Poop Sleuthing: Dog Poo vs Wildlife Poo

Jun 6, 2023

Walking through nature's backyard or strolling down the urban jungle, you might stumble upon a peculiar treasure: animal droppings. Strap on your detective hats, because here’s some straight up sh*t talk about the fascinating world of fecal identification, with a bonus. We’ll also answer a few questions as to whether doggy doo is more or less of a hazard than wildlife waste.

Identifying Dog Poop

In the concrete wilderness, it's pretty clear that if there is poop on the street, it's likely to be dog poop. Size-wise, it depends on the breed and diet of the pup in question. Fresh dog poop is moist and soft, but as time goes by, it becomes drier than your Aunt Mildred's pot roast, and just as appetizing. Color? In a healthy dog it can range from shades of brown to tan, reflecting the dog's culinary adventures. If a pup is feeling poorly, it can be yellow, black, or even almost white. But the brown variety is usually what you’ll stumble across – unfortunately, often quite literally. 

The hazards of dog poop

While their wild counterparts eat what's available in nature, dogs do not. This difference  means that dog doo is closer to human waste than their wild counterparts. Communities treat human waste through sewer systems or septic because it harbors bacteria, parasites, and viruses. Dogs more routinely have those plus additional uninvited guests—parasites like roundworms and hookworms that can hitch a ride and cause trouble for humans or other pets if they somehow make it into digestive tracts. 

Heavy loads (lots of any-sized dogs, not a parade of Great Danes) of dog poop on popular nature trails gets washed into ditches and streams making its way into aquifers and watersheds. Untended 'crap' also negatively impacts native plant species, by changing the soil's chemistry.  These are big enough problems that here at dooloop, we've been contacted by multiple water districts asking that we help educate dog walkers in their areas.  I’ve written more about the impact of dog poop on pets, people and the environment here. We all depend on clean water, so none of us get a hard or even soft pass on picking up our dogs' waste. Be a responsible owner, and dispose of dog waste properly. It's a basic doo-ty you owe your dog, neighbors and shared ecosystem.

Now it gets wild. Poop notes from the field

Checking out raccoon scat

This masked marauder is at home most everywhere, so you might come across their calling card in the city, country, or sitting pretty on a suburban curb. Raccoon poop shares some similarities with dog and coyote waste but has its own distinctive features. Picture a medium-sized pile with a tubular shape, similar to dog poop but often narrower. These crafty critters have a diverse diet, so there will usually be a medley of surprises in their deposits that sets them apart from dog doo, including bits of berries, seeds, and even the occasional insect exoskeleton. In terms of color, raccoon scat tends to be dark and even a little shiny.

Spotting coyote poop

As our homes stretch into the coyote’s territory, these crafty canines sometimes appear in backyards or trotting down suburban streets. It’s not unsurprising for human residents to wonder if the unexpected poop on their stoop is coyote or dog. Coyote scat appears slightly similar to its domesticated counterpart but with a twist (literally!). It's elongated and rope-like, sporting tapered ends and a coiled appearance. Glad you know that now aren't you? 

If there is a collection of hair, bone fragments, and even berry seeds tucked within, it’s far more likely to be coyote scat than dog poop. As for size, it can be anything from medium to large doggie proportions.

Bears do sh*t in the woods…and on lawns, too!

Bear droppings are where things get grizzly. These mighty animals leave behind calling cards that are larger than life. Picture a stout cylinder, possibly chunky, with remnants of their culinary endeavors, like berries, nuts, and, occasionally, fur or bone fragments. The color palette depends on their diet, ranging from earthy browns to pitch black. And remember, we're not talking doggie-sized here—we're talking "hold onto your hats and lock your car doors" size. Most bears eat what they find in nature -- or in our backyards when they raid the feeders we leave for birds, or garbage cans filled with our own dinner scraps. 

Scat-tered wildlife poop has some hazards

Now, when it comes to the wild bunch, the risks are a little less close to home. Because they are usually in their wild habitat, wildlife poop tends to be scattered throughout their territories rather than piling up in common areas, like the dog poop in your yard, at the dog park, or along dogs-allowed nature trails.

Yet, caution should still be exercised when dealing with their droppings. Wild animals use feces to communicate, and may drop a load right in the middle of a pathway or even along a country road to announce, “I’m here!”  Steer your hound away from mystery poop when you’re out on walks. You should definitely allow your Fido some sniff time while you are out and about, but do pay close attention to what has caused them to stop dead in the trail. With your veterinarian’s guidance, treat your doggo for common worms like hookworms, roundworms and tapeworms regularly so your pupper doesn’t lug around unseen internal parasites that can make them ill, or infect other animals when they poop them out. 

Some wildlife animals do make a big mess of things. Raccoons who move into attics and sheds will often poop in piles called “latrines.” Raccoons harbor a roundworm (Baylisascaris procyonis) that is shed in feces and after it dries it can infect other animals, including humans, who ingest it. While human infection is rare, it can invade the eyes, organs, or brain. Yikes! If you discover a big pile of raccoon poop in your attic, it’s best to call a respirator-wearing professional to clean it up or to provide you with expert advice so dry dusty poop doesn’t end up in your mouth and nose during clean up. Here are some tips from the Center for Disease Control on raccoon latrines.

Keep kids safe

It’s probably no surprise that when it comes to poop-borne illnesses, children are at more risk than adults. Keep an eye on toddlers when they are outside to make sure they aren’t putting dirt in their mouths and remind kids to keep their heads above water when “wild” swimming in creeks and ponds, so water doesn’t get in their mouth or up their nose. And it goes without saying (thank you, COVID!) by washing your hands when you come inside from working or playing, you’ll teach your kids simple good hygiene as well, for fun sing along to the alphabet song, then you know you're done :) 

Batting clean-up on the wildlife poop issue

These are just a few types of poop that could be confused with dog doo, but if you are a wildlife watcher, check out this whole library of wildlife scat from Thinktrees.org, ranging from chipmunks to moose. 

Luckily, when you clean up the random wildlife poop that might appear on your sidewalk or deck, you don’t have to carry it very far, so the trusty dooloop you keep attached to your dog’s leash probably won’t come into play. (You DON’T have a dooloop? You need one!)  Clean random poop up with a trowel or inverted dog poop bag and dispose of it, well-wrapped, in the outdoor trash and follow up with a good handwashing. If you’re faced with a big cleanup of bird or wildlife poop, you’ll need more than a poop bag! That’s a lot more than we’re tackling in this blog post, but here’s some help from the University of Toronto if you need it.

Who knew there could be so much to discover about poop? Follow the dooloop on Pinterest to keep up-to-date in a most colorful way!

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