Did you know?
There are an estimated 60 million dogs in the United States? That’s 16.4 billion pounds of poop per year! A dog drops an average of 3/4 pounds of waste daily. That means that your dog’s excrement equals 5.25 pounds per week, 21 pounds per month or 252 pounds per year. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) deemed pet waste a “nonpoint source of pollution” in 1991, which put poop in the same category as oil and toxic chemicals!
Why is pet waste a problem?
Woof-woof waste does not a good fertilizer make. It is actually toxic to your lawn, causing burns and unsightly discoloring. Beyond your grass, it has been estimated that a single gram of dog waste can contain 23 million fecal coliform bacteria, which are known to cause cramps, diarrhea, intestinal illness, and serious kidney disorders in humans.
When it rains, the potential exists for thousands of pounds of waste to wash down the storm drains and into our streams, rivers, and lakes – untreated! That means harmful bacteria associated with all this dog waste is going to our water. Untreated fecal matter can be a source of harmful bacteria and nutrients. Just as we don’t want human sewage in our water, it is important to prevent pet waste from being carried into our waterways. It isn’t just water quality that can suffer. Leaving pet waste on the ground, especially in public areas like parks or playing fields, may pose a risk to children, adults and even pets who can be exposed to diseases. Pet waste left on the ground can be unhealthy and messy…no one wants to step in dog waste at the park or ball field!
Consider this… Pet waste contains bacteria and parasites, as well as organic matter and nutrients, notably nitrogen and phosphorous. Some of the diseases that can be spread from pet waste are:
- Owned by a state, city, town, village, or other public entity that discharges to waters of the U.S.;
- Designed or used to collect or convey stormwater (including storm drains, pipes, ditches, etc.);
- Not a combined sewer; and
- Not part of a Publicly Owned Treatment Works (sewage)
But isn’t animal waste natural?
It is, but in developed areas with paved surfaces and lawns, pet waste can easily be carried by runoff directly into nearby water resources. In naturally vegetated areas pollutants from decomposing waste can be captured by the underlying soils; however, in parks and open spaces popular with dog walkers, waste can build up, becoming a serious problem.
A Toxic Cycle
If you aren’t worried about the state of your local waterways, you may be a bit more concerned about the impact of dog waste a little closer to home. The thing about persistently disposing of stools improperly (or not at all) is that it kicks off a harmful cycle that can affect your whole family—including your pet.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pet droppings can contribute to diseases animals pass to humans, called zoonoses. When infected dog poop is deposited on your lawn, the eggs of certain roundworms and other parasites can linger in your soil for years. Anyone who comes into contact with that soil—be it through gardening, playing sports, walking barefoot or any other means—runs the risk of coming into contact with those eggs; especially your dog.
Some of the hard-to-pronounce parasites your lawn could harbor include Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Salmonella, as well as hookworms, ringworms and tapeworms. Infections from these bugs often cause fever, muscle aches, headache, vomiting, and diarrhea in humans. Children are most susceptible, since they often play in the dirt and put things in their mouths or eyes.
In addition to these diseases, the organic matter and nutrients contained in pet waste can degrade water quality. When pet waste is washed into a surface water body, the waste decays. This process of breaking down the organic matter in the waste uses up dissolved oxygen and releases ammonia. Low oxygen levels, increased ammonia and warm summer water temperatures can kill fish.
Excess phosphorous and nitrogen added to surface waters can lead to cloudy, green water from accelerated algae and weed growth. Decay of this extra organic matter can depress oxygen levels, killing organisms, killing organisms and cause the water to become smelly. Flies and other pest insects can also increase when pet waste is disposed of improperly, becoming a nuisance and adding another vector for disease transmission.
What can you do?
You can prevent water pollution due to pet waste. Pick up pet waste and put it down the toilet, bury it (up to 6 inches deep), or put it in the trash. Never leave pet waste behind when taking your pet for a walk. Always bring a plastic bag, or two, when you walk your dog! You can carry bags in your pocket, tie them to your leash or belt loop, or use a doggy bag holder that fits on to your leash. Use the bag as a glove to scoop the waste, then turn the bag inside out and seal. You can keep a small bottle of hand sanitizer with you or wash your hands with soap and water when you are done bagging. Place the bag in a trash can or flush it, unbagged, down a toilet. Never dispose of pet waste in a storm drain as it will then flow directly, untreated, to your local waterway. Pet waste can also be carefully buried at least 5” deep, away from vegetable gardens or waterways, or even composted.
So, in essence, the cycle begins and ends with you. Perhaps becoming informed you will not let Rover’s relief become your neighbors’ nuisance.
Pet Waste Links
Learn more about pet waste and what you can do to help:
- 101 Reasons to pick up pet poop!
- Environmental Education North Carolina informs about pet waste
- North Carolina Division of Water Quality
- Earth 911 Making every day Earth Day: Stormwater pollution
- Clean Water Education Partnership – Eeeew, Dog Doo!
- Stormwater Education Toolkits from the University of Central Florida
- California’s Education Website for Erase the Waste “Water Quality Service Learning Program”