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Reviewed for accuracy on April 9, 2019, by Dr. Katie Grzyb, DVM

Your dog poops multiple times a day. As a responsible pet owner, you do your best to keep on top of picking up dog poop immediately after he goes. But what about in your own backyard? Is picking up dog poop just a courtesy for neighbors, or are there health risks for you or your pets if it’s left in the yard?

Picking up dog poop helps to make your neighborhood, dog park or backyard safer for everyone. It can eliminate the spread of parasites and diseases that can be potentially life-threatening to your pet or other pets.

Dog Poop Risks to People and Other Pets

According to Jill Johnson, a registered veterinary technician at Blue Cross Pet Hospital in North Hollywood, California, dog poop left in a yard, street or dog park can become a pretty messy situation very quickly. “It can become riddled with maggots in the warm weather and can mold [when it’s] damp. Not to mention, it is very unpleasant to step in,” she says.

While these concerns are more about inconvenience, there are even bigger potential risks when it comes to the potential for dog poop to carry diseases and parasites.

Dog poop can carry the parvovirus, which Johnson refers to as “a potentially deadly intestinal virus that is shed in feces.” 

“Parvo is a virus that attacks rapidly growing cells—intestinal cells, white blood cells,” says Dr. Shari Brown, a veterinarian with Blue Pearl Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center.

Dr. Brown explains that your pup can get it from a fecal-oral route, meaning that they ingest feces or something that has been contaminated with feces from another dog with Parvo. She adds that parvo is a very hearty virus that can live in the environment for a very long time, so it’s important to stay on top of your dog poop pickups.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has categorized dog poop as an environmental pollutant. A single gram of dog poop can contain 23 million fecal coliform bacteria,” adds Ryan O’Quinn, the owner and CEO (chief excrement officer) of Bombs Away!, a dog poop removal service that services Santa Clara and San Mateo counties in California.

Dr. Bruce Silverman, a veterinarian with Village West Vet in Chicago, adds that once you forget to pick up dog poop and droppings are allowed fester for a few days, parasite eggs and larvae become infectious. “These worm and protozoal infections can be quite serious and even lead to death,” he warns.

In fact, everything from hookworms to whipworms, roundworms and giardiasis in dogs may be hiding out in a dog’s droppings. These types of organisms, according to Dr. Brown, can affect other pets in your home and may even be able to be transmitted to the humans in the house as well.

And Jacob D’Aniello, CEO of DoodyCalls, the nation’s largest pet waste management and disposal franchise, adds that if contaminated stools are left on the ground for a significant amount of time, a pet can easily become reexposed to an infection or worms, such as hookworms.

Can Dog Poop Be Used as Fertilizer?

Despite popular belief, experts note that not all stools are created equal. “Dog stool does not typically make good fertilizer, as dogs tend to eat a higher-protein diet,” says Dr. Brown. This tends to make dog poop more acidic. But cow manure, according to the expert, does make a good fertilizer “due to the animals’ vegetarian diets.”

And although all feces can technically be used to fertilize plants, Dr. Tony Kremer, a veterinarian at Kremer Veterinary Services, says the risk of pets and family coming into contact with the feces is probably not worth it.

O'Quinn notes that under the right conditions—when heated to above 140 degrees Fahrenheit in order to kill any lingering pathogens—dog poop can be composted, but it’s still not an ideal substance to add to the soil of anything that you plan to consume.

Proper Disposal Is Key

When it comes to picking up dog poop, the bottom line, according to Dr. Kremer, is that “the sooner the poop is picked up, the less chance there will be of a pet or person coming in contact with it and spreading disease.”

When picking up dog poop, humans should take extra precautions so as not to come into contact with the feces directly. You can wear gloves when you pick up dog poop or use a pooper scooper, such as the Arm & Hammer Swivel Bin & Rake backyard waste pickup or the Nature’s Miracle Jaw dog pooper scooper. Always wash your hands after retrieving feces.

Once you remove poop from your yard, you’ll want to deposit it into a dog poop bag and seal it up. 

In addition to harboring bacteria, dog poop can also leave a lingering odor. In order to combat that, you can use a product like NaturVet Yard odor eliminator, which is a nontoxic formula that is infused with natural microorganisms that work to break down and neutralize pet odors.

Additional Safety Tips for Dog Owners

Experts suggest taking these steps to keep canines in top-tier health.

Make sure that your pet is up-to-date on his vaccinations. Parvovirus is a preventable disease that has an effective vaccine. Make sure you work with your veterinarian to keep your pet up to date on all their vaccinations.

Watch for signs that your pet may have parasites and routinely deworm your pets. Dr. Kremer says that in order to stay on top of this, you should get a fecal test done every six months. “Then if a parasite shows up, it can be treated, eliminating the chance of any of your family members coming down with parasites or other infection,” he says.

There are heartworm preventatives on the market which also deworm dogs when they are given once a month, such as Interceptor Plus for hookworms, whipworms, tapeworms and roundworms.

By: Nicole Pajer

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