By, Dr. Oscar E Chavez BVetMed MRCVS MBA
It’s not glamorous, but as responsible pet parents we do it every day – we pick up our pets’ poop! Do you ever wonder what our dogs think about our obsession with cleaning up their poop? Well, maybe you do and maybe you don’t, but here we will discuss all things dog poop.
Why is it important to be careful when cleaning up dog poop?
There is a long list of diseases that can transfer from dogs to human via the fecal-oral route. For this reason, you should take care when handling dog poop. These diseases that can transmit from animals to humans called zoonotic diseases. Humans can get zoonotic diseases from contaminated dog poop including salmonella, campylobacter, giardia, roundworms, and hookworms.
Zoonotic diseases are always a bigger concern among susceptible groups of people such as people with immune system disorders, people going through chemotherapy, pregnant women, and organ transplant recipients.
Salmonella sp is 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 often obtain from other dogs or even their food. Many commercial kibble diets, and especially raw diets, have tested positive for salmonellosis. If your dog eats these foods it may carry the bacteria. The issue concerns so many that the FDA developed a video on safe food handling. A lick on the face or improper handling of contaminated feces potentially leads 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 you must cook poultry thoroughly. Many veterinarians do not support 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. If you feed wholesome, lightly cooked, clean diets that are not contaminated with these bacteria in the first place, they will help prevent fecal contamination with these bacteria. 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 in many different strains. Most people develop an 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. For this reason, it is sufficient to use reliable plastic bags that are free of any defects or holes. Wash your hands thoroughly after disposing of the bag with feces in it. 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 and have been shown to establish infections in humans, especially children. One form of the disease can cause blindness, which may lead 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 dewormings every 6-12 months.
Step-by-step instructions for safely cleaning up dog poop when:
It happens outdoors
In order to clean up dog poop outdoors, it is best to have your dog poop on grass or sand in the first place. Also, the consistency of the feces matters greatly. Soft poop is more difficult to pick up than firm stool. If your dog has consistently soft stools, a veterinarian 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 into a wastebasket as soon as possible. Some bags have additional features that provide more protection such as double layers on the end in contact with the feces, and drawstrings. Be certain the bag is new and does not have any hole or punctures. If your dog goes on sand or grass, the threat of zoonosis from any feces left behind diminishes. Most bacteria will not survive long in these conditions, although there are always exceptions.
It happens on cement
If your dog goes on cement or a hard surface, you may find it necessary to wash down the surface with water after you pick up the poop as described above. Adding dilute 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 dilute 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.
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. You can disinfect carpet with Lysol as well, but stains may require additional cleaning or steam cleaning for complete removal of the stain.
Make sure to wear dishwashing gloves, then fill a bucket with cold, soapy water and use a laundry stain cleaner like Oxi Clean or similar product. Dip a scrub brush in the soapy water and scrub out the stain until it is no longer visible. Use paper towels or dry towels to dab 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.
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 a dog shampoo, a mild human shampoo like Johnson and Johnson Baby Shampoo will work. Soap and warm water kill most bacteria.
Wearing gloves is another additional precaution that can help protect susceptible individuals if they must be the ones giving the bath.
What’s 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 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. The Do It Yourself (DIY) kits provided by JustFoodForDogs is one example.
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.
About the Author
Dr. Oscar E Chavez BVetMed MRCVS MBA is a licensed veterinarian in California and a member of member the American Society of Nutrition. He is also the Chief Medical Officer at JustFoodForDogs (www.justfoodfordogs.com) where he leads their Canine Nutrition Team. As Director of Canine Clinical Nutrition, he brings not only a deep technical expertise in researching and working exclusively with fresh prepared whole food diets at Cal Poly Pomona, but also a true love for dogs. His own Golden Retriever, Rey, is proof of what a healthy diet can do for a dog – still healthy and active at the young age of 16.