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Are snuffle mats good for dogs? A vet's view

Are snuffle mats good for dogs?
(Image credit: AWOOF)

Are you wondering "Are snuffle mats good for dogs?" You’re not alone! The best snuffle mats for dogs have taken the world by storm over the last five years or so, and are often recommended as the ‘must have’ slow feeder for dogs eating dry dog food. But what are snuffle mats? Are they good for dogs? Or do they have downsides that pet parents should be aware of? 

What is a snuffle mat?

A type of dog puzzle toy, a snuffle mat is designed to hide dry food, making it more difficult to eat and encouraging dogs to use their hunting skills to locate it. A snuffle mat consists of a rubber, fabric, or plastic mat base. Fabric (usually fleece) is then knotted or sewn into the base with long tails left sticking up as if to imitate grass. Dry food, treats, or kibble can then be sprinkled into the mat so that the dog has to seek it out.

Most dogs love using a snuffle mat as it allows them to use their powerful sense of smell to hunt out food. They come in various shapes and sizes. Some are washable, some have a heavy base to help them stay in one place, and there are even instructions for DIY snuffle mats.

Five reasons why snuffle mats are good for dogs

So why should you use a snuffle mat for your dog or puppy? Well, there are lots of benefits of snuffle mats – let’s take a look at some of the main ones.

1. Provide mental stimulation to reduce boredom

Dogs get bored, and bored dogs are prone to naughty behaviours. Food is one of the best ways to motivate dogs and give them something to do all day. After all, dogs in the wild would have spent most of their waking hours thinking about food and looking for it, but it only takes a couple of minutes for a dog to finish a bowl of food and then the boredom sets in. Using a snuffle mat means your dog can spend longer foraging for his food, giving him mental stimulation. This is especially important in those that can’t have their usual mental stimulation – for instance, those on restricted exercise as part of a recovery program. 

2. Slows down eating to avoid bloat and stomach pain

If your dog is a greedy guzzler you probably know all too well some of the effects of speedy eating. Some dogs even use their abdominal muscles to create a vacuum, literally hoovering down their food. Vomiting, regurgitation, diarrhoea, stomach pain, and even bloat are all common in dogs that eat too quickly. Luckily, using a snuffle mat is one of the ways that you can slow down their eating to reduce the risk of these things occurring.

3. Burns energy for a calmer dog

If your dog is prone to the zoomies or has too much energy when out for a walk, you’ll be pleased to hear that the snuffle mat can help them to calm down. As well as providing mental stimulation, the sniffing and foraging behaviours help to produce happy hormones and the required focus gives your dog an outlet for all that energy. Spending 15 minutes using their brain can be just as tiring as walking for an hour, so it’s a great way to get them to burn energy whilst you get on with other things!

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PAW5: Wooly Snuffle Mat $39.85
This 12" x 18" snuffle mat is handmade using non-toxic, sustainable materials and is suitable for any size of dog. It’s designed with canines in mind but the modern gray coloring means it won’t be an eyesore around the house. The mat is fully machine washable making it easy to keep clean and fresh.

4. Provides entertainment to help curb separation anxiety

Snuffle mats, along with other food puzzle toys, can help with separation anxiety in dogs. They provide a valuable distraction when you leave the house so that your dog isn’t focussed on you when you leave. They can also provide independent entertainment, helping your dog to relax and enjoy himself even when you aren’t by his side. If your dog is already suffering from separation anxiety, you should talk to a dog behaviourist about appropriate steps to take alongside the snuffle mat, as it won’t be enough for extremely stressed dogs.

5. Encourages use of the brain to help stave off doggy dementia

Doggy dementia (or ‘Canine Cognitive Dysfunction’/CCD) is a common condition of older dogs. Like humans, dogs suffering with dementia become anxious in their senior years. They struggle to remember commands and may forget their toilet training. Some dogs can become forgetful day-to-day, too, and their sleep-wake cycle can change, causing insomnia. It’s thought that the onset of canine dementia can be slowed by encouraging dogs to continue using their brains as they age. In other words, a snuffle mat works like a Sudoku to help senior brains stay active!

6. Helps with doggy diets by reducing begging

It’s very common for modern dogs to be overweight. In fact, it’s so common that vets consider it to be one of the most concerning welfare issues dogs are facing. Unfortunately, ‘giving in when my pet begs for food’ was the most common reason given by owners for dogs to be overweight. One advantage of snuffle mats is that they slow down eating, giving the body time to recognise the fact it’s full. Dogs fed slowly will feel full towards the end of their meal, reducing the amount of begging occurring afterwards. In turn, this should help owners stick to their dog’s diet and help them shift those extra pounds!

Do snuffle mats have any downsides, then?

Well, put simply, not really. In fact, I asked a large group of vets what they thought, and nobody has seen any medical or behavioural issues with them! 

Of course, theoretically they could prove a choking hazard or end up as a foreign object if your dog chews and swallows the mat – so supervise your dog and make sure they’re using it correctly, especially if they’re a known ‘chewer’. As with all of the best dog toys, you should remove and replace it when it becomes old or torn to reduce the chances of pieces coming off and being swallowed.

Keeping the snuffle mat clean is important, as tiny bits of food can go stale and cause stomach upset when eaten, or encourage pests. Some can be machine washed, whilst others need hand washing – check the manufacturer’s directions for your snuffle mat before washing.

Snuffle mats can only be used with dried treats or kibble. Anything else will make a big mess pretty quickly! If your dog only eats wet food, consider swapping the snuffle mat for a rubber Kong-type toy.

In some dogs that show resource guarding behaviours, snuffle mats may not be a good choice. Increasing the length of time it takes a dog to eat his food is fine for many dogs, but if a dog is anxious and guarding his food it might be best to let him eat as quickly as he likes, especially if there are other pets in the house that might come sniffing! If your dog guards his food from other pets or people, you should talk to a behaviourist about the best ways to help, as resource guarding can be very dangerous.

Conclusion

So, that’s it! Snuffle mats are a great way to entertain a dog and provide them with mental stimulation as well as slow their eating. Working for your food is far more entertaining and rewarding than simply being given a large bowl full, and they’re suitable for puppies, elderly dogs, and those recovering from physical injury or surgery. Why not give it a go?

Dr Joanna Woodnutt MRCVS

After graduating as a veterinarian from the University of Nottingham, Dr Joanna Woodnutt went on to practice companion animal medicine in the Midlands. She quickly developed a love of consulting and helping clients with medical problems such as dermatology, behaviour and nutrition - anything that involved helping clients understand their pets better. Jo started writing about pet health in 2017, realising that it meant she could help even more pet parents. Since then, she has written for countless online and print publications and is a regular contributor for Edition Dog Magazine. Jo now lives in the Channel Islands with her husband Ian and terrier Pixie, and they are expecting their first child very soon.