Cats are naturally inquisitive creatures who love to explore and hunt. Their powerful sense of smell allows them to gather information about their surroundings and track down prey.
While outdoor cats can satisfy these instincts by roaming and hunting, indoor cats miss out on many smell-stimulating activities. This can lead to boredom, frustration and stress.
Luckily, there’s a simple solution to keep your indoor cat entertained and engaged – a snuffle mat!
What is a Snuffle Mat?
A snuffle mat is an interactive feeding toy made of soft fabric with holes, pockets and other fabric textures sewn in. The mat is then stuffed with your cat’s dry food, treats or favorite toys so they can sniff out the goodies hidden inside.
Snuffle mats provide mental stimulation and fulfill cats’ natural desires to seek, stalk and capture. Using their keen sense of smell to locate hidden food is an enriching activity that taps into your cat’s primal instincts.
Snuffle mats are sometimes also called “snuffle rugs”, “sniffle blankets” or “nose work mats.” Whatever you call them, they are a great way to feed your cat while providing the mental engagement they crave. The more time cats spend using their brains, the happier and healthier they’ll be!
Benefits of Snuffle Mats for Cats
There are many advantages to using snuffle mats for your feline friend:
- Slows down eating – Snuffle mats encourage cats to take their time and eat more slowly for better digestion. No more gobbling down food in two seconds flat!
- Provides mental stimulation – Searching for hidden treats exercises your cat’s mind and problem-solving skills. Cats love having to work for their food.
- Reduces boredom – Seeking out treats in the nooks and crannies of the mat keeps cats happily occupied and less likely to get into mischief.
- Promotes natural behaviors – Snuffle mats allow cats to mimic hunting behaviors like sniffing, stalking, pouncing and foraging.
- Controls portion sizes – You can monitor how much your cat eats by controlling how much food you hide in the mat. No more overindulging!
- Alleviates stress and anxiety – The searching process has a calming effect and is a constructive outlet for nervous energy.
- Aids cognitive health – Mental exercise can help reduce cognitive decline and keep your aging cat’s mind sharp.
- Provides quality bonding time – Snuffle mats are a fun interactive experience you can share with your cat.
- Easy to make and use – Snuffle mats are simple to DIY or purchase and take just minutes to set up. Shake out when done!
While snuffle mats were originally made for dogs, feline fans soon realized cats reap the same intellectual and instinctual benefits. Snuffle mats give your indoor cat an outlet for their natural behaviors in a stimulating, rewarding way.
Let’s look at how to choose and make snuffle mats to keep your cat happily sniffing.
Choosing a Snuffle Mat for Your Cat
When selecting a snuffle mat for your cat, keep these tips in mind:
- Size – Mats should be large enough for your cat to move around on, but not so big they get lost. Approximately 12” x 18” is a good starter size.
- Fabric – Tightly woven fabrics like fleece prevent claws from getting caught. Avoid loose fabrics cats can pull strings from.
- Textures – Variable textures like velvet, corduroy, ribbons and fabrics with different pile heights make searching more interesting.
- Compartments – Multiple pockets, tunnels, sleeves and layers of fabric provide more hiding spots.
- Non-slip backing – A rubber backing will prevent the mat from sliding around during energetic play.
- Washable – Choose a mat made of machine-washable fabrics so you can maintain hygiene.
- Food-safe materials – Ensure any fabrics, dyes or other materials are non-toxic if ingested.
- Cat-proof – Mats should withstand scratching, biting and repeated use by an enthusiastic feline.
When first introducing your cat to a snuffle mat, lay it flat so it can adjust to the new textures and smells. Once they understand treats are hidden inside, you can begin folding and bunching them up to increase the challenge!
DIY Snuffle Mats for Cats
If you’re feeling crafty, it’s easy and inexpensive to make a custom snuffle mat for your cat to suit their preferences exactly. Here are some DIY tips and tricks:
- Use an old fleece blanket, towel, rug or any washable fabric as the base. Softer fabrics are ideal for not scratching your cat’s face.
- Cut or sew the fabric into different shapes and sizes to create pockets and compartments. Strips, squares and circles work well.
- Sew, glue or pin assorted fabrics onto the base mat like ribbons, burlap, felt, lace, suede, etc. Varying textures make it more engaging.
- Attach crinkle material like polyfill stuffing, tissue paper or mylar strips that crunch and crackle.
- Add some catnip or silvervine flakes into certain pockets to motivate your cat to keep searching.
- Hide treats, kibble and safe human foods like pieces of chicken inside pockets and under flaps.
- Use velcro strips to make closable pouches that you can secure and re-hide treats in.
