University of Illinois Extension


John Church
Extension Educator, Natural Resources
Rockford Extension Center

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Pet Waste and Water Quality

It may not seem like a “big deal” to most people, but the accumulated effect of pet waste in urban areas can have a significant impact on local water resources. In fact, U. S. EPA representatives recently indicated that pet waste and goose droppings being carried by stormwater may be contributing factors to Lake Michigan beach closings. Individuals may not be able to resolve much of the goose problem or runoff on a large scale, but pet owners have the major responsibility to reduce any problems with pet waste.

Properly disposing of pet waste may seem like a small issue, but it is a good reminder that we all live in watersheds and what one person does can impact the whole watershed and everyone downstream. Pollutants from improperly disposed pet waste can be washed into storm sewers by rain or melting snow. Storm sewers may drain directly into lakes and streams. When pet waste is washed into lakes or streams the waste decays, which uses up oxygen and sometimes releases ammonia. Low oxygen levels and ammonia combined with warm temperatures can kill fish. Pet waste also contains nutrients that encourage weed and algae growth.

Perhaps most important, pet waste carries diseases, which can make water unsafe for swimming or drinking. The job of cleaning up after a pet can be as simple as taking a plastic bag and/or scooper along on walks. Many communities have “pooper scooper” laws that govern pet waste cleanup.

There is no perfect solution to disposing of the waste after it is picked up. But, University of Wisconsin Extension water quality specialists indicate there are several better choices than allowing it to wash into water resources, including flushing it down the toilet, burying it or disposing of it in a home digester. Don’t try to flush debris such as cat litter. Cat feces may be scooped out and flushed down the toilet, but used litter should be put in a securely closed bag in the trash, but check local ordinances first since putting pet waste in the trash is against the law in some communities.

Finally, don’t add pet waste to your compost pile. The pile won’t get hot enough to kill disease organisms in pet waste.

Further information is available from University of Illinois and University of Wisconsin websites at .

August/September 2004: Pet Waste and Water Quality | Diseases and Insects of Shrubs and Small Trees | Fall Garden Wrap-Up | Managing Thatch in Home Lawns


Past Issues

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