We often think of picking up after our pets as an act of decency, but there are actually much bigger reasons why we should be cleaning up our dogs’ waste.
#1: Dog poop is a pollutant
The Environmental Protection Agency classifies dog poop as a pollutant, in the same category as oil spills, herbicides, insecticides, and salt from irrigation practices, because of the nutrients and pathogens that leach into soil and water, and impact wildlife, plant growth, and human health. The nitrogen and phosphorus in dog waste trigger excessive algae and weed growth, which can choke out aquatic life and make the water unsuitable for swimming or boating. In addition to excessive plant growth, the disease-causing worms, bacteria, and viruses thrive in waste, washing into the water supply, and potentially harming you or your family.
#2: Intestinal parasites can be transmitted to people and other pets
- Roundworms — One of the most common parasites found in dog waste, roundworms can remain infectious in contaminated soil and water for years. A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that 14% of Americans tested positive for roundworms. In people, a roundworm infection can lead to scarring and inflammation in the eye, causing blindness as the worm migrates through the retina. Roundworm infections can also attack organs, such as the lungs or liver, or the central nervous system, in people.
- Whipworms — As whipworms enter a person’s body through ingestion of water or dirt containing contaminated stool, a variety of issues, such as bloody diarrhea, painful or frequent defecation, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and fecal incontinence, can plague a person with a whipworm infection.
- Hookworms — These parasites can enter a person’s skin, creating an itchy, painful rash, and may travel to the intestines before they die.
It’s important to note that intestinal parasites are extremely common in both cats and dogs. They can infect animals of any age, although puppies and kittens tend to be the biggest victims. While many animals can be asymptomatic carriers of these parasites, others can become very sick.
In order to prevent the spread of these parasites, routine fecal testing, a preventative deworming schedule, and good sanitation and environmental control are essential.
#3: Bacteria can be found in your dog’s stool
- Salmonella — Often linked to raw cookie dough and turtles, Salmonella can also be found in your dog’s waste, causing diarrhea, stomach cramps, and fever.
- E. coli — This bacteria can cause severe stomach cramps, diarrhea that is often bloody, and vomiting. Some people infected with E. coli can also develop a potentially life-threatening condition known as hemolytic uremic syndrome, which causes a decrease in urination frequency, extreme lethargy, and a pale appearance because of anemia.
- Giardia — Giardia can cause foul, greasy diarrhea, dehydration, abdominal cramping, nausea, and vomiting. Severe infections in children can lead to slow development, delayed mental and physical growth, and malnutrition.
Many signs seen in people will appear similar to illness signs in your dog. Diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting are the most common indicators your pet is suffering from a fecal-borne bacterial condition.
#4: Parvovirus can easily infect other dogs
Parvovirus is highly contagious, resistant to many disinfectants, and extremely hardy, capable of surviving in the environment for up to two years. If your dog contacts contaminated objects, clothing, surfaces, or other dogs, she may develop vomiting, lethargy, loss of appetite, fever, and possibly bloody diarrhea, leading to a potentially life-threatening illness. The dogs most likely to contract parvovirus are young puppies still undergoing their first vaccination series, older unvaccinated dogs, dogs under stress, dogs with a concurrent parasite infection, and certain breeds, such as German shepherds, Rottweilers, American pit bull terriers, and Doberman pinschers.
#5: Dog poop is not a fertilizer
While the nitrogen in cow manure can be a fertilizing agent, too much nitrogen can kill your lawn. Because of their diet, dogs can have up to two and a half times more nitrogen than cows in their waste. If you do not promptly pick up your pet’s poop—it can take a year to naturally decompose—the high nitrogen content can burn your green grass, leaving brown dead spots. Plus, do you really want your children playing in your yard that’s fertilized with your dog’s poop?
Scoop the Poop!
We all have to make a habit of scooping the poop! Fortunately, there are lots of ways to get the job done, and clever inventors come up with new and stylish solutions all the time. Please remember, many of the illnesses spread through feces are zoonotic, meaning they can be transmitted to you from your pet, and are contagious between pets. Proper hygiene is critical to minimize disease risk. Follow these tips to avoid fecal contamination:
- Pick up promptly — Prevent parasites, bacteria, and viruses from infecting people or other pets by picking up your dog’s poop immediately. Many parasites require days to weeks to reach the infective stage, so feces becomes more hazardous to your health the longer it sits.
- Pick up safely — Use a scoop or waste bag for safe pick-up.
- Dispose of properly — The best disposal method is putting pet waste in the trash can, which prevents water contamination with the bacteria found in feces, since wastewater treatment plants cannot remove these pathogens.
- Protect your hands — Wear gloves when gardening or working outdoors, in case stray cats or dogs have defecated in your yard.
- Wash your hands — Always wash your hands thoroughly after scooping your dog’s poop.
Are you worried about what may be lurking in your dog’s poop? Pick up a fresh sample and bring it to our hospital for a fecal exam.