- Attach a non-slip backing using a grippy shelf liner or anti-skid rubber mesh.
- Make mats reversible by decorating both sides differently. Then you can flip for variety.
- For advanced mats, add layers that can be peeled back or tunnels your cat has to crawl through.
- Customize the size from a single pocket up to a 3’ x 4’ play blanket. Scale it to your cat.
Monitoring your cat’s reactions will help determine what textures and layouts they respond to best. Some cats like searching through a long fringe while others prefer burrowing under blankets.
Add new elements periodically to keep them entertained. With a bit of creativity, you can make an endless variety of snuffle mat designs!
Filling Your Cat’s Snuffle Mat
Once you’ve chosen or constructed the perfect snuffle mat, it’s time to fill it with tempting treats to activate your cat’s seeking and sniffing instincts. Here are smart tips for filling snuffle mats:
- Use your cat’s regular dry food as an easy option. Hide a portion or the whole meal inside.
- Mix in freeze-dried meat treats, crushed cat treats or nutritional yeast flakes for higher-value rewards.
- Place treats in harder-to-reach spots like corners, under flaps and deep in tunnels to increase the challenge.
- Vary locations – your cat will remember the last time, so keep them guessing by frequently changing placement.
- Start with treats spread out in plain sight, then gradually hide them better as your cat gains experience.
- Adjust the number of treats based on your cat’s needs – hungry cats need more motivation!
- For food-motivated cats, add their favorite fresh foods like diced chicken, crumbled cheese or fish flakes.
- Always supervise your cat using the snuffle mat to ensure they don’t eat any non-edible parts.
- Shake out and refill the mat between uses to prevent bacterial growth and keep things hygienic.
Feel free to get creative with healthy food items to conceal inside! Just steer clear of anything that could present a choking risk for your cat. And never leave a stuffed snuffle mat unattended – it’s important cats are monitored at mealtimes.
Snuffle Mat Training Tips
Here are some helpful training tips to get your cat acquainted with snuffle mats:
- Introduce slowly – first, let them approach and sniff the empty mat, then place a few plain treats on top before gradually filling it.
- Reward progress – give your cat praise and pets while they learn to use the mat to reinforce the behavior.
- Prevent bullying – if you have multiple cats, monitor to ensure one doesn’t monopolize the mat and intimidate others.
- Add catnip – sprinkling some catnip across the mat can spark your cat’s interest and get them engaged with sniffing and searching.
- Demonstrate – show your cat there’s food inside the mat by lifting flaps and pockets yourself at first before letting them take over.
- Be patient – some cats will take to snuffle mats right away while others may need a few sessions to understand the concept. Stay positive!
- Keep it variable – mix up the fabric textures, treat locations and level of difficulty, so each experience is new and exciting.
- Don’t force – if your cat ever seems disinterested or overwhelmed, remove the mat and try again later at their own pace.
With regular use, snuffle mats become a rewarding game your cat looks forward to. It may take a bit of coaching at first, but as they realize how fun it is to hunt for hidden goodies, they’ll be hooked!
Snuffle Mat Safety Tips
While generally safe, here are some precautions to take when using snuffle mats with cats:
- Supervise fully – don’t leave your unattended cat with the mat to prevent accidental swallowing of loose pieces.
- Remove before washing – inspect thoroughly and take out any food debris before cleaning the mat.
- Air dry only – do not put snuffle mats in the dryer, the heat can damage or melt fabrics. Line dry instead.
- Check condition – inspect loose threads, holes or damaged parts on a regular basis. Discard if any fabric becomes hazardous.
- Avoid choking hazards – don’t use treats so big your cat needs to bite pieces off. Stick to small soft items.
- Monitor eating – ensure your cat is chewing thoroughly and not gulping down food too quickly in their eagerness.
- Disinfect weekly – clean mats frequently to prevent bacteria accumulation if they have contact with food.
- Allergies – ensure your cat isn’t allergic to any materials before use. Discontinue if irritation occurs.
- Know when to stop – put the mat away if your cat ever shows signs of aggression or stress over it.
With a few common sense precautions, snuffle mats are entirely safe feeding puzzles. Supervise the first few times your cat uses a new mat to ensure they don’t get their claws, teeth or nose stuck. It’s unlikely, but better safe than sorry!
Snuffle mats are an innovative way to tap into cats’ natural instincts in a stimulating yet low-stress way. The searching process provides your indoor cat with much-needed mental enrichment that benefits their overall well-being.
With so many options, you can find or create the perfect snuffle mat to match your cat’s preferences.
Just watch how intently they sniff out every morsel – your cat’s inner hunter will be unleashed! Stay tuned for more tips on keeping your feline friend happy and healthy.