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Photo of a dog
Living Green

Pet Smart

by Jason Best

Yes, he's cute -- and he won't grow up to wreck your car, question your parenting skills, or generally hasten the graying of your hair. We may have finally gotten to the point where we love pets more than kids -- dogs and cats now outnumber children in U.S. homes by nearly two to one. Taken together, our four-legged friends leave a tremendous paw print on the planet. Can you teach an old dog to be environmentally friendly? Perhaps not, but you can teach his owner.

Illustration of pregnant pets
Raining Cats and Dogs
The stark fact is: Animal shelters euthanize more than 20,000 pets a day. If that's not a good enough reason to spay or neuter your pet, you might think about the surprising toll pet overpopulation takes on the environment. Feral cats, and house cats that roam, kill billions of birds and small mammals a year (and they don't differentiate between, say, common sparrows and threatened snowy plovers). Declawing is cruel, and bells on collars don't work. Plus, both dogs and cats can transmit diseases to wildlife; biologists believe it was cats that infected endangered Florida panthers with feline distemper. Visit the Cats Indoors! campaign at for more.

Illustration of a cat
Absorb This
The litter box: bane of cat ownership. Don't let your disdain for the box itself lead to hasty decisions about what you put in it. Not only does the clay in most litters have to be strip-mined, it isn't biodegradable: It sits a clump ...for years a landfill. Alternatives, often flushable, such as wheat-based litter and litter made from recycled newspaper, are now available at many pet stores.

Illustration of a dog
End Notes
It's nice to think that Rover's waste, left to the elements, just turns to fertilizer and nourishes the wildflowers, but the truth's a little less rosy. A lot of dog waste simply washes away with the next rain -- and into your local stream. Studies estimate that such contamination contributes up to 30 percent of the bacterial pollution of some waterways, causing beach closures and sickening people. The excess nutrients can also nourish the science fiction-scale proliferation of certain aquatic weeds. The bottom line? Pick it up.

Illustration of cat and dog
Oh, Piddle
Forget expensive formulas that neutralize pet odors. According to Annie Berthold-Bond, author of Better Basics for the Home, all you need is baking soda, vinegar, and water. Clean up your pet's accident (dabbing works best on carpet), then sprinkle the area with baking soda. After leaving it on overnight, sweep or vacuum it up, then wash with a strong vinegar solution (2 cups white distilled vinegar to 1 gallon water). Berthold-Bond offers more practical pet care tips at

Illustration of a dog
Sleeping with the Enemy
Battling an infestation of fleas is like guerrilla warfare: You've got to know your enemy and utilize appropriate force (which doesn't mean nuclear-grade insecticide bombs and chemical-laden flea collars). The flea life cycle has four distinct stages, and poisons typically target only adults. Using a flea comb on your pet nabs both adults and eggs, and regular vacuuming indoors traps pupae and larvae. (Make sure to attack nooks and crannies with your vacuum cleaner's attachments.) Professional steam cleaning can help with serious infestations, as can cleaning floors with a citrus solvent wash. Check out Whole Dog Journal online for more great tips at

Illustration of cat and owner
Bated Breath
Pets both contribute to and suffer from poor air quality inside your home. Their dander can trigger asthma in people, and because they live closer to the floor, pets are exposed to more heavy-metal air pollutants. Keeping them off furniture and out of where you sleep can lessen their impact on you; reducing the amount of carpeting in your home (where both dander and pollutants settle, never to see the decomposing light of day) is good for everyone's health. Visit EPA's website on indoor air quality at

No Bones About It

For other tips on environmentally conscious living from OnEarth magazine, visit the Living Green index page.

OnEarth and NRDC do not test or endorse products. Product references are for information only.

Illustrations: Dwight Allott; Photo: Patricia Doyle

OnEarth. Summer 2002
Copyright 2002 by the Natural Resources Defense Council