Does your dog eat too fast? It’s something that can be really bad for your pet’s health but luckily we can slow them down with this DIY snuffle mat!
Last year I became a bit concerned about the weight of my dog Ollie. After food restriction, diet kibble and lots of exercise it seemed like nothing would help. And big boy was getting big. Like 85 pounds instead of 55 pounds BIG. I found myself searching online for something that might help and I found something called a snuffle mat. I watched videos of dogs literally working for their supper and figured that by slowing Ollie’s eating down, it would help him realize he’s full and not eat so much.
It’s something I remember other girls telling me in high school. And if you want dieting tips, girls in high school seem to really be in the know :) Apparently, when you eat slowly you give your brain enough time to realize that your stomach is full. When you just snarf business down, instead, by the time the message is received by your noggin, you’re already overeating. This seemed like a logical way to encourage Ollie to slow down his eating and, hopefully, lose some weight.
Completely out of ideas to get Ollie back to his optimal weight, a snuffle mat sounded like just the ticket!
What is a Snuffle Mat?
Want a little more detail? A snuffle mat is also known as a sniff mat, sniffle mat or an enrichment mat. It is made of strips, most often of fleece, that are tied to a frame or mat. The strips of fabric perfectly hide away little pieces of kibble that your pet then sniffs out.
Different pets interact with a snuffle mat differently. Some will become very animated and dig out each piece of food. Others will calmly lay down and slowly root out each and every piece. And others will go little nuts and just sort of swing the mat around, collecting the kibble that falls out. Or at least that’s how the 2 dogs and 1 cat I’ve tested my mat with all interacted with our mat! :) And they’re not just for dogs… Snuffle mats work for both cats and dogs as well as other pets. They don’t say “ferret out” for no reason, right?!?
The primary reason I made our snuffle mat was to slow down Ollie’s eating habits by encouraging him to forage for his food rather than rapidly eat it from a bowl. But it can also be used as an enrichment type of toy, something we also do often.
What do you need to make one?
Luckily the supplies you need to make your own mat at home are few. These supplies are also inexpensive making it smarter to DIY if you have the time, but if you want to just buy one and be done with it, a snuffle mat I based my design off of.
- Non-skid Sink Mat
- Fleece fabric OR Fleece Throw (approximately 1.5 – 2 yards per mat)
- Rotary Cutter, Straight Edge & Self-healing Mat (optional)
A non-skid sink mat makes the perfect base for a snuffle mat. You want something sturdy like rubber or bendable plastic that has frequent openings. You don’t want something made of foam which can be easily torn or with tiny openings that will be difficult to work the fabric into.
And for the fabric you need fleece. Now, I had a lot of fleece fabric lying in my stash, but only a third or quarter a yard of a handful of different colors. That worked out well, though, because I think the rainbow fleece mat I made is actually really pretty! Even if you can’t stash-bust, this doesn’t have to be an expensive project. Wanting to make a second mat for another family of pups I made a second mat for around $7. You know those inexpensive fleece blankets they sell at Walmart for around $3 apiece? If you need to source your fleece material, THAT is the way to go! Ooh, but don’t buy the one I’m linking to. Click it to see what I’m talking about but then take yourself to Walmart to get one for a lot less.
How do you make a snuffle mat?
Gather your fleece together. The thicker it is the less you’ll need. If using a thick fleece try to gather 1.5 yards of scraps or, if needed, just purchase it outright. Also, don’t forget that you can buy inexpensive fleece throws if the price at the fabric store has you under sticker shock :)
Cut your sheet of fleece folded, cut the fabric into strips that are 6-7 inches wide. Discard (or stash) any fleece that is less than 6″ wide. Cut those pieces of fabric into strips that are 1 inch wide. To speed things up you can layer 2 or 3 pieces of fleece and cut through them all in one go.
And let’s get real about something really quickly… I have O.C.D. and I am a perfectionist. With that being said you DO NOT have to use a rotary toolset to cut your fabric if you don’t want to. Scissors work just as well and your pets definitely won’t give a fig if the cuts are perfectly straight or not. If, say, you’re going to give a snuffle mat as a gift, or if you’re like me and NEED them to be straight, get after it with a ruler and make business perfect. Just remember, it’s not a requirement and if you only have scissors on hand, don’t go buy a rotary cutter just for this one project. Cool? :) Cool. Moving on…
If necessary, separate the pieces of fleece from one another. You want to be able to reach down and grab a single strip without having to peel them all apart as you work.
Like that. That’s getting to be perfect. If you have a cat, they won’t mind assisting with this part of the project :)
Each mat will be different, here’s how to tie the fabric on.
Take your rubber mat and set it down on a tabletop or your lap. Take one strip and tie it onto your dish mat with an overhand knot, pulling it tightly. There’s no need to double knot this. With the fleece in place, the fabric strips will be so firmly implanted that double-knotting isn’t necessary.
Different mats will have different patterns. For this mat I was able to tie one piece of fleece in every join of the circle shapes like you can see the red piece above. That made it look like there was a strip north, south, east and west on every circle shape. I could have added 4 more (NE, SE, SW and NW on the shape) but that was too full and you couldn’t separate strips well enough to hide food inside of the mat.
Do a sample section to see how much fleece works the best for your mat, if it is different. I’d suggest a few inches by a few inches tied to gauge how well that does. (You can see my test area at the corner of my mat). The thicker your fleece the less you will be able to tie on in each area and with thinner, you can have more. Just make sure that your end result is full and tight. Before tying on a lot of fleece, flip your mat over and make sure there are no holes that kibble can slip through.
How do you use a snuffle mat?
Using a snuffle mat is simple enough… Run your fingers through the fleece strips to sort of separate them. Just imagine you’re running your fingers through some sexy person’s hair. Haha! Just kidding! As your fingers run through the strips, it will create hiding places for kibble or treats. Sprinkle small bits of food throughout the mat. You can also give it a good shake so that it sinks into all of the little hiding spots the fabric strips make.
Allow your pet to smell the mat and then interact with it however he pleases. Your mat should withstand several uses before it needs it, but when dirty toss your mat into the washing machine. Then allow it to air dry.
Remember that every animal treats the mat a bit differently. It’s kind of interesting how their personality comes out when it’s time to play with the snuffle mat. Are they rambunctiously digging out their treats? Do they laze about and methodically remove each piece? But make no bones about it (see what I did there?) a snuffle is really good for your pets eating and play habits!
Oh, in case you were wondering, Mr. Ollie is about 70 pounds these days. Still, a way to go, but much better than before!