I cannot count the number of times I’ve stepped in dog poop. No matter how many signs I’ll see reminding pet owners to pick up poop or containers filled with pet waste bags, poop is still left in the grass, on walkways or even in your own yard.

While pet owners should clean up after their animals so individuals do not have to clean the waste and smell off their shoes, doing so might also save others from life-threatening parasites, according to a study published in the Journal of Medicine and Life.

What are the life-threatening parasites and how do they affect us?

The study found that pet waste contains zoonotic diseases.

A zoonotic disease refers to an illness transmitted between animals and humans. These diseases can stem from viruses, bacteria, parasites and fungi, and some are quite prevalent.

Symptoms and signs of zoonotic diseases caused by parasites vary depending on the parasite and the individual. While some may experience severe illness, others may remain asymptomatic and unaffected. Common symptoms include diarrhea, muscle aches and fever, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some zoonotic infections can originate from foods when animals like cows and pigs carry parasites. Parasites can be contracted if individuals accidentally ingest food or water contaminated with feces from infected animals. For instance, this risk arises when orchards or water supplies are close to cow pastures, and individuals consume unwashed fruit or untreated water. Other parasites can be acquired by consuming undercooked or raw meat from infected bear, boar or domestic pigs, per the CDC.

Besides eating or drinking items infected with parasites, an individual can become sick through small scratches in the skin. Furthermore, accidental oral ingestion can come after wiping sweat from your face and then licking your lips, per The Washington Post.

According to a study published by Parasites & Vectors, household pets can also spread these parasites when poop is not picked up. The study found intestinal parasites were found in 85% of off-leash dog parks across the United States.

While zoonotic diseases caused by transmitted parasites are uncommon in the U.S., they infect an estimated 1 billion people worldwide, per The Washington Post.

Who else do the parasites affect?

Waste left to wash into the soil can also spread between animals, both wild animals and household pets, according to a study published in Microbiology Spectrum.

How to manage pet waste

While parasite eggs can survive for years, there are some essential tips to follow to prevent parasites and reduce the environmental impact of pet poop, according to The Washington Post.

  • Always pick up and properly dispose of pet waste, regardless of where it’s left. Remember to sanitize your hands afterward.
  • Before eating or touching your face while gardening or working outdoors, wash your hands thoroughly.
  • Avoid rinsing pet waste into the soil; using rain or a garden hose only removes visible mess, not microscopic threats.
  • Cover sandboxes when not in use to prevent contamination.
  • Keep your pets on monthly intestinal parasite deworming schedules.
  • Annually, have your vet test your pet’s feces for intestinal parasites.
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