Is Poop Dangerous?

Intuitively, every human arrives in this world pre-engineered to know it’s Small baby feet resting on grassjust plain unwise to touch poop.  But what about the dog poop in your yard?  Certainly no one is touching it, so is it dangerous?  Surprisingly, the answer is yes!  According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information and the Centers for Disease control, dog poop is a hazard as it can and often does harbor antibiotic resistant bacteria such as:

  • Enterococci
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Salmonella
  • Yersinia 
  • Campylobacter
  • Giardia 

A woman sitting on the grass with a laptop

Left unchecked, the bacteria spread through the environment in air, water, and soil thus contributing to the spread of resistance genes into an urban area.  When you step in your yard, you may well step in the feces themselves or onto the place where feces have recently been. The bacteria transfer to the soles of your shoes, and from there onto rugs, tile, or carpet inside your house.

Rats (and mice) are also the drivers behind hantaviruses.  Hantaviruses are a group of viruses that may be carried by some rodents. According to the Centers for Disease Control, some hantaviruses can cause a rare but deadly disease called hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. The disease is called HPS for short.  HPS has been found in every state so far except Alaska and Hawaii.  These viruses are airborne.  So, you’re most likely to be exposed when you are sweeping up an area that has rat urine and/or feces all around. Once you have breathed in the virus, an incubation period of 1-5 weeks go by and then, if infected, your symptoms will be muscle aches, fatigue and shortness of breath. You can also pick up the virus by touching the rats’ feces or even the nesting materials.

The story is no better for poop left to degrade in nature (along walking trails or front yards).  Contrary to what you might think, the waste doesn’t just sublimate, degrade, evaporate and disappear.  Rain pulls the waste into gutters and storm drains where it eventually ends up creeks, rivers, and bays. Humans who are in these natural waterways are exposed to salmonella and Ecoli.  The waterways bloom with algae which further depletes the oxygen in the water, which in turn makes microorganisms, amphibians, fish and other wildlife susceptible to disease.

So how should we proceed? After all, we’re not giving up the family pet(s).  Here are some good practices to keep waste-borne bacteria at bay.

  1. Scoop right away. Do this when you’re out walking, every time and don’t leave home without waste bags and backup bags (in case your roll runs out).
  2. Scoop your yard regularly. Best practice is to do this immediately after your pet potties, every time.  Next best is to do it daily, semi-weekly, weekly and so on.
  3. Deposit waste into one of two places: the toilet (where it enters a system designed for managing waste products) or the city trash waste stream.  Either of these two methods is many times preferable to leaving it where it lays.
  4. On a biweekly or weekly basis, use a sanitizer on your yard. There are several ways to do this.
    1. You can spray a diluted bleach solution on your yard which will do the trick using a 1 to 30 solution of bleach and water.
    2. Hydrogen peroxide will also do the trick at a ratio of 1 part hydrogen peroxide to 11 parts water.
    3. Buy an off-the-shelf disinfectant like Top Performance 256, Johnson’s Clean and Safe, or Briotech Surface & Air Cleanser. A google search for yard sanitizer will identify at least 10-20 readily available products you can use to effectively sanitize your yard.

After the yard has been treated, allow about a half hour (longer on a humid day) for the lawn to dry before pets and children go out to play.

With a little bit of planning and some effort, pet waste is a danger that is easily managed.  When you keep up with this chore regularly, you can rest easy knowing that your pets and family are safe from bacteria and waste-borne parasites that are part and parcel with having (and loving) the family pet.