What is a Lick Mat and Why Does Your Dachshund Need One? (And Which Ones to Buy)

I’m always looking for ways to bring more joy and enrichment to my Dachshund’s life and help keep them from getting bored when they’re hanging out in the house.

One of those ways is with enrichment toys and food puzzles.

We use several different types but today I want to share about dog lick mats.

I first started using them about 4 years ago but my interest and inspiration was recently renewed when I attended the Superzoo pet trade show.

Dog lick mats have really come a long way since the beginning. 

There are so many options available now, including dog lick mats of varying difficulty.

I know some of you aren’t familiar with what they are though so let’s start there.

Then I will go on to discuss lick mat safety, which ones we think are the best, lick mat toppings, how to clean them and more!

What is a Dog Lick Mat?

A dog lick mat is typically a flat piece of plastic or rubber (natural or synthetic) with a raised design, ridges, or bristles on the top.

There are some lick “mats” which are actually in the shape of a bowl but use the same concept.

You spread food and treats over the textured surface, thus trapping it in crevices.

When the food or treats are smooshed into the raised design, your Dachshund is not able to grab the food with their teeth and must use their tongue to get the food out instead.

Your Dachshund then licks the mat over and over to get it out.

Lick mats have different designs on top, and different depth of the ridges and bristles, which make the difficulty vary from easy to most difficult.

Lick mats fall into the pet product category called “canine enrichment”.

What is Canine Enrichment and Why is it Important?

If you’v enever heard of canine enrichment, you may be wondering what it is and why it matters.

In short, canine enrichment is a mentally-focused activity that stimulates the mind.

More generally, canine enrichment is “environmental enrichment” for animals applied specifically to dogs.

It’s often shortened to just “enrichment”.

Enrichment improves and enhances your dog’s mental state by providing activities intended to challenge and exercise your dog’s brain and providing an outlet for your dog’s natural instincts.

Enrichment activities require problem solving and new learing skills.

Many people think that enrichment is optional. I mean, dogs have survived for centuries just laying around the house, right?

But now we know more about domestic (pet) dog behavior and their needs.

In the wild, dogs live complex lives full of stimuli and spend the majority of their waking time sniffing, exploring, hunting, and solving problems.

Compassionate dog owners recognize this need and our responsibilty to provide these opportunities for our domestic dogs who, in most cases, are exposed to very limited stimuli throughout their normal day and must live within the constraints of our world.

Zoo’s have long recognized this need.

According to the paper, A Veterinary Assessment of the Risks and Benefits of Environmental Enrichment,

Research conducted in zoos and research conducted in laboratory settings both demonstrate that application of enrichment techniques can solve some of the problems we encounter in captive animals and can improve well-being.

According to Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology institute, “Enrichment keeps an animal’s day interesting and is just as essential to animal welfare as nutrition and veterinary care.

There are 6 types of enrichment: social, cognitive, physical, sensory, feeding, and toy enrichment (source).

Dog lick mats satisfy the feeding, sensory, and cognitive types.

What Are the Benefits of Lick Mats for Dachshunds?

Lick mats seem simple but there are several benefits to using one for your Dachshund.

A lick mat can:

  • Slow down eating – lick mats can help stop your Dachshund from eating too fast by more than double the time it takes for your dog to eat their meal
  • Help relieve boredom – it gives them something to do
  • Reduce stress and anxiety – licking is soothing for dogs
  • Keep your Dachshund busy – this is useful when you need to keep them from under your feet or following you around
  • Provide mental exercise and mental stimulation – a Dachshund has to use their problem-solving skills to future out how to lick the mat clean
  • Provide a distraction during stressful times – stressful times can be a bath, clipping their nails, when guests are over, etc.
  • Promote healthy teeth and gums by stimulating the tongue, which increases production of beneficial, enzyme-containing saliva
  • Improve bad breath by scraping the tongue to reduce undigested food particles and odor-causing bacteria

According to WildWelfare.org, whose mission is to end the suffering of captive wild [zoo] animals around the world,

“Animals that have good mental health will engage with their environment more, be less aggressive, less fearful and are more peaceful, exploratory and at ease with their surroundings.

Enrichment can support this positive mental welfare and encourages natural behaviours in {domestic] animals.”

This study demonstrated that “the presence of… food enrichment toys… increases the level of activity (exercise)… [and] also appears to result into lower barking frequencies.”

Note: the researchers admit the sample size is very small, and more research is needed, but the results are promising.

Dog enrichment toys are the perfect way to activate your dog’s natural instincts to forage for food and a lick mat is just one of these such tools.

Are Lick Mats Safe for Dogs?

Lick mats are generally safe for any dog.

