A few days ago, I was walking my friend’s dog while she was out of town and had to perform a complex set of acrobatics to avoid stepping in the dog poo that other neighbors had left all over the grassy areas of our apartment complex. As I kneeled to clean up my friend’s dog’s poop, I saw a nasty mess right next to hers: a pile of poop from a large dog, absolutely teeming with baby tape worms. Yuck! It doesn’t take a genius to know that it’s unhealthy (not to mention disgusting) to leave worm-infested dog poop lying around, but many people don’t know that even “healthy” pet poo can cause serious health problems for both people and animals.
E. Coli is one of the most notorious diseases that people can catch from animal poo. This infectious bacterium is found in the digestive tracts of almost all animals, everywhere in the world, and it’s harmless when it’s in our colons where it needs to be. But, when it gets into our bodies through our mouths, E. coli is anything but harmless. It causes infections with symptoms ranging from vomiting and stomach pain to lethal diarrhea. You might think that no one will catch E. coli from your pup’s poo, but all that it takes is a barefoot child or a clean-up by someone who doesn’t immediately wash their hands to cause illness.
Campylobacter is a disease that people often catch from exposure to puppy poo. Lots of pups are carrying this bacterium and show few or no symptoms, so their owners don’t notice. If it doesn’t get cleaned up and someone makes an accidental encounter with it (an easier mistake than you might think!) they can catch this infection… which can cause painful, bloody, watery diarrhea and can even be fatal. Clean up your pup’s poo and wash your hands to keep this from happening to you!
Parasitic worms are another common disease that people can catch from exposure to your pet’s poo. We like to think of those icky vermin like roundworms as being something that only dogs and cats get, but the fact of the matter is that people get them-all the time. Many, many people are infected with these disgusting parasites and don’t even know it. Tiny, even invisible, baby worms in your pet’s poo can get into the soil, where barefoot people, gardeners, and kids making mudpies can contract these yucky worms.
Toxoplasma is found in the stool of many, many, cats, and most of them have no symptoms at all. For most people who encounter this little parasite, toxoplasma is no big deal… But, if your cat poops outside and an expectant mom accidentally encounters it, she could easily catch the infection and it could cause extremely serious birth defects in her unborn baby. Toxoplasma also washes into rivers, where it eventually makes it to the ocean and infects sea mammals, who can die from it. Keep your cat inside and dispose of his poop responsibly.
Giardia infection is another serious problem caused by pet poo that isn’t cleaned up. Your pet might be carrying giardia silently… Or, if she’s had a case of runny poo lately, giardia may be to blame. Giardia is highly contagious to people and other animals and, if your pet poops outside and you don’t clean it up quickly, pets and other people in your neighborhood may come down with this awful diarrheal illness.
Pet poop, left outside without being cleaned up, isn’t just gross and inconvenient to other people. It’s a major health hazard to pets as well as humans… and young children, elderly people, and the immunocompromised are the most likely to fall victim to these diseases. Do a favor to our planet and to the people and animals who share it with you and your pet: clean up your animal’s poop!
The CDC has more information about diseases carried and transmitted by pets and their poo.