Can You Compost Dog Poo?
The Complete Guide
As a responsible dog owner, you know removing your dog’s number two from the ground is the right thing to do. But what should you do with it?
Picking it up with a quality biodegradable dog poo bag and throwing it into the garbage is a good option, but not the best you can do. Instead, you can opt for a more conscientious and sustainable method - composting.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t know a single thing about composting. If you want to learn how to compost dog poo, this guide is here to help.
Why Compost Your Dog’s Poop
You might be wondering why dog poop is such a big issue. Well, numbers show that one medium-sized dog, like a Beagle, for example, makes about 180 kilograms of poop every year. Now, take into consideration that there are currently about 9 million dogs in Australia only (1). The numbers add up substantially, don’t they?
Apart from being annoyingly gross to step on, dog poop can also contain pathogens like tapeworm, giardia, E.coli and even salmonella, which can contaminate the soil (2). And that’s one of the main reasons why we should always pick it up, that and if your dog eats their own poop.
But what do we do with the poop after we pick it up? Typically, we put it into a (biodegradable) plastic bag and throw it into the nearest trash bin. Unfortunately, those bags still end up in landfill and will require ages to break down.
One way to make the whole process more environmentally friendly is to create your own dedicated system for composting dog poo.
Composting at home is a great solution for dealing with all sorts of organic waste for multiple reasons. It eliminates the need to transport trash from your home to another facility, it reduces the amount ending up in a landfill, and the end product is beautiful compost that can feed your garden… One might wonder, is there really any downside?
Well, for starters, composting at home makes much more sense for people who have at least some sort of a garden or a backyard. Composting in an apartment is doable, but nowhere as convenient, and it gets more complicated when it comes to dog waste.
Moreover, when it comes to dog poop, the compost will require a bit of special treatment due to the risk of pathogens from dog poop surviving the composting process. However, this is not that much of a problem if you take some basic precautions. Keep reading if you want to learn how to compost dog poop the right way.
How Composting Works
So, what exactly happens with the poop when you add it to a composting bin? Well, of course, it biodegrades. Everything organic in nature decomposes over time, and that’s true for dog poop as well.
Composting is a method gardeners have used for centuries to turn waste into soil fertilizer. How exactly does it work, though? Well, the process is very simple, but the explanation can get very complicated. It has to do with beneficial microorganisms of all kinds, and occasionally worms too.
However, for something to fully compost, there needs to be the right balance of three factors: water, heat and oxygen. And in the case of dog poop, you also need a certain level of carbon, which is the element that neutralizes nitrogen. Luckily, that’s easily achievable. You can add dry leaves or sawdust, which are both high in carbon (3).
How To Compost Your Dog’s Poop
Can you compost dog poo? Definitely yes. But how exactly does one do it?
Composting is getting more and more popular, and we are happy we can say there are multiple approaches and systems you can implement to get rid of your dog’s doo the natural way. Here are the 3 basic methods for dog poop composting:
Compost Bins & Co
The basic method for composting anything is as simple as it gets: simply put all your organic waste in a pile. Wait long enough and it will surely decompose.
This hands-off way of composting is also called cold composting because the pile doesn’t necessarily get very hot. The method works, but for dog poop, it might not be very practical.
First of all, most people don’t have enough space in their yards for such a system. Second, a big pile that involves dog poop might get contaminated with pathogens from said poop which is not what you want for your garden.
However, there is also a method called hot composting which is only slightly different. It involves adding organic material with the right proportions of nitrogen to carbon into a compost bin. The compost then needs to be turned frequently to introduce more air which accelerates the composting process. Coincidentally, this also allows the compost to get hot. In short, it’s the natural composting process - only optimised.
“If you have a garden you can make your own compost bin by adding the dog poo to grass clippings, plant or other organic waste, and even sawdust as a source of food for the microbes. The microbes then break down the organic material into humus. During this process, the temperature in the compost mixture rises to 50-60℃. Over time, the heat will kill most canine bacteria, as they are adapted to live at lower temperatures in the dog's gut.” - Professor Leigh Ackland (1)
These DIY options are possible, but not always practical. An easy solution is to maintain a separate system dedicated to canine poo exclusively. Composting your dog’s loo was made easy with the pet waste disposal systems you can buy nowadays. Instead of worrying about achieving the right environment for proper decomposition, you get a digester sachet you need to add to your compost every week or so.
