Sunday, November 16, 2008

The other side of pet nutrition

What goes in has to come out: Those of you who want to read this comment over a cup of coffeee or while eating maybe want to come back later, today’s topic doesn’t go along too well with eating.
Sue Novak from the Lawrence Journal World & News was talking about this topic after she “read in Janet Evanovich’s book about Stephanie Plum’s dog Bob who heard nature call while he sat in her car in a fast food parking lot. She let him out to take care of business, and he did: Right there in the middle of the lot.”
No need to go into details. But while the description made for humorous reading, the method made me realize that some pet owners, of both dogs and cats, in many communities don’t do much better under similar circumstances.
88.3 Million Cats and 74.8 Million Dogs are living in American households, 71.1 Million American households have at least 1 pet. On a daily basis there are 18,165 cats, 16,559 dogs and 11,277 humans born in America. These numbers annualized total to 6.63 Million cats, 6.05 Million dogs and "only" 4.12 Million humans. Note, the cat stats don't include ferals, which account for another 30 to 50%.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported under the headline “The environmental impact of pets,” that “America’s 75 million dogs produce around 10 million tons of dog poop per year ... and the litter from America’s 90 million pet cats results in around 2 millions tons of cat litter being sent to landfills each year.”
That’s a lot of waste. Now, since I am into healthy, all natural pet food I was wondering about the “natural aspect” of all this. After further research I have to say the idea that all this is all natural is not quite true.
Fecal matter does biodegrade after a while. It’s never quick enough, though, for those of us who aren’t as regular as we should be about picking it up, or for other people who find the unwelcome droppings left on side walks, parking lots, parks and in yards by inconsiderate dog owners who don’t clean up after their pets, or by felines left to roam free to make their “deposits” in neighborhood vegetable gardens and flower beds.
It really has become more than a problem of just being unsightly, or smelling bad or being disgusting to step in.
On a minor level, dog waste contains nitrogen that feeds weeds when it’s left on lawns.
But worse, both dogs and cats harbor some nasty types of bacteria in their guts that are released when they do what they have to do. These may include E. coli, fecal coliform bacteria, giardia and salmonella. Cats can contribute Toxoplasma gondii. Both could contain parasite eggs that can be passed on to other animals or to humans.
These bacteria, left on lawns, in gardens or in parks, are washed away by rainwater into storm drains and then move on to rivers and stream, polluting the water for humans and wildlife. In many areas, the problem is bad enough to close beaches and require posted warnings about exposure to the water.
Unfortunately, the bacteria means that pet waste can’t be composted for use on vegetable gardens.
For dog owners who like to walk their companions in public areas, the best thing to do is to always carry a bag with you, always pick up your pet’s afterthoughts and always toss them in a garbage can. The plastic bags your newspaper comes wrapped in works for smaller dogs, and plastic grocery bags can work for larger ones, but this creates another problem of the waste being encased in a non biodegradable container that will stay in the landfills for hundreds or thousands of years. Some companies make biodegradable bags with the disadvantage of being prohibitively expensive for many of us.
Dog waste can be safely flushed down a toilet, our city waste management systems can effectively deal with that. I think while this may be a solution, it is too complicated and if you are like Susan Novak, the very thought of doing that may cause you problems.
Cat waste in a toilet, however, is not such a good idea because our waste management systems are not designed to handle toxoplasma. It seems that, for now, we are still best off to empty our litter boxes into bags and throw them in the trash.
It all wouldn’t be a problem if all pet owners would act responsibly. Unfortunately many don’t. And I guess that only can be taken care off by getting into their wallets. Like they do in England big time, but also here in our own country more and more cities are implementing laws calling for some quite steep penalties (in our larger cities hundreds of dollars) if dog owners don’t take care of what their dogs leave behind. Rightfully so, I don’t like to step into it. Neither do you.

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