Researchers suggest that dog owners who don’t clean up after their pets in parks are likely to harm the environment and wildlife. Dog feces and urine contain significant amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen, according to a new study. Left in conservation areas, these excess chemicals can lead to over-fertilization of the soil.
This can adversely affect a wide range of plant and animal species and interactions between species.
The scientists called for a ban on dogs from parks or walking dogs on a leash in sensitive areas.
They also suggested alternative “nearby off-leash dog parks” and stressed the need for dog owners to fetch after their pets.
They said: “Dogs bring significant amounts of nutrients into ecosystems, but this disruption and the associated impacts on biodiversity have often been neglected.”
The study, published in the journal Ecological Solutions and Evidence, states, “Dogs appear to be a non-negligible, essential and underappreciated source of nutrients for peri-urban ecosystems.”
It goes on to say: “It is clear that the canine fertilization levels estimated here may have potential negative impacts on the biodiversity and ecosystem functions of species-rich vegetation that are often tracked in forest and nature management.
“Higher nutrient levels lead to increased plant growth, mainly by a limited number of nutrient-demanding species that will outperform specialists, particularly by taking away available light, resulting in a loss of plant species.”
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For this study, the scientists counted 1,629 dogs over the course of 18 months in peri-urban forests and nature reserves near Ghent, Belgium.
They found the dogs left an estimated annual average of 11kg of nitrogen and 5kg of phosphorus per hectare, which they described as “considerable”.
The researchers said: “Based on our findings, we suggest land managers, particularly in ecosystems with species adapted to nutrient-poor soils, to take action to encourage visitors to remove solid feces (the main source of phosphorus) by reducing fertilization.” emphasize the impact of their dogs on top of other well-known negative impacts, such as on wildlife.”
They also suggested that local governments and park officials “enforce leash use more strictly, establish more off-leash dog parks, and more frequently consider total dog bans in oligotrophic ecosystems.”
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The scientists warned that exposure to dog feces could lead to the spread of disease.
They continued: “Furthermore, removing dog feces prevents infection of grazing animals with zoonotic diseases such as Neospora caninum.
“Dogs are the definitive hosts of this obligate intracellular parasite, but many other animal species can become infected.
“In wild ruminants such as deer, but especially domesticated grazing animals such as cattle and sheep, infection with Neospora is a major cause of miscarriage.”
They also stated that the usual “stick and flick” strategy used by the Forestry Commission in the UK to reduce nuisance from stepping on dog waste “should be avoided”.