Pet feces can be more dangerous than you may realize: ScienceAlert
Have you ever been out for a walk, and as you take the next step, feel the pressure of slippery stool under your foot?
It’s just not gross. Aside from the mess and the smell, it’s probably contagious. For this reason, signs reminding pet owners to “restray your dog” and collect its droppings have been joined in some places by warnings that pet waste can spread disease.
As a small animal primary care veterinarian, I deal with dog and cat fecal diseases every day. Feces represent a potential zoonotic risk, meaning it can transmit disease from animals to humans.
The truth is that waste left in the soil, whether in a neighborhood, driveway or dog park, can spread life-threatening parasites not only to dogs and cats, but also to wildlife and people of all ages. A 2020 study found intestinal parasites in 85% of off-leash dog parks across the United States.
While human diseases caused by soil-borne parasites are uncommon in the United States, they infect an estimated 1 billion people worldwide. Signs reminding you to pick up after your pet aren’t just trying to keep public spaces clean; They urge you to help protect the health of your community.
The effect of abandoned feces on humans
Common parasites in dog feces include hookworms, roundworms, coccidia, and whipworms. Hookworms and roundworms can thrive in a variety of species, including humans.
Their microscopic larvae can enter your body through small scratches in your skin after contact with contaminated soil or through accidental oral ingestion. Remember, next time you’re out and about, wipe the sweat off your face with a dirty hand and then lick your lips or have a drink – it’s that simple. After a hose or rainwater rinses contaminated feces into the soil, these parasite eggs can survive and infect for months or years to come.
Once inside the human body, hookworm and roundworm larvae can mature and migrate through the bloodstream to the lungs. From there, coughing helps them reach their host’s digestive system, where they filter out nutrients by attaching to the intestinal wall.
People with healthy immune systems may have no clinical signs of infection, but in sufficient quantities these parasites can lead to anemia and malnutrition. It can also cause intestinal obstruction that may require surgical intervention, especially in young children.
In addition, the larval stages of roundworms can transmit to the human eye and, in rare cases, lead to permanent blindness. Hookworms can cause an intensely itchy condition called cutaneous larval migration in which the worm larva moves just under the skin of its host.
Once the parasite’s life cycle is complete, it may emerge from the host’s body as a healthy adult worm, which looks like a small piece of cooked spaghetti.
Impact on other animals
Dogs and cats can also exhibit the same symptoms as people due to parasitic infections. In addition to the risks of hookworms and roundworms, pets are also susceptible to whipworms, giardia, and coccidiosis.
In addition to parasites, unattended feces may also be contaminated with canine or feline viruses, such as parvovirus, distemper virus, and canine coronavirus, which can cause life-threatening illness in other dogs and cats, especially in unvaccinated adult animals, puppies, and kittens.
These viruses attack rapidly dividing cells, especially the lining of the intestine and bone marrow, making them unable to adequately absorb nutrients and unable to produce replacement red and white blood cells that help defend against these and other viruses. Vaccination can protect pets.
Many species of native wildlife are found within the dog and cat family groups. They are also as susceptible to many parasites and viruses as pet dogs and cats – while they are much less likely to receive the benefits of vaccinations. Coyotes, wolves, foxes, raccoons, mink and bobcats are at risk of contracting parvovirus, coronavirus and tuberculosis.
Responsible management of pet feces
So, wherever your dog or cat relieves itself — in the park, in the woods, on the sidewalk, or even in your yard — pick up that feces but always avoid contact with your skin.
It is safe to use a shovel to place the stool directly into a plastic bag, or to place a bag over your hand to pick up the stool and then pull the plastic bag over it. Although it is tempting to leave “soft” or watery stools behind, these are often the most likely cause of spreading disease.
Tie the bag and be sure to place it in the trash — not on top of it — to avoid inadvertent contamination of a neighbor or sanitation worker. Wash your hands right away, especially before touching your face, eating or drinking. Hand sanitizers can treat many viruses on your skin, but they will not kill parasite eggs.
Other potential sources of exposure to feces and parasites are sandboxes, beaches, and park sand under and around playgrounds. Sand is comfortable for relaxing in, fun for building into castles, and cushions the impact if you fall from the play structure. But cats and other small mammals like to use it as a litter box because it is easy to dig and absorbs moisture.
Covering sandboxes when not in use and closely monitoring your environment at the beach and playground are essential steps toward reducing exposure risk for everyone.
By maintaining regular parasite prevention protocols for your pets, with annual testing for intestinal parasites and routine removal of fecal material from the environment, you can help reduce the likelihood of these diseases among all mammals in your environment – humans, pets and wild.
Key points to remember to avoid parasites and reduce their impact on your ecosystem:
- Safely pick up and throw away waste no matter where your pet poops. Sanitize your hands afterward.
- Wash your hands before eating or touching your face while gardening or working in the yard.
- Avoid rinsing feces into the soil. Using a rain or garden hose removes only visible messes, not microscopic issues.
- Make sure sandboxes are covered when not in use.
- Keep your pets on monthly schedules to get rid of intestinal parasites.
- Have your vet check your pet’s stool annually for intestinal parasites.
Julia Wiers, Clinical Assistant Professor of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, University of Florida
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.