One of my least favorite things about caring for dogs and cats is picking up poop and cleaning out litter boxes. It’s always stinky, a bit gross, and an annoying chore. But doing so is a vital part of having a pet, as leaving poop or improperly disposing of used litter can have negative impacts on people, pets, wildlife, and the surrounding ecosystem.
Back in September, I wrote about Sea Otter Awareness Week and how cat poop has had a negative impact on sea otter health. Cat poop can have some serious public health implications for wildlife and people in addition to impacting sea otters. Domesticated cats are carriers for toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that is often shed through the cats’ poop and can live up to 18 months in the ground in water. While this parasite are usually asymptomatic in humans, pregnant people and those with compromised immune systems should avoid too much contact with cat poop, as feces borne parasites like toxoplasma gondii can cause serious birth defects and other issues.
As I’ve mentioned before, there are also severely negative impacts on wildlife like sea otters. Other animals are also impacted by cat poop; Hawaii’s endangered seals are another marine animal being killed from the bacteria and parasites like T. gondii. This same parasite has also been known to change behavior in rats, making them less afraid of cats and more likely to be eaten. As t. gondii is only able to reproduce within cats, this changed behavior continues it’s life cycle.
Dogs, unfortunately, aren’t let off the hook in this conversation either, as the waste from our canine friends pose similar threats to public health and the environment. Dog poop is a common carrier for several diseases, including: hookworms, tapeworms, roundworms, parvo, giardiasis, and much more. Kids are more likely to get roundworm through playing in areas that might be contaminated by the feces of dogs and cats and while most people who are infected with roundworm show no symptoms, there are times in which the larvae can move through the body and damage body tissue.
And while there are some diseases that can be passed from dogs to humans, there are others that can be passed from dogs to other species. Parvo, for example, is a virus that’s shed through an infected dog’s poo and can infect other dogs and wildlife like coyotes. Similarly, giardia is an intestinal parasite that affects humans, dogs, and cats and is, in part, spread through feces.
Poop from cats and dogs also have an impact on the environment and local ecosystem, especially on the waterways nearby. Pet feces can create nutrients for weeds and algae to grow in water and as these things grow in places like lakes and ponds, they can limit the amount of light that can penetrate the surface. This leads to oxygen levels decreasing and the fish/seafood being asphyxiated. Seafood can also get sick from fecal bacteria, which could potentially lead to people getting sick as well.
There are ways in which to help curb the impact that cat and dog feces have on people, nearby wildlife, and the environment. One is to always scoop up your dog’s poop and throwing it away so it goes to a landfill. Another is to keep your cats inside and dispose of their litter in secure bags. Feces from cats and dogs cannot be composted or put in yard waste bins – they need to be taken out to the landfill.
I know how gross and unpleasant dealing with poop is but unfortunately, it is a part of having a pet. In some places, there are ordinances and laws that require you to do so. And if you have an outdoor sandbox for your kids, make sure that you can close it up when you’re not using it, as feral/neighborhood cats might use the box as another litter box.
Another way to help curb the amount of pet waste is to help control the population of feral cats, as estimates suggest that there are tens of millions of feral cats living in the United States. All of those cats contribute to the large amount of cat poop that isn’t cleaned up. There are a few different organizations that work on caring for feral cats (i.e. spaying/neutering them) in the Pacific Northwest. Some include: the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon, the Feral Cat Project in Lynnwood, WA, and the Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue up in Vancouver, BC. The Humane Society of the United States has a long list of different organizations that help feral/community cats that you can search by area.
Dealing with poop is a gross but vital part of having a pet and should be dealt with frequently. Leaving your dog poop in the yard or not picking it up on walks could have some serious consequences plus someone could step in it (which is never fun). The same goes with cat poop! Doing so can help keep people, animals, and the nearby ecosystem safe and healthy from decal bacteria and parasites.