Tips & Tricks

Lick Mat vs. Puzzle Feeder: Which is Better for Your Dog?

lick mat vs puzzle toy

Mealtime madness got you down? Is your furry friend gobbling up their grub faster than you can say “bon appétit”? Well, you’re not alone in this doggy dilemma!

Many pet parents face the challenge of their canine companions inhaling their food at warp speed.

Fortunately, slow-feeder options can encourage healthier eating habits. In this guide, we’ll explore two popular choices: lick mats and puzzle feeders. We’ll help you decide which one is best for your dog’s needs.

Let’s dive in!

What are Lick Mats?

Lick mats are simple, textured mats designed for spreading wet food, soft treats, or even medications. They feature raised patterns or grooves that encourage your dog to lick the surface, slowing down their eating and providing mental stimulation.

Pros of Lick Mats:


1. Simple and Easy to Use

Lick mats are really simple for dogs to understand and require minimal training. Simply spread the food on the mat, and your dog will instinctively start licking. This makes them an excellent choice for dogs of all ages and skill levels.

dog licking mat

2. Great for Wet Food, Soft Treats, and Medications

The textured surface of a lick mat is perfect for spreading wet food, pureed fruits/vegetables, or even mashed medications. This versatility makes them a go-to choice for many pet parents.

3. Slower Eating

The licking action naturally takes longer than gulping down kibble from a bowl. This encourages slower and more controlled eating, which is incredibly helpful for dogs that tend to eat too quickly.

dog lick mat

4. Mental Stimulation

The textured surfaces of lick mats engage a dog’s natural foraging instincts. As your dog uses their tongue to explore the various ridges, grooves, and bumps, they’re mentally stimulated by the challenge of extracting food particles trapped within the textures.

This mental engagement mimics natural foraging behaviors, where dogs would use their tongues and paws to search for food in grass, dirt, or under objects.

For dogs who lack sufficient daily mental stimulation, lick mats can be a valuable tool to help prevent boredom and potentially destructive behaviors.

close up worker dog home

5. Calming Effect

For some dogs, the repetitive licking action can have a calming effect. This makes lick mats a useful tool during stressful situations like thunderstorms or vet visits.

6. Easy to Clean

Most lick mats are designed to be dishwasher-safe, making cleanup a breeze. After each use, simply rinse off any remaining food or residue and place the mat in the dishwasher. The high water temperature and powerful cleaning action will effectively sanitize the mat, removing any bacteria or odors. This hassle-free cleaning process saves you both time and effort.

Cons of Lick Mats:


1. Not Ideal for Dry Kibble

While lick mats are great for wet food and soft treats, they aren’t the best choice for dry kibble. The licking action doesn’t offer much challenge for kibble, and it may not be as engaging for your dog.

2. May Not Be as Engaging for All Dogs

Some dogs might find lick mats repetitive after a while. If your dog thrives on variety and new challenges, a lick mat may not hold their interest for long.

close up dog with beautiful eyes smiling

What are Puzzle Feeders?

Puzzle feeders are interactive feeding toys that require your dog to work for their food. They come in various designs, from simple rolling balls to complex multi-step puzzles. The goal is to mentally stimulate your dog while slowing down their eating.

Pros of Puzzle Feeders:


1. Great for Dry Kibble

Puzzle feeders come in various designs that are perfect for dry kibble. They require your dog to work for their food, which significantly slows down eating and provides a mental challenge.

2. Mental Challenge

Puzzle feeders offer a more stimulating and challenging experience for dogs who enjoy problem-solving. They engage your dog’s mind, keeping them mentally sharp and focused.

3. Can Help Reduce Boredom

Interactive puzzle feeders are a fantastic way to address boredom in dogs. The act of manipulating the feeder to access their food becomes a mentally stimulating challenge. This keeps your dog occupied and engaged, diverting their attention away from destructive behaviors.

