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— February 7, 2012 —

Rat Picnics and Poop Soup
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Spring is my favorite time of year. The snow melts, the trees start to bloom and we can take our dogs for long walks without bundling up. Spring, however, comes with a few seasonal concerns. The main concern with spring is the poop. The poop I’m referring to is the stuff left over from winter walks. I make it a point to pick up ALL of my dogs’ poop, every time I walk them…year round. I even dig it out if it happens to sink into fluffy snow. Some folks, however, seem to think that snow on the ground creates some kind of magic portal that transports poop into another dimension. Like it actually disappears. Like through a poop wormhole…

Well, that ain’t the case. Poop freezes solid just like everything else. It sits there like a little germ time capsule and waits for the weather to warm up. As soon as the melt water hits the poop-sicle, it breaks down and voila, you have poop soup.

There is a good chance that the puddles you and your dog will walk through this spring may contain giardia…a parasite that could get your dog very sick. This parasite lives in feces of infected animals and can live in water for a very long time. So when the poop soup joins with the mud puddles of spring, it can give a whole new meaning to the term “Spring Fever”. If your dog drinks from puddles, or licks their paws after walking through them, they could get infected. Giardia is extremely contagious. Humans can catch it too, either from direct contact with the contaminated water or from your dog. If you happen to touch your dog’s paw while it is still wet and touch your food or mouth, it can be transmitted to you. The symptoms of giardia can include loss of appetite, diarrhea, weight loss, lethargy, bloody or pale-colored or strong-smelling stools. I’ve never had it, but I hear it’s no fun.

The vet may have a difficult time making a diagnosis because the cyst is only shed during part of the life cycle. If the test comes up negative, the vet may diagnose gastroenteritis and treat with antibiotics. Metronidazole (Flagyl) is often prescribed for gastroenteritis and for giardia.

Another serious concern about poop not being picked up…is RATS! Nobody wants those nasty critters crossing their path. They come out when nobody is looking and feast on the poop left behind. Yep, rats eat poop. It’s like a picnic for them. Dog droppings are mostly undigested dog food and rats thrive on it. Wherever rats go, they leave behind their droppings…which carry lots of diseases. Then next time you walk your dog along your usual route, you and your dog will come into contact with the rat droppings. Basically, leaving poop attracts rats to spread diseases that can kill dogs. Rats are an “intermediate host” or “reservoir hosts” for some germs. In other words rats can carry things that would kill a dog (or in some cases a person), but the rat is immune to harmful effects. Leptospirosis is just one example. Rats can carry lepto, rabies, distemper, giardia and the list goes on. Remember, most of these diseases are zoonotic. Zoonotic diseases are diseases carried mainly animals, but are transmittable to humans.

Some people may be lulled into a false sense of security that they can ignore the warnings and picking up is un-necsssary. Their dogs are vaccinated against all these diseases. The last point I HAVE to make is that vaccinated dogs can still get sick! No vaccine is 100% effective and if your dog does catch lepto, parvo or rabies it will very likely be fatal. Dogs that do survive require very expensive treatments. The cost of treating a dog for parvo can run into the thousands of dollars.

This is all too easy to avoid. Please educate your neighbors and fellow dog owners on the importance of picking up after their dogs. Let’s not have another year of rat picnics and poop soup.



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