In reality, feces left washed into the soil whether in the vicinity, on a path, or in a dog park can spread life-threatening parasites not only among dogs and cats but also to wild animals and people of various ages.
A 2020 study found intestinal parasites in 85 percent of off-leash dog parks in the United States.
Common parasites found in dog feces include hookworms, roundworms, coccidia, and whipworms. Both hookworms and roundworms can inhabit numerous animal species, including humans.
Their microscopic larvae can penetrate our bodies through small scratches in the skin after coming into contact with contaminated soil. Remember this the next time you are outdoors and wipe sweat from your face with dirty hands. After rainwater washes contaminated feces into the soil, these parasitic eggs can survive for months or even years, posing the threat of infection.
Once in the human body, the larvae of both hookworms and roundworms can mature and migrate through the bloodstream to the lungs. From there, they reach the digestive system of the host organism by means of coughing, where they adhere to the intestinal wall and siphon nutrients.
In individuals with healthy immune systems, the infection may not show clinical signs, but in significant quantities, these parasites can lead to anemia and malnutrition. They can even cause intestinal blockage, which may require surgical intervention, especially in young children.
Additionally, the larval stages of roundworms can invade the human eye, leading in rare cases to permanent blindness. Hookworms can create a highly itchy condition known as cutaneous larva migrans, as the worm larvae move directly under the skin of the host body.
After the parasite's life cycle is completed, it can leave the host body as an intact, mature worm, resembling a piece of cooked spaghetti.
Impact on Other Animals
Dogs and cats can develop the same symptoms as humans due to parasitic infections. Beyond the risk of hookworms and roundworms, household pets are also at risk from whipworms, giardia, and coccidia.
Aside from parasites, unattended feces can be contaminated with viruses from dogs or cats, such as parvovirus, distemper virus, and canine coronavirus
, which can cause life-threatening diseases in other dogs and cats, especially in adult, unvaccinated animals, as well as in puppies and kittens.
These viruses attack rapidly dividing cells, particularly the intestinal mucosa and the bone marrow, rendering them unable to adequately absorb nutrients or produce additional red and white blood cells that help defend against these and other viruses. Vaccination can protect pets from these risks.
Responsible Pet Waste Management
So, wherever your dog or cat relieves itself be it in a park, the forest, the sidewalk, or even your yard always clean it up without making contact with your skin.
The safest approach is to use a shovel to place the feces directly into a plastic bag, or put a bag over your hand to pick up the feces before turning the plastic bag inside out.
Other potential sources of exposure to feces and parasites include the sand beneath and around playgrounds, beaches, and parks. Cats and other small mammals prefer to use these as litter boxes because they are easy to dig in and absorb moisture.
Covering sandboxes when not in use and closely monitoring the environment at the beach and playground are crucial steps toward minimizing exposure risks for everyone.