What To Do With Doggy Doo
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What To Do With Doggy Doo
When you read horticultural advice on composting they are unequivocal about cat and dog faeces. It must not go on your compost heap. Yet it s plain to see that animal by-products, including the less savoury carnivore manure, are organic. And if it s organic it will rot, so why the caution?
Carnivores have a different set of decomposers from herbivores both in the gut and in the soil. One of the most significant species of these is the worm.
When animals roamed the forests in times of yore their excrement was part of the natural fertilizing process, keeping plants and soil healthy. The natural cycle was both balanced and self-sustaining with decomposers dealing with the manure of herbivores and carnivores and turning into nutrition for the flora. Worms of many kinds would each play their part in the recycling process.
Worm populations in the soil become problematic for farm animals when their numbers exceed a certain threshold and good farming practices ensure that not too many animals live on any piece of land. The more intensively an area is farmed, the worse the worm problems. Worming chemically has been the answer .
Domestic dog numbers nowadays exceed what would have been a wild population (probably of their ancestors, wolves) by millions. The amount of dog faeces our land can absorb safely almost certainly has been exceeded. So what are we to do with the stuff?
It is likely to end up in landfill, an incinerator, on the pavement or in the sewers but rarely is it composted. It seems odd that we accept the indignity of clearing up after our pet dog as a social obligation but taking the next step of actually dealing with it is a step too far.
The possible dangers lurking in dog faeces are Toxocara canis (roundworms)and fecal coliforms (bacteria) including Escherichia and Enterobacter. The presence of these potential pathogens make it important that the compost does reach sufficiently hot temperatures, or lesser temperatures for a much longer time, and a closed system, separate from your main garden compost heap or bin, is recommended. Closed systems have securely fitting lids and doors and a bottom with small holes in so that micro-organisms and worms can get in, not larger mammals such as rats and mice.
A further precaution is to put the compost on ornamentals not edible crops. If there are pregnant women or young children in the household it is best not to compost on the premises during this period. The risk is small for well functioning immune systems but not worth taking when they are building, as in pregnancy and small children. Having said this there is just as much of a risk if pets use the garden to defecate. For more on how to achieve hot composting see the link below.
Trenches and variations on this theme can be used such as burying a bottomless plastic dustbin (or old plastic cone). A tight fitting lid is important to keep away prying scavengers or children. Gravel should line the pit to help with drainage and it must be sited well away from natural water courses. Adding sawdust helps to control the odour and to improve the carbon nitrogen balance so that the best rate of decomposition can be achieved.
Anaerobic digestion is another possibility and the basis of many of the doggy loos on the market. Be cautious with these as some people do not find they manage the quantities provided by their pets. They may be more suitable for a small dog or cat than a larger beast. However they usually come with chemicals (similar to those used for septic tanks) to breakdown the material, which is then flushed away with water. Natural activators can be made but there is insufficient data to report on their efficacy. (Recipe: 1 pack dried yeast, lb brown sugar (to feed it) and 2 cups of water. Let the mixture warm up for 10 minutes or so before adding.) Because the remains are flushed away the caution about siting away from water sources is even more appropriate here.
The options for composting doggie doo so far may not have inspired you with confidence. Cue the dog wormery, which may not sound very nice but manages the job surprisingly well, and doesn t smell! The doggie wormery must be kept for this sole purpose, not adding food scraps etc. and never add the poo just after worming tablets have been used. This system uses the same worms as traditional vermiculture, aren t they adaptable! The resulting compost which can be extracted roughly once a year, could then be added to a regular garden compost for further purification. Wormeries can take a while before they are ready to cope with the quantities your dog provides. Make sure you check the number of worms provided when you buy the wormery as they can vary and the more you start with the sooner they will breed to reach sufficient numbers. Only slowly increase the amount of poo you add. Once established the system can work well.
We have learnt the hygiene lessons that saved us from cholera and typhoid but have we developed a culture of germ fear instead? Yes it can be dangerous, but knowing that should give us the wisdom to use it carefully not just bury it somewhere out of the way so we don t have to think about it. Methane produced by landfill, contributing to greenhouse gases and causing unpredictable problems for our planet s self regulation is the price we appear to be paying for stuffing a problem away and ignoring it.
(When asked what he thought of Western civilization Gandhi said ‘It would be a good idea’!)
Disclaimer: Composters of pet faeces do so at their own risk
Want to learn more about the alchemy of composting and how to choose the right system for you? Go to
and sign up for a FREE 10 part mini-course now! Sarah Cowell Dip. Hort. is a gardener and writer on horticulture matters
What To Do With Doggy Doo