Pick Up That Poop
Dog poop is probably worse to have around in your backyard than you knew! Here's what's in it and what it can do:
Tapeworm "Poop rice," as described by my veterinarian, is the single most common infection transmitted by discarded dog poop in the United States. An estimated 35% of the indoor animals that contract tapeworm are thought to get it from infected poop brought into the home on the shoes of humans who have stepped in it. Tapeworm is a parasite that needs fleas to fulfill its lifecycle, but poop is crucial to the process.
Roundworm One worm of this class, Toxocarisis, is transmitted to humans through infected animal poop. It can cause rash, fever, and a loss of vision.
Cryptosporidium These protozoa cause diarrhea in dogs, cats, and humans. According to some health professionals, many of us may have had it without knowing it -- it can go undetected two out of the three times it has been contracted. You might have just blamed Taco Bell.
Salmonellosis This nasty little bacterium causes fever, vomiting, diarrhea (or, as we PoopReporters call it, "double doodie"), and headaches that leave both pets and people weak and sometimes unable to recover for months. Although most often associated with uncooked chicken, this bacterium can be brought into your home -- with devastating results in the young and elderly -- by, once again, simply walking through infected poop.
Giardia This single-celled organism causes flatulence (yes, that's a bad thing), diarrhea, and overall digestive disorder. It can live outside of the host for vast periods of time, which is why it easily and successfully spreads via infected poop.
E. Coli This bacterium produces a toxin that injures the epithelial cells of our digestive tract, which can lead to severe bleeding and even permanent kidney damage.
Parvovirus This small, single DNA-stranded virus is species-specific, not xenotransferable, but there are many types of it. In dogs, the virus capsule -- which, unlike some viruses, is not composed of fat which means disinfectants can't kill it as easily -- affects quick-splitting cells like those of bone marrow, the lymph system, and the intestinal tract. Its initial symptoms include Rover vomiting and diarrhea-ing, which is why those symptoms should always be treated with medical attention, especially in puppies and adolescent dogs.
Well, that settled the argument for me. Infected poop spreads infections. But what about those of us who, like me, give our animals excellent health care? "My dog has none of those diseases," I might say, "so why should I pick up his dook?"
Because poop -- even "quality" poop that may not infect humans and our pets with diseases -- still causes trouble.
When you leave poop on the sidewalk, it's eventually swept into the sewers -- not the same sewers through which human poop travels, but the storm sewers, which often discharge directly into the waterways without any treatment. Thus poop degrades water quality, leading to cloudiness and an increase of algae. (If you have an aquarium, you know this to be true.) Pet poop has been considered responsible for almost one fourth of the fecal contamination of the waterways -- those very same waterways from which you get your drinking water.
And then there are the flies. While they are completely indispensable in our ecosystem as garbage men (maggots recycle dead carcasses and poop), they refuse to confine themselves to the poop in your yard and on the sidewalk. They fly into your house and sit on your living surfaces. And they don't wash their hands -- so if you leave poop lying around, they're going to touch it on the way to your kitchen. And here's what they might bring with them:
Shigellosis A variety of diseases, like dysentery, that cause diarrhea.
Polio Believe it. Poliomyelitis can be transmitted by a fly landing on your food. Susceptible people -- like those who aren't properly vaccinated -- can and have contracted polio in this manner.
Eye Diseases Trachoma and epidemic conjunctivitis (a.k.a pink eye) are transmitted by houseflies in Asia, Africa, and the Pacific regions of the world.
Diseases that are less commonly transmitted by houseflies include Salmonellosis, Cholera, Amoebic Dysentery, and parasitic worms such as pinworm, whipworm, hookworm, and tapeworm.
Flies won't necessarily acquire those diseases from poop. But if they're carrying those diseases, poop will enable those dangerous flies to thrive.
What about poop as a natural fertilizer? Well, Yelm, Washington is full of farmers, and since most of them are friendly to a fault, I was able to pester them with this question in our town's Safeway. All of them told me roughly the same thing. "Fertilizer manure needs to be from a plant eater, miss. Pig poop, dog poop, it doesn't help our crops or the grass because it doesn't have grass in it. The stuff in dog poop does not give back to our crops anything worth gettin'." Well, that's good enough for me.
(Editor's note: pig poop and dog poop -- and even human poop -- CAN be used as fertilizer, but they need to be properly composted first.)
After learning all this about dog poop, I feel a bit better about having sacrificed a few non-biodegradable plastic bags in favor of keeping my neighborhood disease free—while Gator and Sadie have all of their shots and are parasite-free, their waste would otherwise definitely contribute to the fly population of our community. And now that even my plastic bags can be environmentally friendly, why, I have no excuse.
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