Why is it important to pick up your dog’s waste?

Sign stating to pick up after your pet

The downside of being a pet parent has to be dealing with your pet’s waste. No one enjoys picking up poop, and at times it can be tempting not to, especially if it’s particularly runny or you’re in a remote area. But picking up your dog’s poop is very important because it is a health risk to both animals and people.

What diseases can spread through dog poop?

There are many significant health risks associated with dog waste, and many affect humans too. Some of these risks are listed below:

Toxocara

Toxocara canis is a roundworm present in the dog and fox population, and it is arguably the most critical health risk posed by dog feces. In the US, the prevalence of Toxocara in the dog population averages around 15%, varying from the west coast to the east coast, and this figure is despite regular fecal testing and appropriate worm treatments. In addition, this worm is zoonotic, which means it can infect people and other animals. 

What does infection with Toxocara cause?

As well as adult worms within the intestine of those infected, the immature larvae — if present in large enough numbers — can migrate around the human body and form ‘cysts.’ These cysts are commonly within organs like the liver, brain, or even within the eye, sometimes causing blindness.

If enough Toxocara eggs are inadvertently consumed through poor hygiene after handling infected feces, large numbers of cysts can form within the body, called Visceral or Ocular Larval Migrans. Visceral Larval Migrans is when the cysts form in internal organs like the liver, lungs, or even the brain. Ocular Larval Migrans refer to cysts being present in the eye tissue.

Over time, the body recognizes the worm larvae as foreign material to the body and starts an inflammatory response to try to protect the body from it. This inflammatory response forms granulomas, which are thick-walled capsules around the larval cysts.

What are the symptoms of Visceral Larval Migrans (VLM)?

The symptoms of VLM include wheezing, breathlessness, coughing, seizures, fever, abdominal pain, and anemia. However, not every person with VLM will develop every symptom as the symptoms depend on which organ is affected by the cysts.

What are the symptoms of Ocular Larval Migrans (OLM)?

Symptoms of OLM can include chronic eye pain, red-eye, or loss of vision. More complex signs include a white reflection through the pupil, misaligned pupils when focusing (strabismus), and a fixed pupil, which fails to dilate and constrict.

How can Toxocara be prevented?

The truth is that even with regular worming treatment, we will never eradicate Toxocara altogether. Stray dogs and other wildlife carry Toxocara. In addition, Toxocara eggs can lay dormant in the environment for months or years before choosing the perfect time to develop and become infectious. Because your dog constantly has the potential to be shedding eggs, it is imperative to always pick up their poop, even when it is away from the path or in a rural area.

Regular testing of your pooch’s poop by your veterinarian will allow them to determine the best parasite control to ensure that any worms they have picked up are removed. However, they will immediately become re-exposed to worms after their treatment. That is why it is so essential to make sure they are treated regularly.

Because of the large numbers of eggs in the environment, other steps you can take to reduce the health risk to your family are to clean your shoes after a walk and rinsing your dog’s paws and coat.

Parvovirus

Although parvovirus doesn’t affect humans, it can be fatal for dogs. Parvovirus is one of the diseases that your veterinarian will recommend vaccinating your dog against because parvo can make your pet very sick. The symptoms usually include severe vomiting and diarrhea, to the point of dehydration and irreversible damage to the guts. Parvo is very contagious, and the primary source of infection is contact with an infected dog’s feces. Even if your dog isn’t showing signs, they could be shedding the virus. Picking up the poop helps to protect other dogs, and young puppies aren’t yet vaccinated.

Giardia

Giardia is a single-cell parasite that causes diarrhea symptoms in dogs, humans, and other animals. You and your pet can get it from infected feces directly or from water or soil that has had contact with infected feces. If your dog is infected with Giardia, they may show symptoms like diarrhea, weight loss, vomiting, or flatulence. Dogs can also carry and shed the parasite without exhibiting any symptoms, allowing the parasite to infect others, which means that picking up your dog’s waste is very important.

Hookworm

Another worm transmitted by infected dog feces that can cause disease in people and animals is the hookworm. Rather than being infected through accidental ingestion of the eggs in the dog feces, the eggs mature into larvae on the ground. These larvae can penetrate through the skin of unsuspecting barefooted humans! As the larvae move around through the skin, they cause a condition called Cutaneous Larval Migrans, where the skin becomes very inflamed.

Picking up your dog’s poop prevents these larvae from attacking barefooted children and adults alike!

