The Ultimate Guide To Lickimats: Why Every Dog Should Have One
You might have seen some flimsy-looking silicone or rubber squares in the pet section of your local supermarket. You might even have bought one, but immediately shoved it to the back of the cupboard, never having thought about it again. If so, I would urge you to get it out, rinse it off and start using it! This cheap and cheerful little thing can do so much for our dogs! I’m talking about a lickimat of course!
WHAT IS A LICKIMAT ?
Lickimats (also known as licky mat, lick mat, lickymat or LickiMat) are simple silicone or rubber sheets, with a raised textured pattern on them. This pattern helps trap the food so it’s harder for a dog to eat it. Instead of wolfing down his food, he needs to lick at it. This not only takes longer, but it also triggers a physiological response that is good for a dog’s wellbeing.
You can put them on the floor or on a raised surface, depending on your dog’s size. I even got one with suction pads on the back, to fix it to a vertical surface like the fridge door or a tiled wall – it’s great for distracting them when you need to do something like groom or wash a less-than-keen scruffy pup.
I also find the vertical lickimat useful as part of enrichment activities, allowing me to more closely observe my dogs and their preferences and movements.
When you consider that a lickimat is possibly the cheapest dog enrichment option out there, you get a lot of value and benefits for very few bucks.
If you don’t already have a lickimat for your dog, I recommend products made by LickiMat (note they spell the name with a capital M in the middle). Unlike many other lickimats, their products are made of human grade rubber, not silicone, so it is safer for your dog and the planet!
WHY A LICKIMAT IS GREAT FOR YOUR DOG
- It is an enrichment activity
- It provides entertainment for your dog
- Licking is calming for dogs
- It slows feeding – great for dogs that wolf down their food
- It’s a versatile way to feed: you can put almost anything that’s wet on a lickimat. If you feed kibble, mixing it up with something wet, such as tinned fish or steamed veggies, means that you can still use the lickimat
- You can freeze it for fantastic hot weather treats
WHY ENRICHMENT ACTIVITIES ARE IMPORTANT
A dog needs to be both mentally and physically stimulated. Enrichment activities are things that satisfy a dog’s mental needs through challenging and therefore exercising their brains. It include things like searching, sniffing, learning new skills and solving problems. Lickimats are a simple enrichment activity.
Allowing our dogs to sniff out and find their food is another great enrichment activity. If we are unable to walk our dogs for whatever reason, providing them with indoor enrichment activities and games can be just as tiring for them as going for a walk.
WHY LICKING IS GOOD FOR YOUR DOG
Some studies have shown that licking releases endorphins in a dog’s brain. Endorphins are the body’s natural feel-good drug. This has a calming and relaxing effect on a dog.
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WHAT TO PUT ON A LICKIMAT?
I remember when I first brought home this bright, bendy square, and thought, ‘So what should I do with this then?’. It sat on the shelf for a few days, and then got used occasionally with some kefir on it. However, that was then – now it gets used every day.
Since I’ve come to understand its many benefits for my dogs, the lickimat forms part of their daily feeding routine. I change what I put on there most days. Sometimes it’s still nothing more than some kefir. Or I might just put their regular dinner on it. Other times I make them up a full meal recipe, blending different ingredients.
The simplest toppings for lickimats are ones that require no work on our part! These come straight from a can, carton or other container, for example:
SINGLE INGREDIENT LICKIMAT TOPPINGS
These are all healthy, natural options for lickimat toppings. Go for a low fat cream cheese and yogurt, and lean minced meat, rather than the full fat versions.
A SWEET TOOTH
If your dog likes it, you could add a little honey to these options – not too much though, honey is high in calories! The same can be said for banana. Although banana is rich in potassium and vitamin B6, it’s also high in natural sugars, so don’t go overboard on the sweet stuff.
I do not recommend using peanut butter. Many people feed their dogs peanut butter and many dog treats contain it, but it has potential problems.
Certain peanut butter brands contain xylitol, which is toxic to dogs. Even some of the best brands contain aflotoxins, which can cause cancer.
And if your peanut butter brand has neither of the above, it may still contain harmful fats and almost certainly, sugar. There are so many healthy options that we can feed our dogs, so why risk giving them something that may harm them? If you like nut butters, you could always use some pure, almond nut butter instead – it’s easy to prepare it yourself if you can’t find it at your local store.
