This must be a burning question that has to be answered if you’ve found your way to this article. Perhaps you’ve been wondering if leaving the occasional poop sitting in your backyard to decompose naturally is okay. Or maybe you want to know how long it actually takes for your dog’s poop to break down until it is completely gone (and hopefully providing your lawn with a little cheap and natural fertilizer).
Well, we’re here to tackle the question about poop’s decomposition timeline and whether or not it’s a good idea to just leave it outside and let nature do the rest. We’ll also get into the best methods for disposing of those stinky little gifts that come with dog ownership.
Before We Begin
We need to have a brief look at some of the factors involved in the decomposition process. It’s not very exciting stuff but a necessary part of the conversation all the same.
Your dog’s diet plays a big part in how fast the poop decomposes. Dogs are omnivores, which means they eat both plant and animal-based foods, but they primarily have a diet that is very high in protein.
Any dog with a high protein diet will have poop that is harsh on the environment and will take longer to decompose.
Conversely, a dog that is fed a diet that is high in grains and plants will have poops that are gentler for the environment and will work faster to break down.
Where you are located and what season you’re in will play a large role in how the decomposition plays out. Depending on how chilly the weather is, it will take much longer for the dog poop to break down – even as long as a year!
Then, of course, the opposite is true in warmer climates. The hotter the weather, the faster the poop will decompose. The average time for dog feces to decompose is 9 weeks.
Now, on to the week-by-week details of how your dog’s poop is broken down.
By the end of the first week, the poop will be close to the same general appearance after it was first…deposited. At this stage, however, it will probably carry pathogens that are dangerous to the environment and wildlife. Just one tiny gram of dog poop might contain 23 million bacteria, including giardia, salmonella, and E. coli.
The poop will start to take on a darker color at this time and is in the early stages of decomposition. The bad bacteria (although not all bacteria are necessarily bad) will become more of a danger, and any animals (wildlife or other dogs) that come into either indirect or direct contact, can become quite sick.
By the third week, mold will start to become visible on the dog poop and will be found inside as well. This depends on the weather, of course. Mold thrives in moist conditions of which feces has plenty of, but also if it’s particularly humid outside.
By the fourth week, if the dog poop contains any eggs, this is when they will produce parasitic larvae. These eggs can lie dormant for months to years and can be easily picked up through soil that has been contaminated.
All it needs is hand to mouth contact, and you end up with a parasite that will feed off intestines for months or years. This can happen to animals as well as people, so it’s essential to pick up the poop before 4 weeks and be diligent about washing hands after dealing with dog poop.
The bacteria are still working away inside the dog poop, but at this point, it can easily be transported through the soil, groundwater, and the air. A rainstorm can carry the parasites around the neighborhood and attach to a garden or run off into the storm drain, which will then lead to our waterways.
At this stage, the white mold will have spread over the entire poop. While mold is not as harmful as parasites, some animals and humans can have an allergic reaction. This might just be the typical sneezing and watery, itchy eyes, or it could affect the respiratory system. Mold is far more dangerous inside the household in comparison to the outdoors but cleaning up that poop is worth removing that risk.
This week is not that much different from the last. The mold and bacteria are still an issue, and you and your family are at risk of contamination if you’re spending time in the backyard.
At this point, the poop will have started decomposing into smaller pieces and will have shrunk down in size. Fungi and bacteria have been working to physically breaking down the feces with enzymes that reduce the poop into oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen.
You will also notice that the grass around the dog poop has died off and stopped growing altogether. This is called “urine burn,” which results from the excess nitrogen found in dog waste.
The poop should be completely broken down at this point, and the only evidence that it was there is usually the bald spot in the grass. While it seems to have vanished, a lot of the harmful bacteria are still lingering, so it’s important to remove poop before it’s been left on any surface for more than a week.
Should You Leave It Be?
This is a firm no. Dog poop can be quite destructive to the environment and local wildlife and should always be picked up. This is, of course, notwithstanding the bylaws in most municipalities, which can run you a hefty fine or worse. You’re risking bacterial contamination of our streams, lakes, and rivers.
The nitrogen found in feces actually reduces the levels of oxygen, which can hurt wildlife and fish. And then there are the parasites we already discussed – hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms, whipworms, in addition to the harmful bacteria. It’s also really no fun to step in!
If you believe that the poop can act as a fertilizer for your lawn, now you know that it will actually kill your grass and make it an unsafe environment for your family.
Best Ways to Dispose
We’ve established that you shouldn’t leave dog poop to mold and decompose, so what is the best method for disposing of it?
Biodegradable Poop Bags
First, we’ll look at poop bags and what the different options are. If you’re environmentally conscious, you’ll want to go with compostable vegetable-based poop bags, which can be disposed of safely.
When you decide upon a biodegradable dog poop bag, you should double-check the reviews and read up on the company. Some bags are misrepresented as being fully biodegradable but are not.
If you decide you want to save money and purchase regular plastic bags, just remember that it really decreases your options for disposing of the poop.
To Flush or Not to Flush
If you want to flush the poop down the toilet, you should do so without the bag – not even the fully compostable ones. Any bag put in the toilet will clog the plumbing or even the sewer. You should also be wary of any bag advertised as “flushable” as no bag is truly safe to put in the toilet. If you choose to use the toilet to dispose of the dog poop, always scoop it and flush it down directly.
Composting dog poop is tricky as you can’t just drop it into any regular compost bin. Depending on your municipality’s laws, you might need to apply for a special compost for dog waste, as a certain amount of pathogen testing and temperature control should be a part of the process. You can establish a compost bin after checking the laws and doing some research, or you can also consider a worm bin. However, you can’t use the compost from dog waste in any garden.
Check with your town or city’s waste management departments, as many across North America do encourage placing dog waste in compostable bags into the Green Bin.
Bury the Poop
If you don’t mind constantly digging holes in your backyard, you can opt to just bury the poop. The hole should be at least 6 inches deep as you don’t want it dug up by your dog or any wildlife. If you’ve buried it properly, it should be safe from distributing bacteria and parasites.
Dog Waste Specialists
Yet another option is to just let a professional dog waste collection organization deal with your dog poop. This can be particularly helpful if you live in a community of apartment or townhouse dwellers so you can share the costs. The poop is usually taken to the sewage treatment plant.
The long and the short of this article is that it takes over 2 months for poop to decompose, which is 2 months too long. It’s environmentally damaging to leave dog poop lying around, even if you’re in the middle of the woods. You don’t want to risk harming wildlife or someone else’s dog.
You now know far more about dog poop than the average person. Not sure if you should brag about it, but if it changes how you deal with your dog poop, and it’s for the better, then it was well worth it.
Featured Image Credit: Xtotha, Shutterstock