Pet waste is one of the worst types of pollution, not just because it's gross. The United States Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, has labeled pet waste a nonpoint source pollutant, putting it in the same category as chemicals from motor vehicles, pesticides, and many other toxic pollutants. The EPA even suggests flushing pet feces down the toilet rather than letting it pile up in your yard.
Why Is Dog Poop Dangerous?
To understand the problem with pet waste, you need to know a bit about bacteria. Pet waste contains bacteria like coliform, fecal coliform, and E. coli. Most of these bacteria are harmless or beneficial, but some are harmful or even deadly. The main culprit here is E. coli, which can cause problems like diarrhea, vomiting, and even kidney failure.
E. coli, like many bacteria, is not killed by the sun's UV rays, so it can persist for months on your lawn, especially if it's fertilized. Once the bacteria are there, they can spread to other surfaces by being tracked in from shoes, water runoff, animals who visit the area, and even through the air. In short, once E. coli gets into your lawn, it's there to stay.
Dog Poop & Water Systems
E. coli is not the only problem. Along with other organisms in the feces, it introduces nitrogen and phosphorus into the soil. When these nutrients are present at high levels, they lead to an overgrowth of algae, which then die, decompose, and use even more oxygen in the water (phytoplankton are similar). The resulting lack of oxygen can cause massive fish die-offs, and eventually, these dead fish attract other nonindigenous creatures, like jellyfish and stingrays.
Dog Poop & Your Health
Dog feces are also a major source of parasites. One particularly nasty strain, Toxascaris leonina, can cause rat lungworm disease in humans. This disease is often misdiagnosed because it mimics symptoms like meningitis, so it's essential to see a doctor immediately if you or your child start experiencing symptoms. While most rat lungworm disease cases are mild, they can lead to brain damage and even death if left untreated.
Dog Poop & the Environment
Dog feces also contain nutrients like phosphorus, which can cause algae blooms in waterways. When this algae dies, it adds to the oxygen depletion in the water, as discussed above. It also uses up the water's dissolved oxygen, which in many bodies of water is already low to begin with. In fact, according to a study by the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, the overabundance of nitrogen and phosphorus from dog waste can cause the death of 80 percent of the aquatic life in one waterway.
The Dangers of Dog Poop to Dogs
Naturally, the dangers of dog poop extend to dogs themselves. After all, most of us don't want our dogs to eat it. While it is usually harmless for them to eat, it can sometimes cause diarrhea, vomiting, and even death. If your dog does eat feces, clean out their mouth immediately and call the vet. However, this does not apply to dogs known to eat feces (it's called coprophagia, and if your dog does it, you should talk to your vet about ways to prevent it). In those cases, it's best just to clean it up when they do it.
We all love our dogs, but we don't love their poop on our lawns and polluting our waterways. The best way to prevent this is to have a system and/or service in place to regularly clean up and dispose of your pet’s waste.
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