Regular visitors to this site know how much I love my dogs. I’m not, however, especially partial to their poop nor to that of other dogs. That’s one reason why I’m really glad to have like minded friends. In 3 Keys to Finding the Right Dog Park, I mentioned that everyone who goes to my dog park cleans up after their dogs. It’s not as if no one is ever going to step in a “deposit,” but we try to stay on top of things. Some dog parks have attendants who go around with bags and scoopers, but we handle “poo patrol” pretty well on our own.
See, the thing is, there are dangers of not picking up dog poop. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), dog poop can contain bacteria and parasites that can be harmful not only to other pets, but some that can harm humans, as well. Some of those parasites include roundworms, tapeworms, hookworms, giardia and cryptosporidium.
How Serious Are the Dangers of Not Picking Up Dog Poop?
Let’s be realistic here. If you come into contact with dog poop, there’s a pretty good chance that nothing will happen to you at all, provided that you avoid contact with mucous membranes and wash the contacted areas immediately afterward. In rare cases, you could end up with a rash, fever or vomiting, or if you were to pick up a parasite and did not get treatment, you could sustain damage to your nervous system or liver. This is not all that likely though.
That said, you should avoid dog poop whenever you can. Although the dangers of coming into contact with dog poop to an individual are often hyped beyond reason (usually by companies that want to sell you on their “dog poop cleanup” services), there’s no getting away from the fact that dog poop is nasty.
Why Is Dog Poop So Nasty?
Again, pulling back and regrouping here, and looking at things logically, there’s little reason to think that a dog that eats a diet of high-quality dog food, gets proper veterinary care, and is wormed regularly is going to produce poop that is super-nasty. The really nasty stuff comes from dogs that eat anything and everything: garbage, poop from other dogs, carrion, and so on.
Dogs have cast-iron digestive systems, and can convert the most horrible substances into poop. You or I, assuming that we could even swallow a diet of poop, trash and excrement, would quickly become very ill, and at the least yak it all back up. We might even die.
Dogs, though? Nope? Dogs are poop-making units. And if it’s nasty going in, you can bet it will be nasty coming out.
The Importance of Picking Up
If your dog is the type that gets out of the yard every once in a while and finds “treasures” to eat, then it’s really important that you keep your yard clean in order to keep the dangers of not picking up dog poop to a minimum. This really shouldn’t be all that difficult; after all, the average dog will poop twice a day. So, for me, that means I have to pick up 4 piles a day, or else leave it to the end of the week and pick up 28. Either way, not a big deal.
I prefer doing it daily, though, simply because I don’t like the idea of tracking it into the house. You know, I hear people say things like, “I don’t have to worry about the yard, since I don’t use it.” But here’s the thing: the dogs use it! Can you imagine people not even thinking that paws are going to bring in the same things that feet would?
Again, I don’t want to alarm you unduly, but if you have “high risk” people in your household, like pregnant women, young children, or elderly people, you could be playing Russian Roulette with their health. The dangers of not picking up dog poop can be far higher for people who have a suppressed immune system than for those who are strong and healthy.
Don’t Move it to Your Garden
Another thing I hear people say frequently is that they’ll just deposit the dog poop that they pick up in their garden; after all, it’s fertilizer, right?
No, actually, it’s not. A dog’s diet is very different from that of an herbivore. The manure that is good for your garden comes from plant-eating animals like cattle, sheep and horses – not from dogs. In fact, eating vegetables that have been grown using dog poop as “fertilizer” can make you sick.
Oh, and, besides, it’s a waste of time. Dog poop does absolutely nothing to enrich the soil.
Want More Pets?
Another of the dangers of not picking up dog poop in your yard is that rats love it. They’ll come into your yard after the dog poop, and then you can just sit back and watch your menagerie grow. The rats will be very attractive to feral cats, and even to snakes.
You can expect some new airborne “friends”, too, since dog poop is the perfect breeding ground for any number of insect species that will grow wings and bring disease-carrying bacteria into your home. So, dog poop is just the gift that keeps on giving, in terms of more little friends to spend time in your yard and house, and increased danger to your pets and/or children.
Staying Safe Around Dog Poop
Although there are definitely dangers to not picking up dog poop, there are things you can do to keep yourself safe. Mainly, they just involve common sense and cleanliness.
- If you are pregnant, wear gloves and a mask when picking up poop.
- If you are taking any medications that would suppress your immune system, have someone else do the scooping.
- Don’t let kids play in the dirt where dogs have been. There might be no poop visible, but it could still be there. Then, kids can end up unwittingly transferring the eggs from various types of parasites via the mucous membranes.
- Make sure to clean up the poop in your yard at least once a week. You might need to do it more frequently, depending on how many dogs you have, and their size.
By following these simple guidelines, you minimize the danger of becoming ill from dog poop.
Is Dog Poop Really That Big of a Deal?
For the individual, I’d suggest that as long as a sensible level of cleanliness is adhered to, dog poop is not that big a deal. But for society in general, it could be a different thing.
Think of it this way: for centuries, we’ve known about the health hazards of human waste, and we’ve taken measures to deal with those issues by creating systems for waste disposal and water treatment. Those systems have become more and more complex as our population has increased, but what no one seems to have thought about is the fact that as the human population has increased, so has the pet population. More humans means more dogs.
Most of us are well aware of the contaminants that major agricultural operations can dump into our waterways, and the regulations that work to keep them from doing so. What many of us never think of, though, is the fact that dog poop can also contaminate lakes, rivers and public drinking water supplies. In fact, studies have shown that approximately 20% of the bacteria in some waterways is directly due to dog poop.
What Can We Do?
Right now, there are over 80 million dogs in the United States producing an estimated 10 million tons of poop each year. It’s probably a pretty safe bet that if humans were producing that much poop, and depositing it in their backyards, on sidewalks, in parks and next to waterways, there would be a huge public outcry, and the problem would be addressed. We don’t take the problem all that seriously, though, despite the fact that the parasites and bacteria that can be present in dog poop pose a greater danger than anything found in the human equivalent.
This is an issue that’s not likely to go away anytime soon. Fortunately, even though it’s still not taken as seriously as it should be, some action has begun. Already, some municipalities are putting laws in place requiring people to keep their yards clear of dog poop, and imposing fines on offenders. These “scooper laws” are a start, for sure, but with more and more people having more and more dogs, it may eventually come to the point where we have to consider protocols for pet waste disposal that are similar to those that we have for human waste.
The Final Word
As I said in the beginning, I love my dogs. In fact, I might point out that I have little use for anyone who doesn’t love dogs. But I don’t think we ought to think that somehow that love entitles us to a pass when it comes to doing the right thing. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that dog poop is harming the environment. There can also be risks to pets and humans if dog poop is left where it lands. Some of those risks might be exaggerated, but even so, I don’t think that anyone could reasonably suggest that there aren’t at least some dangers of not picking up dog poop.
Besides, leaving dog poop laying around is just plain nasty. So clean up your yard, and when you’re out for a walk or at the dog park, bring a scooper and a plastic bag around. It’s just basic consideration for others, if nothing else.