However, they lick mats are not a chew toy so you’ll need to watch how your dog uses the mat in the beginning.

Not if your dog tries to chew it up

Sometimes my Dachshund Summit will bite at the top of the mat in an attempt to get the food out of it. 

While it hasn’t happened, there is a risk that she could break off and swallow pieces of the “raised nubs” in the process.

These pieces would generally be small but I wouldn’t want her to choke. 

It is possible that some dogs may try to chew on the mat itself (think piece of pizza).

That means they could swallow large pieces that could cause them to choke or create an intestinal blockage.

If a lick mat becomes damaged, remove it from your dog immediately and throw it away.

Maybe not if it increases obsessive behaviors

It’s rare but some dogs have obsessive-compulsive tentencies.

One example is dogs that will lick one area of the floor literally for hours even though there is nothing there.

One blog reader said her Dachshunds do this and have literlly licked a hole in the vinyl floor!

A lick mat can help some dogs control that urge by providing a safe, approved item for them to lick.

A lick mat can focus their licking habit on the mat and a good lick session with enticing filling can help reduce the amount of unwanted licking at other times.

But it is possible that encouraging the licking could go wrong.

I’ve not heard of it happening to any dogs I know but some readers have expressed concernt that encouraging licking with a mat could further reinforce (increase) the licking habit at other times.

What about ingesting microscopic pieces of the mat?

Anone who has given their dog a Kong, or other rubber/silicone, treat toy to lick, and has had that item for over a year, will notice that the shiny surface may start to look more dull.

This is because a dog’s tongue is rough and can abrate the surface kind of like sand paper.

It’s absolutely impossible to eliminate any possibility that repeated licking could result in unnoticible, tiny particles of the mat being ingested.

Whatever comes off the matt passes through their stomach.

If you are worried about what your dog might be ingesting from the mat when they lick it repeatedly, especially if they are power lickers, know that most lick mats are made out of non toxic, food-grade materials.

There is little to no risk of this causing an issue.

The bottom line in ragard to lick mat safety

The bottom line is only you know your dog. Watch how they use a lick mat and discontinue if you think it poses a risk to them.

It’s always best to check the label carefully though. Really cheap ones made in China may contain unsafe chemicals.

If the material used is not stated in the product listing, assume it’s not safe.

All reputable brands will be transparent and list exactly what the lick mat is made out of.

Are All Dog Lick Mats the Same?

Four years after I first discovered them, there are literally a hundred different lick mats on the market now.

You may be wondering how to choose from all the different lick mat choices. Are they all the same?

The answer is yes and no.

Yes, in that they all work pretty much the same way and provide similar benefits.

And no in that they vary in 4 primary ways:

  1. The shape of the lick mat – flat round, flat square, flat rectangle, bowl shaped
  2. The material they are made out of – food grade silicone, non-toxic TPE (thermoplastic elastomer) material (like Sodapup below), natural rubber (like LickiMat below), and probably some others.
  3. The level of difficulty – the more intricate and detailed the design, the smaller the grooves, and the tighter the corners, the higher the difficulty
  4. Suction cups or not – lick mats with suction cups can be stuck to the side of the bathtub or window 

Those are the differences but how do you choose which one is right for your needs and your dog? 

Consider the options, try one, and see if it works for you and your dog.

The physical shape is largely irrelevant, except in the case of the ones shaped like bowls that wobble. They add a whole different challenge to the experience.

Although the materials used to make the lick mats can vary, most of the lick mats will be made out of non-toxic, pet-safe materials so that’s not really a deciding factor.

However, always double check what they are made of before purchasing. Lick mats made outside of the US, or other countries with high safety standards, or that don’t list the product materials, are potentially suspect.

Decide if you need the suction cups. Although they are the only choice if you need to stick the lick mat to the wall, window, or side of the shower, the suction cups can make them unstable on flat surfaces.

So if you plan to use the lick mat on the floor, personally, I would not choose one with suction cups.

The level of difficulty is probably going to be the biggest decision you will have to make. 

If your dog has never used a lick mat, you may want to start with the easiest level.

However, I did that with my Dachshund Summit and Gretel and it was immediately apparent that it wasn’t a challenge for them so I quickly had to upgrade to the medium level lick mat.

Part of the difficulty level is what you choose to put on the lick mat so buying a medium difficulty mat and putting a soft filling in it, and not completely pressing it into the crevices, may save you having to upgrade later.

I have several different lick mats though – varying difficulties, shapes, and challenge levels – because I like to switch things up and often Dachshund sit so I want to be prepared for the ability and interest of various dogs.

When and How I Use Lick Mats for My Dachshunds

There are several situations when I might give my Dachshunds a mat with food to lick.