Campylobacter and Salmonella

The bacteria Campylobacter and Salmonella are both zoonoses, causing illness in other animals and humans. Both will cause vomiting and diarrhea, which can be pretty severe, but they can also cause abortion in other species. Dogs often show no signs of being infected with these bugs, but unsuspecting humans coming into contact with their poop can become extremely ill.

Cryptosporidium

Cryptosporidium is a protozoal organism that, if ingested, can cause severe diarrhea in dogs, other animals, and humans. It can make animals really ill, so reducing the amount around by safely disposing of dog poop is essential.

Tapeworm

There are a few different types of tapeworm, and they can pose risks for various reasons. Although relatively rare in the US, Taenia is a tapeworm passed in dog feces but infects sheep, leading to the formation of cysts within the sheep’s body, especially the liver. While the sheep may not show symptoms, the cysts cause the sheep’s carcass to be condemned, which has a financial impact on the farmer and the broader economy.

Another tapeworm is Echinococcus, and this is present throughout the world. This tapeworm again forms larval cysts, but this time in the organs of humans. These ‘hydatid cysts’ are commonly fatal to humans, with a 100% mortality rate if the infection is established before treatment is started. It is worth knowing that the main source of infection for your dog is eating infected offal or other uncooked meat. 

These tapeworms can live for a long time in the grass, proving a risk to grazing animals many months down the line.

Neospora

Another type of parasite that impacts farm animals is Neospora, a type of Coccidial parasite. Although this can cause some symptoms in dogs, especially puppies, the main impact is on cows. When cows ingest grass contaminated with infected dog feces, it can cause them to abort their calves, leading to considerable economic losses to the farmer. In addition, cows remain infected for life and can spread it to any live offspring they produce.

How to scoop poop!

To clean your dog’s waste, you will need tie-able dog waste bags, a poop scoop if you don’t want to use your hands, and somewhere safe and secure to dispose of the waste.

Turning a poo bag inside out and placing your hand inside it before grabbing the poo and tying the bag safely, is the best method. If you prefer to use a poop scoop, it may still be sensible to cover your hand with a poo bag or use a glove, to avoid contamination.

The securely tied dog waste bag can then be placed in your dustbin or a designated dog poo bin, ensuring that it is closed and wildlife cannot break into it. Once you have disposed of the waste, always remember to wash your hands immediately. Do not be tempted to bury the dog waste since this may put more parasites back into the soil.

The poop isn’t near the sidewalk, why do I need to pick it up?

Most people are aware of some of the risks of dog poop, and most responsible owners will pick up their dog’s waste if it is in a public area, especially where children may come into contact with it. But it is a common misconception that as long as your dog poops away from sidewalks, roads, or other busy areas, there is no harm in leaving it. 

However, infected dogs will pass hundreds or even thousands of Toxocara eggs in their poop. This means that, even if they don’t poop on a footpath or in an area that attracts busy crowds, they will still be adding eggs to the environment. These eggs can wait in the soil for a long time and then end up infecting wildlife or come home on your muddy walking boots or your dog’s paws or fur.

And don’t forget the impact on farm animals if you are out in the country. Not only is there the consideration of the welfare of the infected farm animal, but there is also a risk to human health from eating meat from farm animals infected with some parasites listed above. Dog waste causes considerable economic losses to the farmer and the country’s farming industry. 

How can I reduce the risk of picking up a parasite or infection from my dog’s waste?

If you want to minimize your risk of contracting an illness or parasite from your dog’s waste, have your dog’s feces regularly tested at the veterinarian so that they can test it and recommend the proper parasite treatment. In addition, using the recommended product regularly and treating any other pets with appropriate parasite control will help reduce the chance of them shedding any nasty bugs in their poop. 

However, this is not a substitute for good hygiene, and in fact, the most important thing that you can do to keep yourself safe is to wash your hands with an effective antibacterial handwash. As well as washing your hands after any contact with your dog’s feces, you should always wash your hands regularly after any contact with the dog, especially before eating meals or snacks.

So, why is it so important to pick up my dog’s waste?

Your dog’s waste can contain many different parasites, viruses, and bacteria, many of which can infect other animals or even pass to humans. Some of the consequences of being infected with these parasites or infections are very serious, causing various symptoms, including blindness, seizures, severe vomiting, diarrhea, and even death. 

Even pet dogs who have regular parasite treatments are likely to shed some diseases at some point in their lives, so you can’t be too careful. The best advice is to use regular parasite control, good hygiene, and always pick up your dog’s waste, no matter what!