Pet waste is not the predominant or most toxic pollutant in urban streams, but it is one of many small sources of pollution that can cumulatively have a big impact if left unmanaged. The New Jersey Department of Health has estimated that there are over 500,000 dogs in the state. Add to this figure cats and other smaller pets, and a significant volume of waste is being generated daily.
Pet waste contains bacteria and parasites, as well as organic matter and nutrients, notably nitrogen and phosphorous.
Some of the diseases that can be spread from pet waste are:
- Campylobacteriosis - A bacterial infection that causes diarrhea in humans.
- Salmonellosis - The most common bacterial infection transmitted to humans from animals. Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, headache, vomiting, and diarrhea.
- Toxocarisis - Roundworms transmitted from animals to humans. Symptoms include vision loss, rash, fever, or cough.
In addition to these diseases, the organic matter and nutrients contained in pet waste can degrade water quality. When pet waste is washed into a surface water body, the waste decays. This process of breaking down the organic matter in the waste uses up dissolved oxygen and releases ammonia. Low oxygen levels, increased ammonia and warm summer water temperatures can kill fish.
Excess phosphorous and nitrogen added to surface waters can lead to cloudy, green water from accelerated algae and weed growth. Decay of this extra organic matter can depress oxygen levels, killing organisms. Objectionable odors can also occur.
Flies and other pest insects can also increase when pet waste is disposed of improperly, becoming a nuisance and adding another vector for disease transmission.
Managing pet waste properly is something that everyone can do to make a difference in their respective watersheds.
Find out about the ordinances in the neighborhood, signs posted, and how we educate the public.
Learn about all the ways you can properly dispose of your pet's waste.
The problem of pet waste disposal in suburbia is a real one. Research has indicated strongly that water quality is negatively impacted by this pollutant in New Jersey. However, unlike many other sources of water degradation in the state, improper pet waste management is a dilemma that can be easily corrected through education by organizations and common sense actions by individuals.
For more information, contact the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Watershed Management at 609-984-0058 or email or your local branch of Rutgers Cooperative Extension.