The Scoop: the importance of picking up pet waste

Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Jan 31 2013

These days, it seems like you can hire people to do just about anything. All of those little jobs you don’t want to tackle, like cleaning the toilet or gutters, can be remedied with a quick call to someone who will gladly take your money to perform the service for you. Here’s one more dirty job that you can pawn off on someone else: scooping your dog’s poop! There is a growing trend, especially in bigger cities, to hire companies to come to your home to do a weekly yard cleaning. But just because the service is offered doesn't make it a good idea.

First, consider why we should pick up our pet’s waste in the first place. The easy answer is, “Because it’s gross.” But WHY it’s gross is the bigger problem. Fresh feces are absolutely teeming with bacteria. In addition to E. coli, it may harbor Salmonella and Campylobacter as well, all of which can make you or your kids really sick.

Maybe you never walk your dog, and your pup only “does his business” in your back yard. Are you off the hook for daily poop retrieval? No way! Once-a-week cleaning may seem like an enticing practice, as the older the feces is, the easier it is to pick up, but old feces can be just as dangerous as fresh feces. This is because the eggs of some intestinal parasites need time to “ripen” before they are infective, and this will happen in feces that is left out to dry. Several kinds of common intestinal parasites that thrive in our pets, like roundworms, hookworms, and toxoplasmosis, are zoonotic, meaning that they can infect you and your children. Children are more commonly affected because they play in the backyard and don’t always practice good hand washing.

In addition to potentially contaminating your backyard with hearty parasite eggs (which may persist for weeks to months), allowing feces to dry out and disintegrate contributes to local water pollution as it washes into storm drains. Sadly, weekly poop scooping is just not good enough--it needs to be done daily.

Picking up after your pooch makes good sense, but it wasn’t until 1978 that the first legislation was enacted to mandate this behavior. It was New York City that started this trend, and for good reason--can you imagine the sheer amount of feces that is deposited on the streets of the Big Apple every day?

Even if your city or neighborhood doesn’t have laws regarding picking up after your pooch, the reasons for doing so are clear. But what about your neighbor, who doesn’t share your enthusiasm? Often, a little peer pressure is all it takes. I find that carrying extra bags is handy. That way, if you notice a neighbor not doing his neighborly duty, you can take him an extra bag and slyly say, “I noticed you forgot your bag--I do that sometimes, too. Here’s an extra one!”

Keep your own yard safe from errant piles, especially if you have children. Do a quick check daily if you have a neighbor who you know is not great about picking up after his or her dog. If your kids have a sandbox, keep it covered (especially if you have a cat, or if cats roam the neighborhood – a litter box and a sandbox don’t look that different to them!).

Picking up after your dog may be your neighborly duty, but following the rules will also help keep you, your pets and your whole family healthier!