It’s not glamorous, but as responsible pet parents, we do it every day – we pick up our pets’ poop! Have you ever wondered what our pets think about our obsession with cleaning up their poop? Have you ever wondered why this actually is a very important aspect of pet ownership? Well, maybe you have and maybe you haven’t, but here we will discuss all things … POOP.
1. Why is it so important that we be careful when cleaning up dog poop?
There is a list of diseases that can be transmitted from dogs to humans via the fecal-oral route, for this reason, some care should be taken in handling (or picking up) a dogs’ feces. Diseases that are transmitted from animals to humans are called zoonotic diseases. Zoonotic diseases we can get from contaminated dog feces include Salmonella, Campylobacter, Giardia, Roundworms, and potentially Hookworms.
Zoonotic diseases are always a bigger concern among susceptible people. These include the very young, the elderly, and the immunosuppressed (HIV, chemotherapy, chronically ill, immune-mediated disorders, organ transplant recipients, pregnant women, etc).
Salmonella sp are bacteria belonging to the genus Salmonella, the infection with this disease is also known as salmonellosis. Dogs can carry the bacteria with or without becoming ill. Unfortunately, many dogs do carry salmonella they obtain from either other dogs or even their food. Many commercial kibble diets, and especially raw diets, have tested positive for salmonellosis. If your dog is eating these foods it may carry the bacteria. The issue is so concerning, the FDA has developed a video on safe food handling (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_X0F-XYHHxk). A lick on the face or improper handling of contaminated feces can lead to infection in humans.
Campylobacter sp is a similar threat and a common foodborne bacteria for humans. It is found in uncooked (raw) meats and is in virtually all poultry. This is why poultry must be cooked thoroughly and many veterinarians have not supported the long term feeding of raw diets to pets. Instead many recommend lightly cooked diets like those made by JustFoodForDogs.
For both of these bacteria, the key is prevention. The feeding of wholesome, lightly cooked, clean diets that are not contaminated with these bacteria in the first place, will help prevent fecal contamination with these bacteria. We periodically test our food for bacteria and to date, no test has ever found bacteria in our food! This is important because your dog can carry the bacteria and pass it off in the feces or through a lick on the face.
Giardia sp is a protozoan infection that can also cause moderate to severe GI disease in humans. Giardia exists in the environment and there are many different strains. Most people develop immunity to various forms of Giardia over their lifetime, but once again the immunosuppressed or susceptible may be at risk. Transmission is almost exclusively via the fecal-oral route, and for this reason, it is sufficient to use reliable plastic bags that are free of any defects or holes. You should wash your hands thoroughly after disposing of the bag with feces in it, and for those who are susceptible, the use of latex gloves may provide an additional layer of protection.
Roundworms and Hookworms are intestinal parasites that are most prevalent in younger dogs (puppies) and have been shown to establish infections in humans, especially children. One form of the disease can cause blindness, which has led to increased awareness, yet the prevalence of this form of the disease is very rare. One year in the UK, only 52 children were diagnosed with OLM (ocular larval migrans), the form of the disease that causes blindness. Yet the headline read “One Child per Week may be Blinded by Puppies.”
The best method to avoid parasitic infection in humans is proper prevention. Puppies should be dewormed multiple times during puppyhood and adult dogs should receive routine de-wormings every 6-12 months.
2. Here are some of the step-by-step instructions for safely cleaning up your dog’s poop when:
A. It happens outdoors
In order to clean up your dog’s poop outdoors, it is best to have your dog poop on grass or sand in the first place. It’s best if children do not frequent the area where they defecate, so perhaps a patch of sand or area in a park that is not popular. Also, the consistency of the feces matters greatly. Soft poop is more difficult to pick up than firm stool. If your dog is having consistently soft stools, a vet should evaluate him, as this could be caused by some of the conditions discussed above.
If on sand or grass, use a thick plastic bag to cover the feces and entrap it, then turn the bag inside out immediately, trapping the feces in the bag. Tie the open end of the bag together and discard it into a wastebasket as soon as possible. Some bags have additional features that provide additional protection like double layers on the end in contact with the feces and drawstrings. Be certain the bag is new and does not have any holes or punctures. Thin bags may rip, or break at the seam, which is the end you rely on to pick up the feces. If your dog went on sand or grass, the threat of zoonosis from any feces left behind is diminished. Organic material in the grass may neutralize some bacteria, and the inert nature of sand is a poor medium to maintain their growth. Most bacteria will not survive long in these conditions, although there are always exceptions.
If your dog goes on cement or a hard surface, you may find it necessary to wash down the surface with water after picking up the poop as described above. Adding diluted bleach to the water is an additional precaution that will most definitely kill any bacteria or protozoa. If this is an area outside, use a bucket of diluted bleach water and splash it over the stain. To remove any remaining fecal material, scrub the area with a metal brush.
If the person doing the cleaning is immunosuppressed or is susceptible in any way, he/she should not be cleaning up the feces. If there is no other choice, the use of latex gloves may help as an additional precaution.
B. It happens indoors
If the dog goes indoors then you will pick up the feces in the same fashion as described above but you must also thoroughly clean the surface. Lysol is a great disinfectant that kills virtually all zoonotic diseases and is safe to use on most indoor surfaces. Carpet can be disinfected with Lysol as well, but if stained may require additional cleaning or steam cleaning for complete removal of the stain.
Wearing dishwashing gloves, fill a bucket with cold, soapy water using a laundry stain cleaner like Oxi Clean or a similar product. Dip a scrub brush in the soapy water and scrub out the stain until it is no longer visible. Using paper towels or dry towels dap over the area to absorb as much of the moisture as possible.
Finally, in order to remove any odor of feces, you can use Simple Green Odor Eliminator, which is an excellent odor neutralizer. Keep in mind, this is not necessarily a disinfectant, thus you should follow the steps above first: Lysol, soap and water, scrub, then odor eliminator.
C. When the actual fecal matter is on your pet
The best thing to do if your dog becomes soiled is to give him a bath with warm water and dog shampoo. If you do not have dog shampoo, a mild human shampoo like Johnson and Johnson Baby Shampoo will work. Most bacteria are killed by soap and warm water.
Wearing gloves (dishwashing gloves for example) is another additional precaution that can help protect susceptible individuals if they must be the ones giving the bath.
3. So what is the final “scoop” on poop?
Healthy, clean dogs make healthy, formed stools, which are safer and easier to clean up. The best way to reduce any risk of cleaning up your dog’s poop is to feed a high-quality diet that is not contaminated in the first place, keep your dog in good health and monitor his fecal consistency. Many veterinarians now believe that the heavily processed, commercial diets that were once popular actually may cause GI upset due to the large amounts of preservatives and chemicals that they contain. Lightly cooked, wholesome diets with no preservatives are ideal. Many people choose to make healthy meals for their dogs at home.
Prevention is the best strategy when it comes to zoonotic potential, and if your dog is eating the right food and producing healthy poops, then your own health will benefit.
Blog post was written by:
Dr. Oscar E Chavez BVetMed MRCVS MBA
Chief Medical Officer
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About JustFoodForDogs: We started JustFoodForDogs with one simple, primary objective – to increase the quality and length of life for as many dogs as possible through the food they eat. All of our food is made from ingredients certified by the USDA for human consumption and we add all of the necessary nutrients to make our meals complete and balanced. Our recipes are developed by our own team which includes several veterinarians, a board-certified veterinary toxicologist, a professor in canine clinical nutrition, a team of RVTs and veterinary assistants, and a cadre of dogs and dog lovers.