A pet is a great companion that brings happiness to every family. However, with their happiness, they also come with their by-products that, as owners, we have to deal with daily. Hence, why not use pet feces as fertilizer or through them in a compost pile? This will make your life easier and you will also help the environment. Probably not. Here’s why.
Pet feces can be turned into compost, not into fertilizer. However, this should be avoided, especially when unfamiliar with composting. Pet feces increase the acidity of the soil if bad composted and might carry parasites harmful to humans. Only for plants not meant for consumption pet feces can be used.
Hence, why and how pet waste can be turned into compost? Here all the details you need.
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Here it is important to clarify a point as many of you might get confused.
Pet feces can never be used as fertilizer, however, they might be used as compost. A fertilizer, as we already discussed, is a “substance” either organic or hand-made, that has a specific amount per volume of nutrients (nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus the most widely “advertised”). Fertilizers are the way to accurately and selectively provide such nutrients to your plant. You can provide only nitrogen in high or low concentrations for instance. But nothing else!
On the other hand, compos have way fewer nutrients compared to a common fertilizer (dozens if not hundreds of times more). However, it is a great growing medium for other features (bacteria content, and physical characteristics) as important as the nutrient per se. This is why compost is always part of every high-quality potting soil.
Composting is a natural way to unlock the organic content locked in waste (like pet feces) into usable nutrients for plants and also develops healthy bacteria and give aeration to the soil to which it is added to.
This is where pet waste can (with a warning) be used. It can be used in a compost pile where time and bacteria break it down and release its nutrients becoming compost.
After all, an average 40-pound dog produces around 270 pounds of waste per year according to the USA Department of Energy and Environment. In proportion to their weight, similar numbers can be applied to your cat or rabbit as well. This is a lot of material that can be composted.
The fact that something is possible does not imply that you should do it. Turning pet waste into compost is feasible, however, it is not recommended. This is because it requires extra care compared to the more common and “traditional” compost material. If regular checks are not followed the risk for the compost to be harmful is high.
This is because a larger than the expected population of pets (including dogs and cats) are affected by parasites released in their feces that, for humans, can be quite dangerous. It is not unusual for dogs and cats for instance to be infected with Salmonella, Campylobacter, Giardia, Toxoplasmosis, roundworms, pet worms, heartworms just to mention only a few.
Some of the above bacteria/diseases are active immediately while others stay dormant even for weeks (like roundworms). Others, like heartworms, are in the top 3 health risks for dogs.
Salmonella can already affect your pet. Indeed, it can easily come from raw meat badly handled, or even by taking something on the ground with some residual feces of other animals. Others, like roundworms, are with the animal already when they are born.
Some of those eggs can also move to other parts of the body via the bloodstream, attaching themselves to the liver, lungs, and other vital organs. This may lead to other severe illnesses like Ocular Larval Migrans that results in blindness.
Hence, even in the case, your pet looks healthy, chances are that its waste might have one or more of those bacteria. None must get passed to you. Remember, pet waste, once dried, tends to spread very easily increasing the chances of spreading.
Hence, if you are ready for pet composting here what to do. Of course, needless to say, that in general composting must be carried out outdoors, and even more in this case.
- Choose a compost bin: there are different designs like a wire cylinder or wire bin. If you do not have any you can always head to Amazon (this one is a good one for the purpose).
- Compost works well only when pet waste (rich in nitrogen) is mixed with double the amount of carbon. Hence, for every 2 buckets of pet waste add 1 bucket of sawdust. You can also use 1-2 buckets of leaves (the drier the fewer leaves you need).
- Add water until the compost is moist
- Repeat steps 1 to 3 until you fill the bin. Close the lid
Extra steps to undertake for pet waste
- Place a long-stemmed thermometer at the pile core to check the internal temperature;
- Check at least once a week and be sure that the temperature is always high but below 170F. If you notice that after a week or so the temperature drops, then you need to turn the compost pile;
- This process might last for several months. You can be sure that the compost is fine once the temperature does not rise anymore after rotating the mix.
To remember that, if you do not have enough dog material for the compost, you can also use other nitrogen-rich materials such as green grass, vegetable waste, and fertilizers.
Another aspect to keep in mind is time. A single compost pile can go up to a year to fully decompose if the necessary conditions and attention are not put in place.
Handling pet waste, for the reason discussed before, can lead to potential transmission of diseases. However, there a few ways to limit the risk to a reasonable minimum:
- Temperature check: in a compost pile high temperatures are normal. However, a compost pile with pet waste is very important. Indeed, you will need constant and high temperatures in your pit to kill the dangerous parasites.
- Know your dog: independently from the fact that you want to use your dog waste as compost, your dog should follow a regular health check, including the presence of parasites. This will give you extra peace of mind;
- Only your dog: do not use other dogs or other animal waste just to increase the amount of compost you can produce. If even one of the animal is infected by one of the countless diseases it can take, the whole pile will be affected;
- Only not edible: this is probably a very safe choice. Indeed, even though if you followed all the previous suggestions, the chances of having an infection compost pile are really low, why risk? Hence, use it only for flowers, tree, and anything else that will not end up on your table;
- Wash your hands: It would be best if you always wash your hands before and after dealing with your pet waste. Normal soap for 15 seconds is enough.
- Tools separation: place the tools you used to handle pet waste separated from your usual gardening tools. The last thing you want is to dig for some reason, in your yard with the shovel used the previous week to move around your dog waste.
Composting, of any type, gives great satisfaction. Who would not be happy in giving a second life (and a useful one!) to something that was a waste. Turn something like food scraps (and dog poop) in black gold for the garden.
Remember, each waste we produce (and we do this very often) needs to be handled by the system in place. Even when you drop your little plastic bag with the dog feces when you are in a park, that bin is emptied (hopefully) daily. That material goes to a waste management center through a truck where, once in a large pile with other organic waste, is very likely burnt to produce electricity.
This is a long process that you cut from the source by giving back to the soil those nutrients present in those waste (unusual bee by the animal) but (after composting) useful for soil and plants
If you have a pet you might be tempted to think that only fresh waste is dangerous. You might believe that once dried out under the sun it is very safe as “everything” dies out so no problem for having in your garden if you forget to remove it.
Pet waste becomes more dangerous over time. Indeed, parasite eggs tend to hatch a few weeks after the animal defecates. This makes sense for them. Indeed, feces have had the time to spread in small pieces (as dry and lighter) and so the eggs have a higher chance to find a host (both dog and human) where they can grow [PDF].
Pet waste must be collected and placed in specific bins as, if left unchecked (even outside), can attract rodents, flies and potentially contaminate nearby water surface from where your dog might drink or even worse if your kids accidentally touch it (if a toddler is left in the garden).
Hence, despite possible, composting pet waste is not recommended.
For your and others’ well-being, just sticking to dog and cat toilets, designed to help you dispose of the waste materials, is the safest and less demanding option.
If you are leaving and just want to remember some of the key points, here they are
- Dog poop can be turned into compost, not into fertilizer;
- Dogs, as well as any other animal, waste is likely to contain some kind of harmful bacteria, parasites. Hence, for safety reasons composting pet waste is not recommended;
- Constant high temperature and patience are key to safely handle compost originated from pet waste. Safety measures including using only your pet waste (and controlled regularly), and use separate tools to handle the compost from everything else are essential.
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