These include:

  • Use as a slow feeder at mealtime – this only works with raw or canned dog food
  • To occupy Summit long enough for her to let me trim her nails – she likes the food more than she dislikes having her nails cut
  • When I am cooking and don’t want my dogs under foot – this is safer for both of us
  • As a distraction when we have strangers (guest) over – they can’t bark and jump on them if they are occupied with the lick mat
  • When I need to tire them out but can’t get out for a walk or hike – mental stimulation can tire a dog out more than physical exercise
  • When I’m working from home – sometimes I really need to focus on a project

Hopefully my list gives you some ideas and examples of when and how you might want to use a dog lick mat for your Dachshund.

I give Summit and Gretel the lick mat for about 10-15 minutes at a time.

Even if all of the food is not gone from the surface, I take it away from them so their tongue doesn’t become sore and the licking doesn’t become obsessive.

Best Lick Mats for Dachshunds

Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links (Amazon Associate or other programs we participate in). As an affiliate, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases.

The best lick mats for Dachshunds aren’t too big. 

There is no need for “wasted space” and it’s tempting to put too much food (calories) on a large lick mat surface. 

Most Dachshunds are determined and relentless when it comes to food, and are expert lickers, so you may want to choose a medium difficulty to hard difficulty mat design.

Here are what I think are the best lick mats for Dachshunds:

Easy Difficulty Lick Mats

Medium Difficulty Lick Mats

Most Challenging Lick Mats

SodaPup is a veterinarian-owned company that makes their products in the USA.

LickiMat® is an Australian cmpany that developed lick mats, with the help of two veterinarians.

Lick Mat Topping Ideas

What you put on a lick mat for your Dachshund doesn’t have to be fancy. However, it must fit a couple criteria.

It must be:

  1. Spreadable or pourable
  2. Something that your dog really enjoys eating

Some quick lick mat filling ideas are:

  • Peanut butter (xylitol free)
  • Spreadable cheese (without spices or seasonings)
  • Plain cottage cheese
  • Canned dog food
  • Raw dog food
  • Plain greek yogurt
  • Canned pumpkin (unsweetened)
  • Canned sweet potato (unsweetened)
  • Pureed veggies (no salt or spices)
  • Unsweetened applesauce
  • Mashed banana
  • Eggs (raw or placed on the mat and then microwaved)

You can also put several of these ingredients on the lick mat together, either on different parts of it or mixed together.

To increase the difficulty of any mat, you can spread the treat or food on the lick mat and then freeze it.

Note: Most dog lick mats are microwave or freezer safe but be sure to check the label first.

To make it more interesting, you can also sprinkle things on top of the base treat or food like unsweetened coconut, dried liver flakes, or crushed freeze dried blueberries.

If you’re looking for more creative lick mat ideas, this Peanut Butter, Banana, Coconut Kong Stuffing will also work as a lick mat spread and this dog friendly smoothie recipe can be poured on the lick mat and then frozen.

There are other lick mat recipes for dogs out there too like this fall likimat recipe.

How to Clean a Dog Lick Mat

Most dog lick mats are dishwasher safe, although it’s best to check first.

However, in my experience, nothing gets them as clean as a good old fashioned hand scrubbing.

First, I soak the lick mat in warm, soapy water for at least 5 minutes.

Then I use a forceful stream of water from the faucet directed to the crevices on the mat to flush out most of the residue (it helps if you also bend the mat as you do it).

Finally, I put some soap on a scrub brush and remove the stubborn pieces of food still stuck on it.

Be sure to scrub off the back of the mat too!

Final Thoughts

There are many uses for dog lick mats.

Using one can help you manage your Dachshund’s behavior, help them “cooperate” during grooming, help them  eat slower, and can provide mental stimulation that tires them out.

Lick mats are generally safe to use with any dog but it’s important to always supervise your dog while they are eating off of it, at least the first few times until you know what to expect.

The biggest danger with a lick mat is that your dog will chew a piece off and swallow it, causing an intestinal blockage.

If a mat becomes broken, or significantly chewed up, throw it away. 

I will also add that lick mats should be used as a tool in a holistic life-enrichment strategy.

They should not be the sole way you provide your dog mental stimulation.

If used properly, lick mats are a great way to enrich your dog’s life and make it more interesting.

There are many benefits of lick mats for Dachshunds and other small dogs. Find out how they might help you manage your Dachshund's behavior, enrich their life plus which ones I recommend.

About the Author

Hi, I’m Jessica. I’m a Dachshund sitter, President of the largest social Dachshund club in Washington State, a dog trainer in training, and I’ve been a Dachshund owner for 20 years. I have over 150,000 hours of experience with the breed. When I’m not working, you can find me hiking, camping, and traveling with my adventurous wiener dogs.

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