Vet Blog

Summer Hiking Season: Pooch’s Poop is our Pet Peeve

June 29, 2020

Animal Care Center of Castle Pines (ACCCP) Hiking Club cherishes the awe-inspiring moments we get to share on the trails and in the mountains of our beautiful state.

Nature really is good at helping us unwind and improve our well-being! But as much as we ADORE and LOVE dogs, and TREASURE the human-animal bond, their un-scooped poop seen on hikes is more than just a gross, stinky, unsightly mess. It is an environmental pollutant and a human health hazard. For the sake of this blog, we will focus only on the environmental impact. But please ask your ACCCP veterinarian about the potential zoonotic risk of dog feces and the importance of parasite control…or stay tuned for another blog!

Many of us outdoorsy types (and even us responsible pet owners) once thought that it was ok to leave our dog's feces in the woods, especially if it had been deposited off the trail and no one would step on it. We believed it would just "decompose" and maybe even help "fertilize" the soil. After all, the deer, elk, moose and bear all "go" in the woods and nobody picks up their poop!

But here are some interesting facts. The distinction between our dog's poo and the wildlife scat lies specifically in the difference in their diets. Wild animals do not eat commercial dog food like our pets. Instead, they forage for food in their home environment. In other words, they consume resources and nutrients from the same ecosystem they are a part of. Once they digest and absorb the food, they basically return those same resources and nutrients to the ecosystem via their feces. The system is really a closed loop, with no net gain or loss in nutrients or resources.

In contrast, our canine hiking companions do not eat a diet rich in native plants from the same ecosystem they leave their waste in. Instead, they eat commercial dog foods rich in nutrients essential for providing a complete and balanced diet. Once they digest and absorb their diet, they deposit an excess of nitrogen and phosphorus in the environment. And when their poop is left on the ground to "decompose" a build-up of these nutrients can create unstable conditions in many ecosystems. These unstable ecosystems can lead to algae blooms in the rivers, lakes, and streams, which creates an inviting habitat for invasive weeds that will slowly kill off the local plant and fish life.

Interestingly, the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics conducted a study in Colorado three years ago. And what they found was that only about 73% of dog owners picked up their pet's waste in the Open Space and Mountain Parks Land in Boulder. That same study estimated that 60,000 pounds of dog poop gets left behind there each year.

Beyond our Purple Mountains Majesty, the national statistics are even more disturbing: About 40% of dog owners do not scoop their dog's waste. Considering that dogs produce more than 20 billion pounds of poop in the United States each year, that leaves A LOT of dog poop lying around! And yet another problem: all that dog poop is full of bacteria. That same bacteria can and will get into the air…the same air that we breathe.

In short, please scoop and carry out the poop… It's our environmental doody!