New Year's Pet-olutions

Change is on everyone's mind at this time of year – as 2011 gives way to 2012, it's time to make resolutions. This year, you're really going to lose that last 10 pounds, drive down that debt, and get organized – right?

We all have grand ambitions for every new year, but then a lot of us have trouble sticking with our new habits past, say, January 10th. Good news: if you have a pet, he can keep you motivated and help you meet those goals. How can you enlist your furry friend as a resolutions wingman?

Losing weight
The January 1st diet is probably the most common human resolution in the country, and a study released early in 2011 indicates that weight loss is a resolution we should make for our pets, too – a lot of them are overweight or obese, which shortens their lifespans and can cause painful health problems. Enlist your vet's help in examining your pet's diet and routine, and see if you can find ways to trim off the excess weight that can lead to joint problems and diabetes, among other ailments.

Vetstreet's top 4 ways to ward off holiday weight gain in pets

Nobody likes eating less, but you might have some luck, and fun, with…

Getting more exercise
Owning a dog makes this one an easier resolution to keep; you can take Buddy for a run – or, if you're not yet ready to start marathon training, extend his walks by 10 minutes a day, or visit a dog run in your town and throw the ball or Frisbee for him.

Mother Nature Network's 5 things to know about catnip

Cat owners might find this resolution a bit more challenging, but most cats love chasing a catnip toy (especially one made of canvas that's fun to bite or pedal with their hind feet). A Cat Dancer or other wand toy is inexpensive, and upping their playtime by a few minutes a day will help keep them fit.

Taking a class
Many of us aim to learn something new in the new year – kick-boxing, cooking, you name it. If you want to acquire new skills, or just meet some new people, why not sign your dog up for obedience training? Maybe you've got a teenage puppy who's kind of all over the place – or maybe your dog is perfectly well-behaved, but you'd like to teach her advanced skills, train her for therapy work, or start entering her in agility shows. Do a quick search for "dog skills training [your town]" and see what comes up.

Your local shelters and trap/neuter/release programs can always use help: sending out mailers, cleaning cages, soliciting donations, and so on. Hop on and get set up with an animal-protection organization in your area.

And your pet can help others, too – does your dog (or cat!) have what it takes to become a therapy animal? The Delta Society is a great place to start researching opportunities for you and your pet to reach out to seniors, sick children, and others in the community who would benefit from some purring or tail-wagging.

Shine Pets interviews "Voice of Westminster" and dog-therapy advocate David Frei

Reducing stress
Easier said than done, but cutting your aggro will improve your quality of life – and numerous studies have shown that spending time with an animal lowers blood pressure and eases agitation. So, if your other resolutions are amping up your anxiety, try spending a few more minutes each day with your pets; teach your dog to shake, brush your cat, or watch your fish tank for a little while.

What you have you resolved to do for, and/or with, your pets in 2012? Share your plans in the comments, or tell us on Twitter!

Further reading:
Celebrity pet resolutions

Trying to save money this year? MNN on how to reduce pet expenses

YCN contributors list 2012 plans for their pets