07/24/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

How to Be a Greener Pet Owner

Pets are such a source of joy; science has proven that having an animal companion provides many physical and psychological benefits. But America's more than 160 million owned dogs and cats surely impact the environment, so here are four tips about how to reduce Fido's and Fluffy's environmental pawprints.

1. Pound It: When you're looking for a furry friend to bring home, skip the pet stores and breeders and head to the pounds and shelters. The commercial pet trade creates an excess of animals -- and more mouths to feed, which creates more waste -- when millions are already in need of adoption. Plus, the business of selling animals can harm critical ecosystems like rainforests, from which 38 million creatures are removed every year for the retail-pet industry. Shelters stock an excellent selection of breeds (and mutts!) that need "recycling" into a new home, and some animal shelters are even going green.

2. Shop Green: The U.S. pet-product industry fetches $43 billion per year, only $1 billion of which goes to ecofriendly items. Do your part and grow that number by choosing organic pet food (it may sound ritzy but it really does help the earth) and equipment and toys made by eco-minded manufacturers like Scutte, Molly Mutt, and World's Best Cat Litter; a Google search reveals many more. But buying greener doesn't mean you have to buy more; the best way to reduce waste is to buy less, so ask yourself whether your pet really needs the item you're considering buying.

3. Get 'Em Fixed: Animal overpopulation is an issue not only because up to 4 million shelter animals are euthanized in the U.S. each year, but also because of the environmental impact of too many stray and abandoned animals: they can harm local wildlife, deposit waste, and spread trash. Help curb the problem by having your pet spayed or neutered.

4. Deal With Their Waste: One of the biggest hassles of having a pet is handling their poop. Not only is it inherently unpleasant, but also poses environmental hazards such as water pollution, transmitting diseases to other species, and, if left unchecked in public spaces, causing human resentment toward animals. Do your civic, uh, duty by picking up any business your pet leaves behind using a biodegradable bag or a Skooperbox. Other ways to dispose of the stuff greenly include flushing it, composting it, and burying it. There are also plenty of eco-friendly kitty litters out there.