Those sachets contain certain enzymes and bacteria that can process dog waste. Even though they’re strong enough to transform poo into compost, they’re harmless to you, your pet and your lawn. What’s more, the sachets are great for eliminating odour, so you can bet no one will ever know there’s a compost bin in your backyard.
Vermicompost is a fancy term for composting with the help of worms. This increasingly popular method involves creating and maintaining worm farms. In other words, you’ll have a bin full of worms that eat and digest most of your organic waste.
And, it works for canine feces too. The easiest way to start a worm farm is to buy a starter kit. However, for those who prefer to DIY, building a worm farm yourself from repurposed material is not a terribly difficult task.
Once your structure is ready, all you need to do is create a ‘bed’ for the worms. This can be done by adding a nice layer of shredded cardboard, dry grass clipping and similar materials. It’s also recommended to add a bit of compost on top to help the worms.
And then - of course, you need the worms. While some of your regular garden worms might be a species suitable for a worm farm, most of them are not, so it’s best to get compost worms from a trusted source.
The most common ‘compost worm’ is the Tiger (also called the Red Wriggler) worm, but there are a few other species you can get in Australia like Reds and Blues. Worms can even be bought online, but the easiest way might be to ask around locally among gardening enthusiasts.
It all might sound a bit bizarre if it’s your first time hearing about vermicompost, but it’s not that bad once you get used to it!
Once a worm farm is up and running, you simply and the dog poop in and the worms do the work. You might need to add some carbon-rich stuff like soaked cardboard to keep the worm diet balanced, but that’s it.
How to Use Dog Poo Compost
Composting your dog’s poo is a worthy cause in itself. Once the compost is done (whichever method you use), you could simply get rid of it by burying it in the ground somewhere.
But why not kill two birds with one stone and also use it for fertilising your garden? Dog poo compost can be added to the soil for revegetating and establishing lawns, as well as planting garden beds.
The main problem with using dog poo compost in your garden is the pathogens that might linger in your dog’s number two.
Now, it is generally accepted (but not completely proven) that a temperature of 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit) is enough to kill all the nasties in dog poo (4). While this is achievable in home conditions using the hot composting method, it’s difficult to control the process precisely.
“Most of our home compost piles only heat up in the centres. We turn them, but there are portions of the pile that often do not get hot enough to kill the worm larvae and other organisms that can cause some really nasty health problems.” - Jeff Lowenfels, Daily Paws (5)
Given that you surely take good care of your furry friend, parasites probably aren’t an issue, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. As Lowenfels, the author of Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener's Guide to the Soil Food Web, explains, the process is in the hands of the composter (you), and there’s always room for error.
In short, the chances of having hookworm or something similar in your dog poo compost are fairly low, but there is no need to risk it. To stay safe, keep the compost away from edible plants and use it only for ornamentals.
And while you are doing that, you can make composting risk-free when it comes to your health simply by wearing gloves and washing your hands after using the compost.
My Final Thoughts
Tired of storing your dog’s number two in plastic bags that take ages to decompose (if ever)? Give dog poo composting a chance! While it all might seem a bit daunting at the start, you’ll quickly realise it’s easy with the right method.
- Ackland, L. December 27, 2018. “Don't waste your dog's poo — compost it.” ABC News. Retrieved January 07, 2023. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-12-28/dont-waste-your-dogs-poo-compost-it/10668760
- Kiss, J. January 15, 2019. “Dog poop bags are a menace. But what's the green alternative?.” The Guardian. Retrieved January 07, 2023. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jan/15/dog-poop-bags-plastic-alternatives
- Lock, C. October 11, 2016. “How to Clean Up Dog Poop”. PetMD. Retrieved January 19, 2022. https://www.petmd.com/dog/general-health/how-clean-dog-poop
- “Composting Dog Waste”. University of Florida IFAS extension. Retrieved January 19, 2022. https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/sarasota/natural-resources/waste-reduction/composting/what-is-composting/what-can-be-composted/composting-dog-waste/
- Weir-Jimerson, K. April 22, 2021. “Can You Compost Dog Waste? Here’s What To Do With All That Poo.” Daily Paws. Retrieved January 07, 2023. https://www.dailypaws.com/living-with-pets/pet-friendly-home/can-you-compost-dog-waste