Photo by Teri Ann Oursler, DVM
Poop is some of the most nasty organic stuff nature has to offer. Not to slight maggoty road kill, but unlike dog poop, dog owners are not responsible for picking those up. While dog owners may get jaded against its general ickiness - familiarity doesn't generally breed contempt in this context unless there are worms crawling in it - people who don't live with or love dogs don't want to have one darn thing to do with it. Not one!
Nonetheless, what goes in must come out. There's no scooping it out of a tidy plastic box at your leisure, unless you have a dog the size of a cat or, possibly, a dog obsessed with the litter box.
Dog poop is nasty stuff for more than the obvious reasons: In addition to having a foul odor and an uncanny ability to migrate to your shoes, it can harbor diseases that both you and your dog can get. Somehow, though, it's less nasty when it's poop your own dog deposits. It's those unknown piles that strike us as dicey.
No one is going to get the bubonic plague if they come into contact with Poop of Unknown Origin (left by a dog they don’t know).
But there is a tiny, tiny, tiny possibility that they could go blind.
A puppy can get parvo-the-puppy-killer from feces left loitering about on the street.
Dogs and people can get whipworms, hookworms, giardia, and roundworms. Some of those conditions cause diarrhea, increasing the likelihood of passing along the bad stuff not only because diarrhea touches more surface space than regular poop, but also dogs with diarrhea produce more feces than a dog without "dire rears."
Bloodsucking hookworms can cause blood loss leading to anemia, plus protein loss, in both species. Yeah, they really use hooks to hold on tight to the intestinal wall; not everyone needs opposable thumbs.
The vampire-like whipworms can cause rectal prolapse in people, and children with heavy infections can become severely anemic and growth-retarded; in dogs, whips can cause chronic, gooey diarrhea that’s a joy to clean. (Chances of getting someone else to clean it up are slim at best. Get some gloves.)
Giardia is a diarrhea festival. It's a common intestinal parasite affecting humans in North America, and summer is festival season.
Roundworms can cause blindness in people, in addition to lung, heart and neurologic signs. Don't panic. It's not a frequent risk, just a small one, but still a risk, and you know how physicians react to risk: "Stop doing that." In young animals roundworms can cause - surprise! - diarrhea, plus vomiting. Sometimes a dog will vomit moving worms of up to seven inches in length; you could review that on an endless loop in your next nightmare. You can also see the worms move in poop. Woo hoo! In heavy infections in dogs, roundworms can cause pneumonia while the worms migrate and, if there is just a ton of them, the mass of worms can obstruct the intestine. Roundworms are the most common worms found in young dogs; they are much less common in adult dogs. But in those unknown piles left lying around, you don't know if it came from an adult dog or an adorable 14-week old puppy.
The best way to prevent transmission to you and your pets is to regularly pick up not only your dog’s feces but piles someone else left, whether at the dog park or while walking in your neighborhood. Ready to pick up every pile you see? Go for it. It's a public health benefit. Wash your hands with soap and water afterwards.
Yes, I know it’s disgusting. I know it’s not fair. No one ever said life would be fair, and that includes getting sick because some inconsiderate bozo didn’t pick up his dog’s poop.
Of course you don’t have to pick up other people's stuff, and ohmyword what did that dog eat and why does it smell so incredibly bad?
But just do it.
Pick it up and get rid of it the way the dog’s owner should have. We’ve all missed some piles – each and every one of us – and we’re going to miss more piles in our lives. We have many reasons for missing it: we were talking with someone, answering a text, the dog ran to the far end of the park where we couldn't see her, and so on.
Bottom line: if you pick up someone else's poop, you are less likely to step in it later. If you don't step in it you don't have to clean your shoes or come into closer contact with it.
I call this system poop parity. It's a what-goes-around-comes-around kind of thing. Anything involving picking up feces for which you are not directly responsible will get you major karma points. It might even make that curmudgeonly neighbor soften towards you and Spot.
Poop parity makes the world a healthier, cleaner, prettier place, not to mention one in which it’s nicer to go for a walk. Even if you’re utterly anal retentive and have never missed a pile in your entire lifetime (yeah, right!), be a generous person and help out the neighborhood or dog park and scoop it up anyway. Get rid of it before someone’s dog steps in it and tracks it into a home. Plus, stormwater systems can carry it right into your local waterways (cold glass of water, anyone?)
The poop parity plan may prevent your dog from stepping in someone else’s ickiness-laced pile and transmitting bad stuff to your dog, your kids, or you – which are expensive yet preventable scenarios.
Heck, if a vampire picks up his dogs' poop himself, even with all the money Stephen Moyer and Anna Pacquin earn, so can the rest of us!
June 26, 2013
VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email firstname.lastname@example.org.