4. Portion Control

Some puzzle feeders allow you to control the amount of food dispensed. This can be helpful for weight management or for dogs who need to eat smaller, more frequent meals.

Cons of Puzzle Feeders:


1. Can Be Frustrating for Some Dogs

Puzzle feeders offer a fantastic mental workout for dogs, but like any good brain teaser, they can be frustrating if not introduced properly. Imagine tackling a complex crossword puzzle before mastering the basics – it wouldn’t be much fun!

The key lies in matching the puzzle feeder difficulty to your dog’s skill level. Start with a simple design that allows them to easily discover the food retrieval method. Think of it as a beginner’s course in puzzle solving. As your furry Einstein masters the basics, gradually increase the difficulty to keep them challenged and engaged.

Watch your dog’s body language closely during their puzzle feeder adventures.

Signs of frustration, like excessive pawing, whimpering, or giving up entirely, indicate the puzzle might be too complex. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean your dog isn’t smart – it just means they need a different level of challenge. Try a simpler puzzle or revisit an easier one to rebuild confidence.

Remember, every pet learns at their own pace. Some pups might breeze through the most intricate puzzles, while others might need more time and guidance.  Be patient and supportive, offering praise and encouragement as they navigate the puzzle feeder’s intricacies.

closeup shot panting border collie standing field

2. Not Suitable for Wet Food or Soft Treats

Most puzzle feeders aren’t designed for wet food or soft treats. They work best with dry kibble or small, hard treats.

3. Can be Noisy

Some puzzle feeders can be noisy on hard surfaces as your dog interacts with them. If you have hardwood floors or live in an apartment, this might be a consideration.


4. Cleaning Might Be More Challenging

While puzzle feeders offer fantastic benefits, cleaning them can be trickier than a lick mat.

The complexity of the design, with multiple parts, compartments, and crevices, can make it difficult to thoroughly clean and sanitize the feeder.

Food particles, saliva, and bacteria can easily get trapped in the nooks and crannies of the puzzle, which can lead to the growth of harmful microorganisms if not cleaned properly. This is especially true for puzzle feeders with intricate designs or those made from materials that are not dishwasher-safe.

To ensure proper hygiene, it’s essential to disassemble the puzzle feeder (if possible) and clean each part separately.


Choosing the Right Option:

So, which is better for your dog? The answer depends on your individual dog’s needs and preferences. Here’s a quick guide to help you decide:

* For wet food, soft treats, or medication: Choose a Lick Mat

* For dry kibble and a mental challenge: Choose a Puzzle Feeder

* For a calming effect or a less food-motivated dog: Choose a Lick Mat

* For a highly motivated dog who enjoys problem-solving: Choose a Puzzle Feeder

The best approach might even be to use both! Lick mats can be a great way to provide variety and enrichment alongside puzzle feeders for kibble.

view cute dog enjoying time nature park

Final Words

Both lick mats and puzzle feeders can be valuable tools in your dog’s enrichment toolkit. They offer different benefits and suit different needs, so it’s essential to consider your dog’s individual preferences and mealtime goals.

Whether you choose a lick mat, a puzzle feeder, or both, your dog will surely appreciate the extra mental stimulation and engagement at mealtime.

As always, supervise your dog during feeding and choose high-quality, durable products for safety.

Happy feeding!


About Zelda D.Nelson

As a lifelong dog lover and proud mom to two energetic rescue pups, I know firsthand how important puzzle toys are for providing dogs with much-needed mental and physical stimulation. After over a decade of experience raising well-adjusted, happy dogs, I joined the Loobani Pet team to help other pet parents discover the joy and benefits of dog puzzles. Through my work at Loobani Pet, I've become an expert on the ins and outs of various interactive dog toys. My goal is to simplify the selection process so you can easily pinpoint the perfect puzzles to match your pup's needs and lifestyle. Whether you need a toy to challenge your brainy breed, keep your power chewer occupied, or simply provide some rainy day fun, I've got you covered.