Our dogs love mealtime, but it’s over so quickly! Food often disappears with a single gulp. In a matter of seconds, you’re getting the LOOK again (“more?”). If you’re searching for a way to slow down your dog’s eating time, a snuffle mat may be your answer. Snuffle mats are a simple canine “enrichment toy.” These chunky fabric mats provide places to hide kibble or treats so dogs can search for them, encouraging dogs to engage in their natural foraging and sniffing behaviors to find food. Research has shown that the acts of deliberately finding and reaching for food increase the release of digestive enzymes and aid the digestive process. Snuffle mats encourage these behaviors in dogs, but also come with an added benefit: fun! Dogs love to do it, so it’s double the enjoyment at mealtime.
Slowing down a food-scarfing pup isn’t the only reason to give a snuffle mat a try. Engaging in natural behaviors such as foraging and nosework also stimulates your dog’s brain. Using the mat to find food requires scent locating and problem-solving skills. Playing this “game” can help keep young dogs from getting bored and keep old dogs’ cognitive function in top condition. Some mats even come with different types of hiding places for food. These require dogs to learn different actions to retrieve their treats. Learn more about keeping your dog’s brain active here.
In addition, snuffle mats can be great puzzle toys for dogs such as bulldogs and pugs whose flatter muzzles don’t allow them to use most traditional food-dispensing toys. And yes, cats like them, too! Although naturally hunters rather than foragers, many cats still enjoy the hide-and-seek fun of a snuffle mat or, better yet, a snuffle ball. Not all dogs will take well to using a snuffle mat, however. Some dogs would rather cheat the game, learning to pick up the mat and shake it to get the food out.
A variety of snuffle mats are available on the market, either online or at your favorite pet supply store. Most are made of synthetic fleece, though some are available in sturdier, canvas-like materials. The snuffle mat also comes in a wide array of colors and styles. One company, SnuffleMutt, allows you to custom order your desired colors and even represent your favorite sports team. In the UK, a clever small business called RuffleSnuffle makes cat-specific snuffle ball toys to entertain cats with or without the addition of hidden treats. They also make snuffle mats especially for guinea pigs!
Snuffle mats usually range from $15.00 to $60.00, depending on brand, size and materials. As an alternative to purchasing a snuffle mat or ball, try making your own. It’s pretty simple, and lots of tutorial articles and videos are available online. This one uses a rubber sink mat and strips of scrap fleece. A heavy-duty rubber shower mat is also a favorite snuffle mat base, and its weight can help discourage the “flip and shake” method of treat acquisition. Making a DIY snuffle mat for your dog could keep your kids AND your dog entertained on a rainy fall afternoon.
As with most toys, a snuffle mat isn’t completely indestructible. Always supervise your dog’s snuffle mat activity. Some dogs like to chew the mats and should never be left alone with them. Ingesting bits of fleece is harmful to your dog’s digestive system and could require surgery. If you have an especially determined or sneaky chewer, a more durable enrichment toy might be a better option. But many dogs love their snuffle mats. These inventive brain-teasers allow dogs to engage in natural behaviors indoors in a non-destructive way. If you and your dog or cat haven’t tried one, a snuffle mat might be just the thing to help your pet become an even more mentally stimulated and content individual. A happier belly comes as a bonus!