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The Environmental Harms of Dog Poo

The Environmental Harms of Dog Poo - Pet Impact

As much as we love our furry friends, their waste can pose some serious environmental and health dangers. Dog poop is not just a nuisance, it can be harmful to our ecosystems and our own health. People often remember the stick it and flick it method advocated by the Forestry England and some MPs several years ago. We reached out to the Forestry England to clarify their advice and they said the following:

"I can confirm that Forestry England no longer promotes the stick and flick message and have aligned our message to match the Countryside Code published on the gov.uk website. We are aware that there will be historic references to stick and flick but we are no longer advocating this and will look at how we can publish and promote our current advice to ‘bag and bin’ dog waste."

So in this blog post, we will discuss the environmental and health dangers of dog poop and what we can do to mitigate them.

Environmental Hazards 

Surely leaving your dog's poo to decompose naturally is better than using a plastic bag that will take hundreds of years to degrade? Whilst this may be an understandable sentiment - contrary to popular belief, dog faeces is not fertilizer and does not provide any benefit to the soil (unless turned into compost!). In fact the Environmental Protection Agency classify dog poo an environmental pollutant, in the same category as oil spills, herbicides, insecticides, and salt from irrigation practices. Our delicate ecosystems haven't evolved to deal with this type of waste and if left on the ground, it can cause a variety of environmental issues. 

Water pollution

One of the biggest issues is water pollution. When it rains, dog poop can be washed into nearby bodies of water, like streams, rivers, and lakes. This can introduce harmful bacteria, viruses, and parasites into these ecosystems, which can cause harm to aquatic life and even make humans sick if they come into contact with the contaminated water. In fact the Environmental Protection Agency say “2 to 3 days of droppings from a population of 100 dogs contribute enough bacteria, nitrogen and phosphorus to temporarily close a bay to swimming and shellfishing.”

Loss of biodiversity & habitat degradation 

Due to their high protein diet, dog poop is exceptionally high in nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Which sounds like a good thing, right? Well not so fast. While nutrients are essential for plant growth, most ecosystems are naturally low nutrient environments so an excess can cause an imbalance in the ecosystem, leading to loss of biodiversity. In fact if left on the ground, these nutrients quickly reach levels that would be illegal on farmland. They can also lead to the growth of harmful algae blooms and the depletion of oxygen in waterways, which can suffocate aquatic life. Previous research has found that high nutrient levels can persist even three years after dogs are banned from nature reserves and can therefore pose serious long-term risks to wildlife.

Toxic to insects & our wider ecosystems

To date, relatively little attention has been given to the impact of human and animal medicines in our environment. However, there is an emerging body of research to show that these medicines can be astonishingly toxic to other insects, such as bees. For example, two common flea treatments used in dogs have been found in highly toxic quantities in UK rivers, far exceeding safe limits. Many other medicines and parasite treatments are excreted into the faeces, sometimes in their active forms, and may have the potential to kill insects and aquatic life, leading to wider impacts on our ecosystems.

Health Hazards

Dog poop can also pose a health risk to humans and other animals. It contains twice the harmful bacteria than human poo and also contains parasites, such as Toxocara, that can cause illness and infections. These can be transmitted through contact with contaminated soil, water, or other surfaces.

In natural habitats, such as forests and parks, dog poop can also disrupt the balance of the ecosystem by introducing these pathogens into the environment. This can affect the health of the plants and animals in the area and can even lead to the transmission of diseases to humans who come into contact with contaminated soil or water.

Children are particularly vulnerable to these pathogens, as they are more likely to play on the ground and put their hands in their mouths. If children come into contact with dog poop, they are at risk of contracting serious illnesses and even blindness.

What Can We Do?

It is our responsibility as dog owners to clean up after our pets and dispose of their waste properly. Here are some tips for dealing with dog poop:

  1. Always carry bags with you when you take your dog for a walk, and clean up after them immediately.

  2. If you have a backyard, designate a specific area for your dog to go to the bathroom and regularly clean it up.

  3. Encourage others in your community to do the same by spreading awareness about the dangers of dog poop.

In conclusion, dog poop may seem like a harmless inconvenience, it may even seem 'natural' to leave it in the environment. But dog poo poses serious environmental and health risks and isn't a natural part of our ecosystems. By cleaning up after our dogs promptly and disposing of their waste properly, we can help keep our ecosystems and communities healthy and safe.

References:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/feb/07/dog-pee-and-poo-harming-nature-reserves-study

https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/toxocariasis/gen_info/faqs.html

https://www.veterinaryprescriber.org/free-articles/reflecting-on-the-environmental-impact-of-parasite-treatments-what-does-the-ema-say

https://avmcww.com/2020/02/26/parasites-and-poop-the-importance-of-picking-up-after-your-dog/

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/nov/17/pet-flea-treatments-poisoning-rivers-across-england-scientists-find

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