Is Dog Poop Environmentally Friendly?

Do you pick up your dog’s poop using a plastic bag and then throw it in the trash?

Do you even pick up your dog’s poop?

When I was a kid, we didn’t pick up our dog’s poop. I’d take Chipper (the brown cocker I had Dog poopingback then) for a walk and nervously look around to see if anyone was watching while he pooped in someone’s yard. Have you ever noticed that dogs always pick the spot where someone is sitting on their porch or looking out the window?

I tried to walk Chipper in public areas, like lawns along major roads and by schools—which is what my dad told me to do. Sometimes I’d get yelled at as I walked away ignoring them (something else my dad taught me), sometimes I used a stick to push it under the bushes. My dad said, “Why bother picking it up, it’s natural.” We just mowed Chipper’s spot in our yard and cursed if it got on our shoes.

Back in the early 70’s few of my neighbors had dogs. Now it seems like there are almost as many dogs on my block as people. Dog poop is a problem.

Why should you scoop your dog’s poop?

I work as an environmental consultant specializing in the water quality of lakes and streams. Dog poop (or any poop for that matter—soiled baby diapers, goose droppings, etc.) that washes into a lake or stream is considered a major contaminant.

Runoff from dog poop causes:

  • Elevated bacteria levels: coli is a bacteria found in the intestines of all mammals and birds. Ingesting some strains can cause gastrointestinal stress, such as diarrhea and stomach cramps. Some strains can cause severe illness. That’s why public swimming beaches are required to test for E. coli every few weeks during the swimming season. Poopy baby diapers, dog droppings, goose poop, or runoff causes elevated bacteria levels that can close a swimming beach.
    • Bacteria levels increase immediately after it rains and they stay high for a day or so before their populations decrease. I’ve tested a swimming beach within a half hour after a storm and the bacteria levels were through the roof already.
    • A rule of thumb: Do not go swimming within 24 hours of a storm. The bacteria levels may be high, even if the beach is open.
      • If the beach is tested, the lab still has to receive the samples and wait 24 hours for the bacteria to grow. Then if the levels exceed the state standard, the beach is closed. So the beach is open when the water has high bacteria levels, and closed the next day while the bacteria levels have dropped. The beach is required to stay closed until retesting shows acceptable levels. An inaccurate system, but it is all that is available at this time.
    • Nutrients: Especially phosphorus, which causes algae blooms in lakes and streams. It doesn’t take much phosphorus to cause an algae bloom. The Illinois State Standard for total phosphorus is 50 µg/L – a tiny amount that most of our lakes and streams surpass causing them to turn green with algae. I rarely collect samples under this standard, and I’ve been testing water for 22 years! Nutrient levels tend to be much higher after it rains and soil and contaminants wash into the water.
      • Phosphorus is the main nutrient causing algae blooms for inland freshwater lakes, but nitrogen causes algae blooms in salt water. Excrement contains both phosphorus and nitrogen, so always clean up after your dog.
    • Other parasites and bacteria: These include giardia and cryptosporidium, campylobacter and salmonella. I’ve had giardia; it gave me intestinal cramping and severe explosive diarrhea for several WEEKS. I got it from swimming in a stream when I flipped over in my kayak.

Maybe you don’t live by a stream, but heavy rain can wash contaminants into storm sewers, most of which pour directly into a stream, pond or lake. This past week, Lake County, Illinois received torrential rains—heavier than anyone had ever seen, which caused unprecedented flooding—so you never know where bacteria and parasites from your dog’s poop may end up.

Leaving droppings on your lawn can cause:

  • Illnesses, such as worms, and other parasites not only can get your pet sick, but also your family. You or your kids can get these from playing on the grass, digging in the dirt, or even walking barefoot near where dogs did their business.
  • Diseases can also be transferred from your pet to people—zoonotic diseases. Many of these can occur from dog droppings, such as Salmonellosis, hookworms, ringworms, as well as infections from Cryptosporidium, Campylobacter, and

Many people still refuse to pick up pet waste, due to inconvenience, the ick factor, or just plain laziness.

Education is critical—if people know how bad dog poop is for the environment and for their families, many more may comply. Please forward this blog to pet owners who need this information.

My next blog will be on disposing of dog poop in an environmentally safe manor—what I do may surprise you.

Please read the sources below for additional information and subscribe to my blog to get an email notification of the next one. Whatever you do, don’t look up explosive diarrhea you tube videos—they are really disgusting.

This is a Wordless Wednesday blog hop. Please comment and visit the other pages.

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38 thoughts on “Is Dog Poop Environmentally Friendly?

  1. I manage a pet shop and we have had to put a sign up asking people to please pick up after their dogs while they are outside. We have had a few customers let their dogs go on the sidewalk and leave it. Not in the bushes or grass, on the actual sidewalk where people walk. Picking up after your dog is just part of good dog ownership.

  2. We always scoop poo, and teach our kiddos to do the same! Many, or few, it’s not great to leave it behind! It’s my biggest pet peeve when someone lets their dogs poo in my front lawn and they don’t clean up. I mean, I don’t let my dogs do it, why would I be cool with someone else’s! Great topic, people should definitely clean up after their dogs!

  3. We are fortunate that most people in our neighbor do pick up after their dogs. We use biodegradable poop bags to pick up and discard the waste. I will be interested to read your next post and see if you have other suggestions.

