Lives may depend on it. Picking up after your pet that is.
Besides looking and smelling bad, animal droppings, and dog doodie especially, can be host to harmful bacteria and viruses.
Some have milder consequences, causing things like Giardia, which will usually just make your pup puke-y and give him loose stools for a little while (we usually call it “traveler’s sickness” or “beaver fever” in humans) but some bacteria and viruses can cause much scarier symptoms.
Springtime is when dogs are especially at risk because of snow melt. A virus from one unattended stool on a snowbank can be carried wherever the melted snow goes, and when a frisky puppy finishes bolting through the snow, he might take a moment to lick his paws or lap up some puddle water, and then it is in his system.
One illness to be on the lookout for is Parvo. Canine parvovirus (CPV) infection is a highly contagious viral illness that affects dogs.
There are two types. More common is the intestinal form, which can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, and lack of appetite.
The less common type is the cardiac form, which attacks the heart muscles of puppies, and can often lead to death, though the incidence of CPV has been significantly reduced by early vaccination in young puppies. Older dogs that survive this form have scarring in the heart muscle. Usually, the virus is transmitted either by direct contact with an infected dog, or indirectly, from feces. Heavy concentrations of the virus will be found in an infected dog’s stool, so when a healthy dog sniffs it, he can contract the disease. There is evidence that the virus can live in ground soil for up to a year! It is resistant to most cleaning products, or even to weather changes. Household bleach is the only disinfectant known to kill the virus 100 percent, though there are a number of commercial Parvovirus disinfectants on the market. One website recommends that for a useful disinfectant, the dilution for bleach is one part bleach to 30 parts water, and caution is recommended for dyed or colored fabrics. This should go without saying, but do not use a bleach preparation on a living animal ever!
Vaccination is the best way to protect your dog which is a big part of why vets stress the importance of keeping your puppy away from other dogs and from places where many dogs congregate until it has been vaccinated. Research shows that some breeds may be more susceptible to the illness than others. German Shepherds, Pit Bulls, Doberman Pinschers, Rottweilers, and Labrador Retrievers have an increased risk for this disease. Toy Poodles and Cocker Spaniels seem less likely to contract this disease, though it is important to remember that any breed can get Parvo so be sure to keep your dog’s vaccinations up to date.
There is currently no specific cure for CPV, and treatment usually involves supportive care. In most cases, a dog will be treated with oral electrolyte fluids if it can keep them down, or put on IV if it can’t. Antibiotics are given because damaged intestines make dogs vulnerable to secondary infections, and anti-vomiting and anti-nausea medications are also sometimes administered. Hospitalization for puppies infected with CPV is usually around 5 days, and surviving the first 3 of those days is a good sign.
The truth though, and any dog owner will tell you this, is that there is simply no way to make sure your dog doesn’t come into contact with other dogs’ poop. The good news is that there are ways to minimize the danger of infection.
Parvo is a serious and dangerous illness, but it can be fought and avoided by keeping your dog vaccinated and by picking up after your dog. It’s a good idea to carry extra plastic bags with you too, in case your dog does that thing where he seems to have more room in his intestines than you ever thought possible, or in case you run into another dog walker who’s run out of bags. For the people out there, and we know you’re out there, who simply can’t be bothered to pick up after their pets; please remember that in some cases this disease and others like it can be Asymptomatic. That means that a virus might be lurking in your dog’s poop, and it may be harmless to your dog. But it could kill somebody else’s best friend. Please pick up after your pets and dispose of their waste responsibly.