Tag Archives: environment

Dog pee on the sidewalk does more than just piss off your neighbors

Note from DoggyMom I follow all types of research.  But some – like this one – needs to be put into a larger context.  Urban cities have a lot of runoff thanks to all the hard surfaces including roads and sidewalks.  Urban designers look to institute green spaces to help with infiltration of water into soils and decrease runoff, which can be particularly helpful in high volume, storm events which overwhelm stormwater systems.

Urban runoff has a lot of contaminants from the oils, dust and debris of modern life.  All meat-eating animals have high nitrogen in their urine – and that’s why countries like NZ have issues with groundwater quality because of the number of cows that are left to graze and urinate on open pastures.  So of course dogs will have an impact on the soil quality and runoff in the very limited areas of green that they have to use in urban cities.  The solution?  Well, in my opinion, it’s partly an argument for creating more green space.


Nobody knows just how many dogs there are in the United States, but there are plenty—and many of them live (and pee) in human cities. Turns out, canine bathroom breaks may have more of an impact on the environment than you might think.

In a new study, a team of Columbia University undergraduate and graduate researchers led by ecologist Krista McGuire looked at the impact of pee on the urban soil microbiome. They found evidence that the nitrogen content and low pH of the urine can make city soil both harder and less absorbent of rainwater, while making the soil microbiome less diverse.

Your very good boy

The project was born out of McGuire’s observations with colleagues during other research on green infrastructure in NYC. In sites like unfenced tree pits, “the soils seemed barren, compacted, and the water from rainfall didn’t seem to penetrate very well,” she says.

The team suspected soil’s characteristics had something to do with all the dogs that urinated on those sites, so they designed an experiment to check. “We obtained soil from the city environment,” says McGuire, along with one species of commonly-used plant from the same nursery the city uses.

Both of these factors replicate what’s used out in the real world. Getting actual dog pee turned out to be harder. They approached animal shelters, which mostly turned them away, while the one shelter that acquiesced didn’t yield enough pee—the experiment required a whopping 40 gallons.

“Despite visiting the shelter twice a week for a couple months, less than 40mL [1.35 oz] of urine was collected due to difficulty in predicting when the dogs will urinate and the dogs’ refusal to continue urinating when a collecting bowl was brought near them as they were about to urinate,” the paper states.

“Ultimately, we decided to use coyote urine since coyotes are very closely related to domestic dogs, and their urine is commercially available,” McGuire says. If you’re not a gardener looking to repel deer from your tulips, you may not be aware of this, but yes, you can buy 40 gallons of coyote pee pretty easily.  (Note from DoggyMom:  Coyotes are kept in captivity and their urine is collected through drainage systems.  Some say that the income from the coyote urine farms help to support other conservation efforts.   I will need to research this further.)

Over the course of a month, they ran a greenhouse experiment, watering the plants at regular intervals with either straight water or water mixed with urine at different concentrations. They checked the soil each week. The results were dramatic: the bacterial community diversity decreased by up to a third during the experiment, and the kinds of bacteria in the microbiome changed. Meanwhile, the “runoff” from pots increased significantly, signifying that the soil was becoming less absorbent.

Outside the lab (say, outside your door), “a variety of different events can affect the impact of urine deposition,” says Gary King, a Louisiana State University biology professor who studies urban microbiomes. This experiment doesn’t address those factors—like, what if it’s raining, or what if some other pollutant has recently entered the soil?

But the results point to an important direction of research, he says. “There is a huge gap in our knowledge about basic microbial functions in the soils that are part of the system in our own built environment.”

That’s a serious problem, because soils help keep a city running. Things like street trees and planted medians aren’t just there to make downtown look good. Cities are mostly built on hard surfaces like concrete and asphalt, which don’t absorb water and allow it to enter the soil, so the sewer system works to keep water off the roads and out of your basement. But sometimes, it rains too much for this system. That’s where what’s known as “green infrastructure” comes in, by helping to absorb all the extra water. Otherwise, says McGuire, “What happens is that the stormwater combines with raw sewage in these below-ground piping systems. Past a certain threshold, it gets spewed out into local waterways.”

To keep this from happening, cities like New York are investing lots of money in building and maintaining green infrastructure, from street trees to deliberately designed water capture landscapes called “bioswales.” But as this research indicates, our furry friends’ bathroom breaks may be making these interventions less effective.

