by Barbara George,Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
A curious cat hunts around in the grass and leaves to find bugs and small prey. She uses her sense of smell, her nose, and paws to do this. To simulate this at home, we can create a foraging mat for cats, using the design for the dog snuffle mat as a basis.
There are a number of different designs, simple ones to make and use, to more complex ones that require some level of skill, both for the maker and the cat!
Here is one that is simple to make, but does need good preparation. It would be a fun holiday project, a Christmas gift for your cat, and an alternative feeding option. If, after proper introduction and testing, your cat really refuses to use it, donate it to a shelter to provide enrichment for the rescue cats.
- A backing piece of mesh, with holes around 1cm square. This should be fairly firm, not rigid, and be washable.
- Fabric strips. Polar fleece fabric is recommended, it will not fray when cut, has some density, is easy to work with, and readily available. Use one or many colours.
- Scissors, or rotary cutter and mat.
- Bamboo stick, or similar, with one flat end.
Strips of fabric are tied over each ‘bar’ between the holes in a row. This gives each hole 2 pieces of fabric, except the edge which has only one.
Continue in rows until all holes are filled.
Notes from making the foraging mat:
I found a piece of plastic mesh left over from another project. It is quite a challenge to find suitable ones for cats, so please comment when you do find something suitable.
First determine the number of strips of fabric needed. I found that for cats, if the mesh holes are around 1cm square, it is only necessary to have two strips of fabric in each hole, where the large snuffle mats for dogs have four in order to close the hole and prevent food from falling through.
This one has a base around 15cm square. It is fine for treats and a small amount of food but would be too small for a full meal portion of dry food, or multiple cats at the same time.
Count the number of holes down each side. Subtract 1 from each of these numbers, and multiply the results together. For mine, there were 17 holes in one direction, and 18 in the other; 16 * 17 = 272, this is the number of strips I needed.
The width of the strips varies depending on the size of the holes. For a 1cm hole I used 1,5cm strips; this makes a dense mat, a little thinner may have been better but would be more difficult to cut.
My fabric strips were around 15cm long, they can be made longer or shorter. Fabric of 180cm wide cut across the width gives 12 strips of 15cm long. When cut with the stretch of the fabric (i.e. the strips stretch along their length), it is easier to tie them tightly and firmly.
It is highly recommended to cut 10 to 15 strips and test them on a portion of the base mesh before setting up to cut all the strips needed. Adjust width and length of strips to suit your requirements.
Cut the strips as needed. Arrange them in groups for each row, mixing colours or organising patterns.
Working from the back of the mesh, use the stick to push the ends of a fabric strip down two adjacent holes to the front. Pull through to the front. Continue down the row until all the strips for that row have been pushed through.
Turn the base over to work from the front. Adjust both ends of 1 strip to be about the same length, tie together with a knot, pulling the ends firmly. Repeat with all the strips down the row.
Turn to the back again, repeat for the next row, until all rows are complete and no strips remain unused.
Using the foraging mat
This is a completely new idea for most cats, so a gentle introduction is necessary for success.
It is best to begin when your cat is hungry. Begin by placing a few favourite (dry) treats on top of the mat. Allow your cat to investigate and ‘find’ the treats. Feed the normal meal in the standard bowl.
Place a few treats in the foraging mat, this time slightly hidden. Leave the mat out for the cats to investigate in their own time. Now hide some food taken from their daily allowance, with treats hidden deeper into the mat to stimulate interest. Gradually increase the amount of food, sometimes adding a treat or two as a bonus reward.
Hand wash as necessary, in the same way as washing a food bowl. Rinse well to remove all traces of cleaning agents. Air dry.
This is a good idea for cats that are left at home for the day. Instead of free feeding from a bowl, they will need to work for their food, using their noses or paws to forage. When introduced slowly and patiently, even old and timid cats will benefit from the mental and physical activity required.
Follow my Facebook page over the holidays for more ideas on making foraging mats.
Or you can contact Barbara via email on firstname.lastname@example.org