The Importance of Scooping Poop

By: Lori Teller, DVM, DABVP, CVJ

TVMA Member
Houston, TX

Published January 2015

Pet waste is smelly, unsightly and messy and attracts bugs and rodents. It is also a health risk to both people and other pets, and it adversely affects water quality. In many locales, it is required by law to pick up your pet’s poop and dispose of it properly. It’s also just the neighborly thing to do. Nobody likes stepping in poop and getting it stuck in their shoes and tracking it around. Yuck!

Diseases Found in Pet Waste

There are many diseases that can be spread in a pet’s fecal matter. These can include dangerous bacteria, such as coliforms, Campylobacter, Salmonella and more. Giardia and Cryptosporidia are a couple of other nasty intestinal parasites that can potentially be spread via your pet’s feces to other animals or humans. Some pets may also be harboring intestinal parasites, such as roundworms or hookworms. The eggs of these parasites are shed in an infected pet’s stool and then can be easily picked up by our children when they play in the yard or by you when you do yard work. Hookworm larvae can even penetrate the skin of bare feet, so if you have pets, pick up the poop and make sure your kids are wearing shoes when they are outside. You can lessen your pet’s risk of having roundworms or hookworms by administering a monthly heartworm preventive to your pet. Heartworm preventives are often combined with a medication commonly called a wormer, creating one treatment to help eliminate or prevent parasite infestation. This will help to protect you, your kids and your pets.

Another concern about unscooped feces is parvovirus, which is a highly contagious virus that infects dogs, especially puppies and dogs that have not been fully vaccinated. Dogs may shed the virus for weeks in their stool, even after they’ve apparently fully recovered from an infection, so help protect the next dog that comes along and pick up your dog’s poop. Even though canine parvovirus isn’t contagious to humans, it’s a horrible, nasty, rotten, no-good, very bad—and possibly deadly—dog disease.

The Effect on Our Water

Water is a precious resource, and water quality is of the utmost concern for all of us, especially in light of the recent drought conditions. Pet waste left in the yard or by the curb gets washed down storm drains. It usually does not go through a sanitation or sewer treatment plant but is instead directly discharged into area waterways, such as local streams, rivers, lakes or the ocean (if you live near the coast). As the fecal material decays, it uses up the oxygen in the water and may release ammonia. When this chemical process takes place in high quantities (i.e., when many people from a town do not properly dispose of their pets’ fecal matter), the resulting decrease in oxygen levels and the increase in ammonia, especially during warmer times of the year, can lead to algae blooms and fish die-off. The bacteria released during the decay of the stool may also make the water unsafe for swimmers, divers, fishermen and boaters. Let’s keep our water safe for everyone by properly disposing of pet poop.

What Should a Pet Owner Do?

So how can you best deal with pet waste? Pick it up with a pooper-scooper or a plastic bag slipped over your hand. You can then either flush the poop down the toilet or tie off the plastic bag and put it in the trash. Do not compost dog or cat poop! The temperatures in the compost bin do not get hot enough to kill off the pathogensA bacterium, virus, or other microorganism that can cause disease. that are dangerous to human health. In areas where the water table is deep in the ground, you can bury the waste. Be sure you always have a plastic bag with you when you walk your dog so you can pick up the poop. Newspaper bags, bread bags or plastic produce bags work well also, so feel free to give them a second life of picking up poop. There are companies that make pet waste digesters so that is something you can investigate. There are also companies in many urban areas that make weekly trips to clients’ yards, scoop up all the poop and dispose of it properly.

Take care of your health, your kids’ health and your pet’s health, be a good neighbor and protect our waterways and water quality by picking up your pet’s poop and disposing of it properly!

Lori Teller, DVM is a graduate of Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and lives in Houston, Texas. She practices at Meyerland Animal Clinic.