Dog poop: it’s something inevitable that comes with dog ownership, but there can be some serious risks associated with the practice of not picking up dog poop and we’re not talking about breaking the law and getting fined. Sure, paying a fine is not pleasant, but dog poop laws are not just just there because of unsightly piles of doggy poop in the midst of a pristine yard; rather, there is much more to that. Learning more about facts about dog waste may be a yucky topic to talk about, and some risks may seem to come out straight from a horror movie, but it’s important information for both dog owners and not. So today we’ll be discovering some facts about dog waste and the dangers of not picking up dog poop.
Hookworm Larvae Penetrating Feet
If you are one of those dog owners who loves to walk barefoot in your yards, here’s a spoiler alert: after reading this, you might not want to ever walk without shoes again. Hookworms are zoonotic parasites, which means that they can passed along to humans.
The larvae of these pesky parasites are known for causing a skin infection that it referred to as “ cutaneous larva migrans.”
How do people get this infection? A dog infected by hookworms will pass several hookworm eggs in their stools. If the poop is not disposed of in a timely matter, the eggs will hatch into larvae that contaminate the soil.
To get infected, all it takes is to walk barefoot on this contaminated soil and the larvae will burrow into the skin.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, puppies and kittens are most commonly infected with hookworms, and children playing or walking barefoot in the area where dogs or cats frequent, are at risk for this condition.
“Wearing shoes and taking other protective measures to avoid skin contact with sand or soil will prevent infection with zoonotic hookworms. Routine veterinary care of dogs and cats, including regular deworming, will reduce environmental contamination with zoonotic hookworm eggs and larvae. Prompt disposal of animal feces prevents eggs from hatching and contaminating soil — which makes it important for control of this parasitic infection.”~Centers for Disease Control
Did you know? Hookworm infections are most prevalent in the coastal areas of the United States from southern New Jersey to the Florida Keys and then from along the Gulf of Mexico to Texas. (Source DVM360)
Roundworm Larvae in the Eyes
Another pesky parasite that may be found in dog feces are roundworms (toxocara canis). Roudworms, like hookworms, are zoonotic parasites, meaning that they can be passed to humans. The term toxocariasis is used to depict the infection caused by parasitic roundworms.
How do people get this infection? Roundworms are found in the digestive tract of puppies and dogs. A puppy or dog infected with roundworms will shed the eggs in their feces. When the dog’s poop isn’t picked up in a timely manner, the eggs are released into the soil. Children or adults who handle the soil and do not wash their hands, may ingest the eggs if the dirt is accidentally swallowed.
While in dogs roundworms tend to stick to living in the dog’s intestinal tract, when they infect humans they behave in different ways.
Young children are more at risk for a complication known as ocular toxocariasis, where roundworm larvae migrate to the eye which can cause inflammation and even vision loss. On top of that, the larvae may also migrate to organs such as the nervous system and liver, a condition known as visceral toxocariasis which may cause vague, systemic symptoms such as fatigue, fever, coughing and abdominal pain.
“In most cases, Toxocara infections are not serious, and many people, especially adults infected by a small number of larvae (immature worms), may not notice any symptoms. The most severe cases are rare, but are more likely to occur in young children, who often play in dirt, or eat dirt (pica) contaminated by dog or cat feces.”~Centers for Disease Control
Did you know? Statistics show that in the United States almost 14 percent of the population has been infected with Toxocara and children and adolescents under the age of 20 are the most likely to get infected. (Source: CDC) In the United States toxocaral larva migrans is known for causing hundreds of cases of unilateral blindness, and an uncountable number of cases are found to cause less permanent forms of illness in children. (Source DVM360)
Giardia Cysts in the Digestive System
Giardia is another pesky parasite that may affect humans, but the Centers for Disease Control report that risk of contracting giardia from a dog is rare because the type of Giardia known for infecting humans is different from the type that infects dogs and cats. However, rare doesn’t mean a person should keep his guard down and take unnecessary risks.
Here’s what happens with this parasite. Dogs are exposed to giardia, a protozoan parasite, when they ingest the infected cysts found in another animal’s feces or water that has been contaminated by feces.
Once the cysts reach the dog’s small intestine, they shed the active form of the parasite which attach to the walls of the dog’s intestine where they settle and start reproducing. At some point, the active forms of the parasite encase themselves into cysts once again and are evacuated along with a dog’s feces.
How do people get infected? In order for people to get giardia from their dogs, they would have to get in contact with water, grass or soil that has been contaminated with dog feces which contains the cysts. Another way dogs can give giardia to humans, is if the dog licks his behind and then licks a human who fails to wash his hands. Symptoms of giardia infection includes diarrhea, gas, stomach pain, greasy stools that float and possibly, nausea and vomiting.
“Anything that comes into contact with feces (poop) from infected humans or animals can become contaminated with the Giardia parasite. People and animals become infected when they swallow the parasite…Wear gloves when gardening to reduce the risk of coming into contact with infected feces (poop) or soil. Remove feces promptly and put them in a plastic bag.”~(Source CDC)
Did you know? Another similar condition to giardia is cryptosporidium, a protozoan parasite known to infect rodents, calves, dogs, cats and people. As other diseases listed in the article, transmission from dogs to humans occurs through fecal contamination. Mostly affected people are immunocompromised people, such as those affected by HIV/AIDS, who may develop severe diarrhea that never resolves and can even become fatal, explains veterinarian Dr. Arnold Plotnick.