  4. We are fortunate that in our neighborhood most people do pick up after their dogs. I will definitely be interested in your next post on ways to dispose of it. We have some biodegradable bags that we use for picking up and then put in the trash.

  5. I love this post. I was just working on my “Pick Up The Poop” Game for Kids’ Pet Club. We do a live version and I want an online and mobile. It is so important to teach everyone from a young age.

  6. A few years back I attended a presentation with students about environmental pollution. It was eye-opener to hear of all the things that can pollute the water that sewers flow into. It made me wonder if we ever used to truly have fresh water. Your post is just as educational! Poop that isn’t scooped certainly can create havoc on everyone and everything. Wow!

    • I teach environmental biology and my students are always shocked to hear that water is always recycled. We have a chapter called from toilet to tap, since that is what happens with water after it goes through sewage treatment plants and then water purification plants. There is the same amount of water on the planet as when the dinosaurs were here.

  7. The 70’s – such a freewheeling, no rules kind of time, wasn’t it! Picking up dog poop is essential to to minimizing the impact to the environment. We learned a gross lesson… we fed our pups dehydrated raw food, and left our dogs business in the yard a couple of days while we went away. When we returned, and I got around to picking up the backyard…GROSS! Worms – that made my tummy turn and that was enough. Great, educational post!

  8. Picking up poop in populated areas is an absolute must. We always did. It’s important for many reasons. Up here, in the wilderness, though, we don’t. The poop actually serves as part of communication with the wild critters around here.

    • What do you mean as part of the communication? So that the wildlife knows a dog went by?
      I do get lazy in the forest preserve where I use a stick to push it into the brush away from the gravel trail. But many people don’t even do that and leave messes for anyone to step in.

  9. I grew up like you did. We’d always walk our dog around the neighborhood and never considered picking up poop. We also never considered the problem with all of the poop inside their fence. Wow! How things have changed.

  10. Great information! I don’t think people realize the health risks and environmental problems associated with not picking up dog poop. It’s a danger to other dogs and to humans, too.

    Plus, if you have a small dog like mine who has small poop, you’re going to end up stepping in it sooner or later because you can’t see it. Not having to scrub dog poop off your shoe should be reason enough to pick it up.

    • Yes, most people don’t realize the health risks and the damage it can do to our streams. I was just in a canoe today for work on a pond that was totally covered with algae and had some dead fish. A very unhealthy pond – which was likey caused by many things, but was due to very high nutrients in the water.

  11. Wow – thank you for this. I had no idea of the implications. We had a heap of the ‘stuff’ in a corner of our cul-de-sac a few days ago UGH! People may not realise the full implications in terms of pollution at all, so I will share this far and wide.

    Pet parent responsibility is vital.

  12. I will definitely avoid looking up explosive diarrhea- thanks for the warning! I found your post very informative and easy to read. I pick up my poop in biodegradable waste bags rather than leaving it my yard or neighborhood (we have lots of kids too) and we live near a river. Our backyard backs up to a creek that feeds into the ocean.

    • Great that you’re using biodegradable waste bags! I’ll be talking about them in my next post. We had record floods in my area this past week and everyone is talking about the damage, but not about the super high E. coli and fecal coliform levels in the water – which I know they are! I just tested one lake that wasn’t flooded, and two days after the storm the bacteria levels were well above the state standard.

  13. Wow! What an insightful post. I don’t have dogs anymore, but when I did, we generally scooped it up and dumped it into the unused field across the road. We live in a rural area, on 120 acres, so there is lots of places we could dump. We don’t have any streams nearby, so that’s good. Also, what an eye-opener about testing the beaches. We swim when it’s icky, and don’t when it’s okay. Go figure. Thanks so much for taking the time to put all this together for us. Peace

    • Dumping poop in a field that is far from water is okay and I have done that too. Yes, the system for testing for bacteria needs to be changed. Actually, they have a model for Lake Michigan beaches based on wind direction and currents, but this doesn’t apply to inland lakes.

  14. I wrote about this before on my blog as well. I always make sure to pick up after my dogs, no matter where we are. We live in the city but do a lot of hiking/camping outside the city, it’s always a bit shocking to me to come across owners who think it’s ok to leave their dog’s…leavings.

  15. I never had dogs however I assumed NOT picking up poop, although inconvenient, it was nature’s natural fertilizer. Boy I had no idea such heavy consequences to NOT scooping the poop. Thanks for educating us on this.

  16. When I was growing up, picking up dog poop was not a “thing” either. But now I can’t imagine not picking it up and disposing of it properly! I get upset when other dog owners don’t clean up after their dog, not only is it rude, but it doesn’t look good for other dog owners and can give us a bad rap.

  17. Picking up dog poop is so important! The bacteria, the passing of diseases, the smell. lol. I wish the world would also open their eyes to what happens with the excrements from the animal farming industry, as that is the main source of our water pollution. Thanks for sharing how each of us can make a small difference in the quality of our water right at home.

    • Animal feed lots are a big source, but are at least regulated somewhat – at least if they use a storage pond – but not when they spray the material on farm fields, especially when they are frozen and the manure just runs off. Agriculture is regulated significantly less than urban areas.

  18. Holy cow, I didn’t know this! I clean up poop – always have – don’t think I have ever missed a pile! But, I didn’t know there were such crazy consequences to not.

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