so than physical activity. Snuffle mats combine physical and mental stimulation by challenging your dog to use their nose and forage for food.
Is a Snuffle Mat Better Than a Puzzle Feeder?
If you currently use puzzle feeders for your dog’s mealtime solution, you may wonder which of the two products is the best option. The truth is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Both food puzzles and snuffle mats offer great benefits, including slowing fast eaters, challenging the mind, and turning mealtime into a fun, sensory activity. But they each have their pros and cons to consider.
Food puzzles, or puzzle feeders, are often made from rubber or plastic. This can be hard for over-excited dogs as they tend to shove their noses into the feeder while trying to grab their food, potentially causing injuries. Snuffle mats, on the other hand (or paw), are soft and forgiving.
Snuffle mats can be folded up or rolled, making them easier to store or bring with you when you are traveling. But they are less sturdy and resistant to damage. For this reason, snuffle mats often show wear and tear earlier than puzzle feeders and need to be replaced more frequently.
So, should you purchase a snuffle mat or a puzzle feeder? The answer will depend on your dog, their personality, and your preferences.
Are Snuffle Mats Good for Chewers?
No, if you have a dog known for destroying their toys and other items, you may want to think twice about introducing the snuffle mat. While many food puzzles and interactive toys are made from durable rubber or plastic, snuffle mats are constructed with felt or fabric. This means that they can easily be torn apart by a dog that is determined to do so.
A destructive dog could be costly, requiring you to replace your snuffle mats continually. But the bigger concern is that they could ingest the pieces of the snuffle mat leading to a dangerous or life-threatening digestive blockage.
Even if your dog is usually gentle with their toys, they should always be supervised when using a snuffle mat. This will allow you to spot when your dog is becoming destructive, preventing them from eating something they shouldn’t. When your dog has found all their food or treats, remove the mat to eliminate the temptation.
Benefits of Snuffle Mats for Your Dog
If you’re still unsure whether to introduce a snuffle mat to your dog, here are a few of the many benefits they offer.
Your dog’s sense of smell is one of the ways that they explore the world around them. Consider the last time you took your pup for a walk. They likely stopped to smell the “pee mail” left behind by other dogs along the way and any other interesting scents in the area. When introducing a snuffle mat, they must use that sense of smell to find their food or treats. This helps them learn how to channel this gift.
Slow Fast Feeders
Do you have a dog that eats so quickly that they risk making themselves sick? Not only is eating too quickly problematic because it can upset your dog’s stomach, but it may cause a life-threatening condition known as Gastric Dilation-Volvulus (GDV) or bloat. By introducing a challenge to their food, like a food puzzle, treat-dispensing toy, or snuffle mat, you can slow your dog down, encouraging them to actually taste their food.
Encourage Natural Instincts
Your dog possesses many natural instincts and desires that can be traced back to their ancestors. These desires can incorporate many different desires, depending on their breed, but they all have one thing in common – all dogs can trace their lineage back to early wild dogs that had to hunt and forage for their food. Today’s dogs don’t have to worry about hunting, their food is made readily available, but many enjoy going through the motions. When you hide your dog’s kibble in a snuffle mat, they can tap into these instincts and live “on the wild side” for a moment.
There are many known causes of anxiety in dogs, but one big one to consider is boredom. Having nothing to do to stimulate their mind can trigger or worsen your dog’s stress levels or anxiety, leading to undesirable behaviors like barking, digging, chewing, and more. By feeding your dog using a snuffle mat, you provide the mental enrichment necessary to lessen their boredom and, as a result, reduce anxiety. This isn’t a complete solution for all types of anxiety – but it is an excellent addition to your greater treatment plan.
Entertainment for Dogs in Recovery
Do you have a dog currently recovering from surgery or illness? If so, you may be faced with the incredible challenge that is crate rest. It doesn’t take long for a dog on crate rest to start feeling stir-crazy with nowhere to focus this energy. Snuffle mats are perfect for these situations by offering crate-friendly entertainment. Plus, the fact that they are made from such soft materials means that you don’t have to worry about any irritation or further injuries.
Effectively Burn Energy
Do you have a high-energy dog in your life? If so, you’re not alone! Our young pup Lucifer is a German Shepherd/Australian Cattle Dog meaning there is no shortage of energy in his day. While we prioritize getting him out and active, this isn’t possible in some situations – like on a rainy day. This is where the snuffle mat can be beneficial. As your dog works to seek out their food or treats in the mat, they are effectively burning energy. As the old saying goes, “A tired dog is a good dog.”
Easy to Clean
If you have tried feeding your dog using food puzzles or slow feeder dishes, you know they can be frustrating to clean. With so many little nooks and crannies, ensuring you get all food out and adequately disinfect the feeder often takes a long time. For this reason, many dog parents will give up on using these products over time. Luckily, many snuffle mats can be thrown in the washing machine.
Traveling with your pet means packing everything they need during your adventures. If you are a frequent pet-friendly traveler (like we are), you know how quickly their gear can add up. Introducing bulky slow feeder dishes or food puzzles into the mix can considerably add to the space needed for your dog. But several snuffle mats are specifically designed with travel in mind. We have mats that roll up with a strap to hold them in place and mats that gather with a drawstring for easy travel.
Our Snuffle Mat of Choice: The Pet Parents Forager Mats
I would be lying if I pretended that we don’t have a collection of different snuffle mats here at the house, including an assortment of sizes, colors, and styles. The truth is that we love the option to feed our dogs with snuffle mats, and that has led us to try many different options – including several that we love and a few that fell short of our expectations. However, one mat has stood out above the others in terms of its quality, washability, and functionality, and that’s the Pet Parents Forager Mat.
With our girl Daviana being older, her eyesight is starting to fail. Feeding her in a snuffle mat is an excellent way to challenge her mind without risking her hitting her nose off a hard puzzle feeder that she can’t see to solve. Unfortunately, it also means that she tends to rub her nose around on the material even more than our younger boys, and with some of the felt snuffle mats, that can leave her nose raw and painful.
The soft material of the Forager mats is very forgiving as she sniffs about. Meanwhile, the non-slip back ensures that it stays put so that she doesn’t have to worry about it sliding (and her slipping with it).
Our favorite part about this particular mat is its convenience for travel as we often spend our time in campsites across the province. The mat rolls up easily with a strap to hold it in place, making it easy to bring wherever the road takes us. When feeding the pups in the tent or the vehicle on a rainy day, it helps to keep our space clean – even when you have a slobbery dog. Indiana has been known to make quite the mess with his food and water, but this mat just soaks it up and keeps everything contained. Throw it in the wash when we get home, and we’re ready to go.
Our boys are speed eaters, and offering meals in this mat has slowed them down considerably.
Final Thoughts: The Benefits of Snuffle Mats for Dogs
Whether you’re searching for an easy solution to slow down the speed eater in your life or simply looking for a way to offer mental enrichment with your dog’s meal, a snuffle mat is a great solution. They tap into your dog’s natural desire to forage for their food, challenging their mind and encouraging them to use their strong sense of smell. It’s a great way to take your dog’s meal to the next level!
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.
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