We’ve all been there at least once: no one is looking and you forgot a poop bag so you just walk away from your dog poop and hope no one sees you.
Most people probably would’t feel guilty doing it once in a while. I mean, how is one dog poop pile going to hurt anything?
Then, there is me. I worked in the field of water quality protection for 10 years.
Someone like me loses sleep for several nights over leaving dog poop on the ground (kidding. kind of).
But why? What’s the big deal?
Well, you may not know it, but dog poop is ruining our waterways.
UPDATED: Originally published November 19, 2023
Do People Really Leave Their Dog Poop on the Ground?
In my former career as a surface water quality specialist, I did a lot of research on people’s attitudes about pet waste.
Did you now that a 1999 study by the Center for Watershed Protection found that 41% of bay-area dog-owners rarely or never pick up after their pets?
Yes, we would hope that number would have improved since then.
While more people probably pick up their dog’s poop today due to the prevalence of educational campaigns, the percent of dog-owning households has in creased since 1999.
That means that the number of owners not picking up after their dog might be the same or similar.
I found that a big factor in people’s unwillingness to pick up their dog’s poop the perception that poop is natural – that it doesn’t hurt anything by leaving in on the ground and “letting it go back to nature.”
The truth is there are a lot of issues with leaving pet waste on the ground.
Is Dog Poop Natural?
Many people believe that dog poop is natural.
While pooping is natural, the effects dog poop can have on people and the environment is not.
First, dog poop contains a lot of bacteria. Bacteria that can make people sick.
One gram of dog waste can contain 23 million fecal coliform bacteria, which can cause illnesses in humans.
Dog poop left on the ground can be stepped on and bacteria from it can contaminate people’s vehicles and homes.
Bacteria from dog poop can also contaminate the soil.
Children crawl on floors, and eat dirt, so this bacteria can make them sick.
Second, people and dogs are concentrated to certain urban areas, surburban areas, and trails.
The volume of dog poop left in these areas from the hundreds of dogs that pass by is not natural.
While the environment might be able to degrade one pile of dog poop on occasion, it’s not able to handle the unnatural amount of dog poop left on the ground in most places.
How Long Does Dog Poop Take to Decompose?
How fast dog poop decomposes and breaks down depends on several different factors, including your dog’s diet, climate, exposure to sunlight, and the surface it’s resting on.
Dog poop left on dirt in the woods will break down faster than dog poop left on a lawn.
This is because there is less good bacteria in urban, chemically-treated lawns to help break it down.
Dog poop left on any kind of soil will decompose faster than if it’s left on concrete.
Dog poop exposed to cold temperatures will decompose slower than the piles exposed to warm temperatures.
Dog poop that remains most will decompose faster than poop that dries out (because when it dries out, the bacteria that can break it down also dies).
If a dog eats a high protien diet, it’s more work for bacteria to break it down.
For these reasons, dog poop can decompose in as little as 9 weeks or take 12+ months.
Does Dog Poop Disappear When it Rains?
While it may look like a pile of dog poop dissolves after a few rains, it doesn’t actually go away.
In reality, it breaks down into a million microscopic piles and washes away only to end up somewhere else.
Those microscopic poop piles take a float trip when it rains and can end up in the nearest waterway.
In urban areas, dog poop particles wash into storm drains and flow, unfiltered, straight into lakes and streams.
This bacteria can multiply.
It can also feed, and cause excessive overgrowh, of aqualtic plants that can rob life-sustaining oxygen from the water.
I’ve had to close down public swimming beaches because there is too much dangerous fecal coliform, or toxins released by decaying blue-green algae, in the water.
Pet waste is one of the most common contributors to making water unsafe to drink or swim in.
Check out this infographic from Earth Rated Poop Bags for a more a visual explanation.
What About Dog Poop in My Yard?
Now you might say, “But I don’t live or walk in an urban environment?
I know for sure that when I leave poop in my back yard, it doesn’t wash into streams or other waterways. This information doesn’t apply to my situation.”
Here is the potential problem with leaving dog poop in your yard.
In your back yard, it may look like the poo dissolved but the bacteria is still in the soil.
Now imagine your kid, or your neighbor’s kid, is playing in your yard. Their toys get dirt on them, then their hands get dirty, and then they stick their fingers in their mouth like kids do.
Now they have just eaten bacteria from dog poop. Yuck!
Eating contaminated dirt can make kids sick.
I will admit that it’s rare but it happens. Taking that risk is up to you.
The bottom line is scoop the poop using a bag or shovel and put it in the trash.
Sending masses of poop to the landfill is not the perfect solution but it’s the best there is right now to keep the earth clean and keep everyone safe and happy.
About the Author
Hi, I’m Jessica. I’ve been studying the Dachshund breed since 2007, owned 3 of my own, and shared in the lives of thousands of others through their owner’s stories. When I’m not sharing what I know on this blog, you can find me hiking, camping, and traveling with my adventurous wiener dogs.