Dog Poopology 101

My tools. . .

I was eleven-years-old and still basking in the warm feeling of having our first puppy, Shawnee, a female German Shepherd. I had visions of tramping around the Minnesota River bottom with my new faithful companion and never having to deal with human beings again. Darn exciting for an introvert.

But my mom was more concerned with the practical and, er, smelly aspects of dog partnership. She pulled me aside, handed me a shovel and a paper bag.

“Honey,” she said. “Now that we have a puppy, someone has to clean up after Shawnee. You’re the oldest. It’s your new chore.”

And I replied, “Wait. What?” Followed by a gagging sound.

Yes, this column is about dog poop. Think of it as Poopology 101.

I have a long relationship with dogs and, er, their poop going back to that auspicious day with my mom. I’ve spent many hours over the last fifty years with a pooper-scooper in one hand and a bucket in the other wandering aimlessly in search of poop. It makes me question what I’m doing with my life.

To help with our inquiry I’ve enlisted the support of a pair of experts. Our first ‘Poopologist” is Dr. Murt Bryne (Dr. Murt to his clients) of the El Dorado Animal Clinic (eldoradoanimalclinic.com). Next, Christopher Cook, of Doody Calls (doodycalls.com ). DoodyCalls is a dog poop-picking up business. Let me pause here and recognize how awesome the free enterprise system is. You can pay someone to pick up your dog’s poop! It’s a business! North Korea may be able to stop Sony, but we have Capitalism at it’s best!

There are many poop related questions I had, but we can only explore two in this week’s column. At the end we will try to answer an eternal Zen question, “Why do dogs eat poop?” Then there is the obvious corollary: “If they are eating poop, why do people kiss their dogs?”

First question: Is dog poop any different than, ahem, other poop? Answer: No. There is nothing special about dog poop. It’s just like the poop or ‘scat’ of other omnivores. It’s composed of water, dead bacteria, fiber, and fats. In sum, anything that goes through the old digestive system and is not absorbed as a nutrient.

All that stuff that your dog consumes that is not technically food finds its way through the system and gets pooped out also. Old copies of Moby Dick, paper towels, Kleenex, socks, or parts of the TV remote. They are now out in the yard in semi-digested pieces.

Having said all that, dog poop can also be toxic. It’s high in nitrogen (that’s what causes the brown spots on grass) and it is also packed with nasties. According to the ‘Doody Calls’ website, a single gram of dog waste can contain 23 million fecal coliform bacteria, which are known to cause cramps, diarrhea, intestinal illness, and serious kidney disorders in humans. Chris Cook, of Santa Fe Doody Calls wants us to imagine a yard that hasn’t been cleaned in weeks, or months . . . that’s a lot of, well, you get the drift. A toxic carpet of poop.

Alrighty. Another Poopology question. As a dog owner you might have noticed that many brands of dog food advertise that their food results in smaller, more compact poop. Really? How do they do that? Can we do that with our kids? Dr. Murt explains that dog food is balanced between high digestion and low residue (poop) elements. A higher percentage of high digestion food leads to, yep, you guessed it, smaller ‘residue.’ That’s how they do it.

Before you rush to the store demanding “compact-poop” dog food, Dr. Murt warns that it’s not for every dog. If you want your dog to lose weight, it’s better that they have a low digestion and higher residue food. The residue is mostly fiber that makes them feel full, but they are digesting less.

Okay, now on to the question that has stumped dog owners since hunter-gatherer days; “Why on earth do dogs eat poop?” The answer? We still don’t know. Sorry. According to Dr. Murt, it’s not a nutritional issue: your poop-eating dog is not yearning for some secret poop-based ingredient. Dr Murt speculates that it’s simply because dogs like strong odors and tastes. (Hey, we like garlic, onions and chile!) But to that I still say, “gross.”

So, dog owners, let’s pull this all together in a few simple ‘to-dos.’ First, clean up your dog’s poop. Second, you can decrease the size and the amount of poop your dog has by changing dog foods. Finally, I know there are people who love to kiss their dogs. Fine. But may I simply suggest a tip: before puckering up, know where they’ve been and what they’ve been eating!

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