Welcome to 2024! From your friends at NOCO Humane, we hope that your holiday season was wonderful and that you are ready to embrace a new year! It is common to make resolutions around health, so today we are focusing on the physical and mental health of your furry friends. When it’s cold outside, a brisk walk can be wonderful. Just be sure to keep the walks shorter and protect your pets with jackets or sweaters. However, cold weather can also drive us indoors, but that doesn’t mean that wellness has to take a break. Use this time to be creative and provide enrichment for your dog or cat.  When thinking about enrichment, it is important to know that 1) dogs thrive best when they have a “job” and 2) cats are always practicing their hunting and stalk-pounce skills, so enrichment along those lines will almost always be a winner!

For dogs motivated by food, consider: snuffle mats or snuffle balls, clicker training, puzzle toys/feeders, slow feeders and “licky” mats. Also, entire meals can be stuffed into a Kong toy (and frozen the night before) to make meal time take longer as well as employ more effort and mental skills.

For dogs that are sniffers, consider snuffle mats or balls with a very small amount of scent on them and then air them out (remember that dog’s scent detection is much greater than ours). Sniffing is a great stress reliever for dogs and gives them an outlet for their hard-wired natural behaviors. Consider doing a test with essential oils and/or hunting scents and see what your dog likes and doesn’t like, what excites them and what calms them, and use the ones they like for future enrichment.

With cats, active toys tend to be a hit! Encourage self-play with aluminum foil balls, plastic lids from the milk carton, wadded up paper, pipe cleaners, cardboard boxes, empty paper towel/toilet paper rolls or cork stoppers with feathers/pipe cleaners stuck in them. Interactive play can also be fun for both of you, just remember to keep your hands and body clear of your kitty’s claws as they lunge for their toy.

If you have a cat that is motivated by food, consider feeding high-interest canned food in small amounts scattered throughout the house, so that your cat has to search and find. Make it easy at first, and more difficult as their skill level increases. Clicker training is also a way to positively enrich a food-motivated cat.

For all pets – when turning up the heat to combat any cold spells that come through, your living space will be drier. Ensure your pet has access to fresh water at all times, and even consider running a humidifier to help soften the dry air. Hopefully some of these ideas will help your furry family members stave off boredom and winter weight until spring weather arrives!