Journal citation:  Evaluating the effects of canine urine on urban soil microbial communities

Source:   Popular Science

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Pet products and the environment – a survey for US and Canadian owners

Scientists have long been aware of the potential environment impacts that stem from the use and disposal of the array of products people use to keep themselves healthy, clean and smelling nice. Now a new concern is emerging – improper disposal of pet care products and pills.

Dog shampoos, heartworm medicine, flea and tick sprays, and prescription and over-the-counter medicines increasingly are finding their way into landfills and waterways, posing a water quality and environmental health risk. Researchers at Oregon State University say that, with an estimated 68 percent of American households owning at least one pet, the scope of the potential problem is large.

Sam Chan, a watershed health expert with the Oregon Sea Grant program at Oregon State University, has launched a survey of veterinary professionals and pet owners to to get a better idea of the scope of the issue. If you live in the United States or Canada, you can contribute to his survey here.

The purpose of the survey is to determine how aware people are about the disposal of “pharmaceutical and personal care products” (PPCPs) for both themselves and their pets plus their general awareness of the environmental issues.

“You can count on one hand the number of studies that have been done on what people actively do with the disposal of these products,” Chan said. “PPCPs are used by almost everyone and most wastewater treatment plants are not able to completely deactivate many of the compounds they include.”

Increasingly, Chan said, a suite of PPCPs used by pets and people are being detected at low levels in surface water and groundwater. Examples include anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen, antidepressants, antibiotics, estrogens, the insect repellent DEET, and ultraviolet (UV) sunblock compounds.

For example, coal tar which is used in pet medicines and shampoos for skin treatment is an endocrine disruptor.

When medicines are no longer needed, the research team encourages owners to take the drugs and medications back to their pharmacy or veterinarian for proper disposal in a drug collection program. Placing unwanted medications in the rubbish means that they are an uncontrolled source in landfills, where leaching and runoff are mechanisms to enter the environment.

Source: Phys.org

The scoop on poop

I took a course once about personal effectiveness and one of the mantras in it was ‘A place for everything and everything in its place.’   The same holds true when cleaning up after our dogs.

Back in July, I posted my column about the public relations nightmare of unscooped poop.   This column is about the disposal methods that are and are not acceptable for your dog’s poo.

The nasty things in dog poop

A dog’s poop can transmit bacteria like salmonella (and some studies show that there is an increased risk of this when the dog is fed a raw diet).  Parasites like tapeworm, hookworm and roundworms can also live in the feces and exist in the soil for a long time.  Other diseases like distemper or parvovirus can be transmitted through exposure to feces from an infected dog.

Don’t compost or bury

Therefore, adding dog poop to your household compost is not recommended.   The temperature in the compost heap is unlikely to reach a high enough temperature and you can end up transmitting the bugs to you and your family by handling the compost or adding it to the vegetable garden.  Yuck!

Simply burying the poop doesn’t help either.  You are basically allowing any of the bacteria and other nasties to live in the soil environment.

Local authorities with kerbside recycling programmes also ask that you don’t add dog poop to your ‘green’ (garden waste/organics) bin.  This is a public health issue since most materials from organic collections are composted and then re-distributed back to communities as compost for landscaping and gardens.

Don’t place it in the storm sewer

Some owners think it is okay to place poo in the gutter or storm sewer.  It isn’t.  Stormwater drains are directed to open water systems in the natural environment.  The poo will get washed into local streams and rivers and it is just another way of potentially contaminating the environment.

The better options

  • One of the popular methods of cleaning up after your dog is to scoop it up in a plastic bag and dump it in the rubbish.  The advantages with this method are that plastic bags are often freely available and it is a way of recycling the bag for another use.  This method prevents water pollution and can help control the spread of the nasty bugs.  However, plastic doesn’t decompose easily and many owners don’t want to add to the landfill problems in their area.
  • This leads us to biodegradable bags like Flush Puppy bags.  These bags can be safely disposed of in the rubbish or you can flush them down the toilet as long as you are connected to a public sewer system.  For homes on private septic systems, this isn’t recommended because this is an increased load that can overwhelm your disposal system.
  • If bags are not your thing, you can carry a shovel or other type of pooper scooper and wrap the poop in newspaper.  Disposal in the rubbish is okay and both the newspaper and poop will degrade.
  • If you really want to get fancy, you can buy your own composter for dog poop.  One brand is the Doggy Dooley.  This bin is dug into the ground and then special enzymes are added to help break down the waste.

The Doggy Dooley pet waste composter

  • Special bins for worm composting may also work on dog poop.  It is best to contact local services in your area about the types of worms available and the types of bins available for this.

Please put poop in its proper place by disposing of your dog’s poo appropriately.