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Think Green

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How to be an eco-conscious pet owner

Owning a pet is often a rewarding responsibility. Pets make for loyal friends, and for every late night walk in the cold pet owners must endure, their pets repay those gestures in spades.

While the greatest responsibility pet owners have to their pets is to ensure their furry friends live as comfortable and healthy a life as possible, pet owners also have a responsibility to the planet. Eco-conscious pet ownership can have a positive and substantial impact on the environment, and the following are a few simple ways for pet owners to care for their pets and protect the planet at the same time.

* Say so long to plastic bags. Picking up pet waste is arguably the worst part of owning a pet, and some pet owners simply want to pick up the waste without giving it a second thought. But how pet owners pick up their pets' waste can impact the environment. Using plastic grocery bags leftover from trips to the store is bad for the planet, as research has shown that such bags can take as long as 1,000 years to degrade. That means that plastic bag full of pet waste might still be around come the dawn of the next millenium. Instead of using plastic bags to pick up their pets' waste, pet owners can use biodegradable waste bags made from materials other than plastic. Such bags might not make the task of picking up pet waste more enjoyable, but they are certainly more eco-friendly, taking far less time to degrade than plastic bags.

* Embrace organic pet foods. Pet foods have evolved considerably over the last several decades, and pet owners now have more healthy options at their disposal. Organic pet foods make for healthier alternatives for pets, eliminating the buildup of residues of chemical additives, pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides in pets. Such residues have been shown to have an adverse effect on pet health. In addition, a study funded by the European Union found that organic fruits and vegetables have up to 40 percent more antioxidants than nonorganic alternatives, adding to the nutritional value of organic pet foods. Organic pet foods also are produced without the use of conventional pesticides or artificial fertilizers, benefitting the planet as a result. Before altering their pets' diets, pet owners should consult their veterinarian for advice and  tips on how to make the transition from traditional foods to organic alternatives as smooth as possible.

* Look for products made from recycled materials. More and more pet products are being made from recycled materials, and pet owners can encourage manufacturers to keep that trend going strong by purchasing such products whenever the opportunity to do so presents itself. Leashes, bowls, toys, and scratching posts for cats are just a few of the many pet products made from recycled materials. Before buying pet products, pet owners should read labels to determine if a given product is made from recycled materials.

* Clean green. Like their human counterparts, pets need to bathe. While they might not bathe every day like their owners, pets such as cats and dogs need to be shampooed and cleaned every so often. When buying cleaning products, pet owners should look for nontoxic products. Many traditional pet shampoos or pet beauty products are laced with chemicals, and such ingredients can have an adverse effect on pet health while also harming the environment. Nontoxic grooming products can still give pets' coats a beautiful shine, but they do so without taking a toll on the planet or the animal's health.

Pet ownership is a significant responsibility, and pet owners should recognize that part of that responsibility involves caring for their pets in an eco-friendly way.