Powder or shampoo with all-natural diatomaceous earth is a natural alternative to kill existing fleas on pets. HANDOUT

Anyone who knows me knows I love animals. Over the years I've had cats, dogs, rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs. Add in a few lizards, countless fish and even a few frogs and you can see why my house is called the "zoo."

My pets are like family, so I am always mindful of the products I buy to care for them.

Since the dogs and cats get free run of the house, I'm even more careful about the chemicals used in their products.

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Fortunately, it's easier than ever to find eco-friendly alternatives that are equally as effective and will reduce your exposure to potentially dangerous chemicals.

Flea and tick treatment is the most obvious place to start.

Collars, sprays and topical applications are often made with pesticides that can rub off on humans.

Oral flea treatments for dogs and cats are the safer alternative.

If you notice fleas, wash bedding in hot, soapy water and vacuum the home weekly to remove eggs and larvae. Use a powder or shampoo with all-natural diatomaceous earth to kill existing fleas on pets.

You can control flea populations in your yard and garden with microscopic worms called nematodes.

You can find them at many garden centers.

Dog shampoo is another place where potentially dangerous chemicals are lurking. Some shampoos are made from petroleum-based ingredients and are known to irritate skin, create rashes and cause cancer.

Over years, those toxins can be absorbed into your pet's skin and into the skin of the person doing the dog washing.

Then the toxins go right down the drain, polluting the water supply.

A much better choice is biodegradable shampoos free of coloring, preservatives or fragrances. Who wants their dog smelling like vanilla anyway?

For the felines it's all about the kitty litter.

Avoid using clay-based clumping cat litter that contains sodium betonite. Tiny silica dust particles can cause lung disease or worse in humans, and respiratory or digestive problems in cats.

Plus, there are many other options that are better for you, your cat and the planet.

Litters made from used newspapers, reclaimed wood chips or whole kernel corn are easy to find.

If you need help battling odor you can also add a layer of baking soda to the bottom of the litter pan before filling. It's inexpensive and nontoxic.

Baking soda also is great for removing pet odors around the home.

You can freshen up carpets or pet bedding by sprinkling a little on and letting it set for

15 minutes before vacuuming. And when the inevitable accident happens, reach for non-toxic vinegar to clean up the mess.

It's a natural disinfectant that's pennies on the dollar compared to other cleaners.

Do Your Part and make smarter choices when buying products for your four-legged friends. You'll be keeping potentially toxic materials away from your pets, your family and our environment.

Terri Bennett is a veteran TV meteorologist, syndicated col-umnist, and host of where you can find everyday green living ideas that are better for you and the planet.

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