Here’s a very quick video (2 minutes), summarising why it’s not a good idea to give your dog peanut butter.
LICKIMAT MEAL RECIPES
With a little more effort, and especially if you give your dog a fresh food or raw food diet, there are lots more exciting possibilities for lickimat toppings. I’ve found that a combination of the following ingredients works very well, especially for my picky girl who is highly skilled at picking lumps of veggies out of her food bowl:
LICKIMAT TOPPINGS FOR RAW FOOD DIETS
My dogs get a raw and fresh food diet. I usually put some of their food in their bowls and some on the lickimats. I buy ready prepared, frozen raw food for them and defrost it the day before. It’s ready minced, so it’s perfect for smearing over a lickimat.
I combine this mince with steamed vegetables, pureed fruit, tinned fish or raw egg, and I supplement the ready made raw meat mince with additional organ meat. If I want to include the organ meat on the lickimat, I will usually put it in the blender first so that it can be smeared well onto the lickimat. The dogs love to eat from the lickimat and it keeps them occupied for much longer than just eating straight from a normal bowl.
If you’re a lickimat fan, you might have been feeling frustrated that as a raw feeder you couldn’t take advantage of snuffle mats in the same way. The traditional, fabric snuffle mat is not at all suitable for raw feed diets – except for dehydrated treats of course.
However, there’s a way round this – I love snuffle mats and have made several for my dogs, including one that can be rinsed and washed in the dishwasher, and so is suitable for raw food – get the DIY tutorial here.
SQUEEZY CHEESE AND PATE FOR DOGS
Lots of pet parents are fans of squeezy cheese and pate for their dogs, and they make excellent lickimat toppings. You can get DIY homemade squeezy cheese and liver pate for dogs recipes here.
LICKIMATS FOR DOGS: MORE IDEAS
Another thing you can do with the fabulously versatile lickimat is once you’ve added a topping, freeze it. In hot weather I usually have frozen treats ready prepared in the freezer – see some fast and simple recipe ideas here.
Freezing the lickimat gives you all the above benefits for your dog, plus it refreshes and cools them in hot weather. Every lickimat I’ve bought is dishwasher-safe, so there’s no need to worry about putting the ‘dog’s bowl’ in your nice clean freezer and contaminating it!
FROZEN LICKIMAT TOPPINGS
Popping ingredients in a blender will soon turn them into a puree, which I find is perfect for a lickimat topping which can then be put in the freezer.
The lickimat with suction pads is a great option for putting in the freezer – the topping stays nice and firmly in place even when the pad is stuck to a vertical surface.
LICKIMATS AS A CAKE BASE
Did you know that the LickiMat Wobble makes a fantastic ‘base’ for a cake?
If you want to give your dog a cake for a special occasion, such as a birthday or Gotcha Day, you can make something impressive in a couple of hours. You won’t end up with lots of cake that your dog will have to eat for the next few days, and you can use lots of different types of food for the toppings. Get the step-by-step instructions for how to make this football cake using a LickiMat Wobble here.
LICKIMATS AS PART OF FREE WORK ENRICHMENT
In Free Work enrichment, we lay out various ‘stations’ for our dogs to explore freely. Lickimats are not an essential part of Free Work, but licking is encouraged. For my own dogs, the lickimats are generally their favourite part of the activities. You can learn how to do enrichment Free Work, and how it can benefit both your dog and you as a pet parent, in this article.
FREE LICKIMAT RECIPE BOOK
HOW TO CLEAN A LICKIMAT
Good quality lickimats are dishwasher-safe. If yours isn’t, it can easily be cleaned by leaving it to soak in some hot water for a few minutes and rinsing it off afterwards – scrub it with a brush if necessary to get any remaining food off.
Lickimats are easy to use and they offer us many benefits for our dog’s health and wellbeing. They can be used for enrichment, entertainment, and to slow dogs that wolf their food. There is a suitable lickimat topping for whatever diet your dog has, be it kibble or raw.
Please note: that as with any toy, don’t leave your dog unsupervised with a lickimat. It’s very hardwearing but it isn’t indestructible! Remove it from your dog before it becomes a chew toy!