Campylobacter Bacteria in the Stomach
Sometimes, conditions transmitted from the stool of dogs come from bacteria rather than parasites or protozoans. In this case, we’re talking about campylobacteriosism, an infectious conditon caused by campylobacter bacteria. Dogs get infected by getting in contact with contaminated food or water or from the feces of ill animals. The most common type of campylobacter affecting humans that comes from dogs is campylobacter jejuni.
How do people get it? Humans may get the disease from ingesting the juice of raw chicken meat or using a contaminated cutting board to chop salads, but also from contact with the stools of an infected dog or cat. According to the Centers for Disease Control, it just takes fewer than 500 organisms to make a person ill with campylobacter.
Campylobacteriosis in humans causes diarrhea, cramps, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, and fever, generally 2 to 5 days after getting in contact with the organism. In people with a compromised immune system, campylobacter can cause a serious, life-threatening infection. As always, it’s advised to pick up dog feces and wash hands with soap and water afterwards.
Salmonella Germs in the Digestive Tract
Most people have heard about salmonella, the germ that’s known to be found in raw meats and eggs, but not many people know they can get it also from dog feces. In 2012, there was a recall of multiple brands of pet foods by Diamond Pet foods, and back then it was linked to many people getting sick. Here’s a little summary of how this condition affects people and dogs
Dogs and cats may get ill from consuming foods that are infected with salmonella. The infection causes typical salmonella symptoms such as bloody diarrhea, lethargy, fever and even vomiting. Not always though infected dogs show symptoms.
How do people get it? Salmonella is transmitted from dogs to humans and humans to humans from the fecal oral route. The dog sheds salmonella germs in the stools, and, according to the CDC, the dog’s stool may carry them from 4 to 6 weeks after the infection. As always, dog owners should pick up their dog’s poop and people who interact with the dog should always wash their hands with soap and water after handling and feeding the dog.
Wash your hands as directed in the handwashing instructions. Clean up after your pet. If you have a dog, use a plastic bag to pick up the stool, and clean up the stool while on walks or from the yard and dispose of the stool in a tightly sealed plastic bag.~Centers for Disease Control
Echinococcus Larvae in The Liver
As if it wasn’t enough, there are also pesky parasites that may be interested in inhabiting the human liver or lungs. In this case, we’re talking about tapeworms of the genus Echinococcus.
Sheep, goat, moose, caribou and other animals act as intermediate hosts that harbor the eggs which hatch in their small intestine. Once hatched, the larvae migrate to various organs, especially the liver and lungs where they become a cyst.
Dogs are then fed the cyst-containing organs of these animals and become infected as well. In Canada and Alaska, the practice of feeding dogs the viscera of moose and caribou may lead to infections in dogs that are then transmissible to humans. In other areas such as California, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona, the practice of feeding the viscera of sheep was also found to infect dogs. Another form of echinococcosis may infect dogs when they eat infected wild rodents.
How do humans get infected? Humans get infected by accidentally swallowing the eggs of Echinococcus that may be found in the soil, water o vegetables that have been contaminated with infected dog feces.
Once ingested, the larvae may cause growths in the liver or other organs. Affected humans may feel generalized pain in the chest and abdomen, nausea, vomiting and coughing may take place. In some cases, allergic reactions and even death may occur. While this condition remains quite rare, there is a potential for a more serious public health problem considering that domestic dogs are becoming more involved in the life cycle, explains veterinarian Peter M. Schantz.
“Humans can be exposed to these eggs by “hand-to-mouth” transfer or contamination. By ingesting food, water or soil contaminated with stool from infected dogs. This might include grass, herbs, greens, or berries gathered from fields. (Source CDC)
What Dog Owners Can Do
As seen, these conditions are scary enough to deter dog owners from leaving poop around. Those pooper scooper laws are therefore in place for some very good reasons that go far beyond the cosmetic appeal of lawns, public parks and sidewalks.
On top of picking up dog poop, dog owners can lower the chances for zoonotic diseases by having the feces of puppies and dogs routinely checked by a vet and by de-worming accordingly.
Children should be supervised and not allowed to play in areas that are soiled with dog feces. They should be warned to never eat dirt. And of course, hands should always be washed with soap and water after handling dirt and playing with dogs.
Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional medical or veterinary advice. If your dog is sick, please see your vet. If you, your child or a family member is sick, please see your medical provider.
- Centers for Disease Control, Giardia, retrieved from the web on November 20, 2016
- Centers for Disease Control Toxocara Roundworms retrieved from the web on November 20, 2016
- DVM360, Zoonotic parasitic infections contracted from dogs and cats: How frequent are they?, retrieved from the web on November 20, 2016
- Flickr Creative Commons, John Collins, DSC_3594 (CC BY 2.0)
- Flickr, Creative Commons, Lulu Hoeller, Dog Drinking Toilet, Every dogs dream – a working toilet fountain in the back yard, CCBY2.0