If you’ve got a cat or a dog and you also compost, you might have heard that you shouldn’t put their waste in your compost – and perhaps you’re wondering why not, since it is organic, and all it does when left outside is wash back into the ground anyway. It may seem illogical to put it into a landfill site.
We’re going to look at why you shouldn’t compost dog and cat waste, and what the possible exceptions to that rule are so that if you’re someone who wants to keep organic waste out of landfills and deal with your pet waste, you know what your options are.Here’s composting dog and cat waste ( the ultimate resource).
Why Shouldn’t You Compost Dog And Cat Waste?
The major reason that you shouldn’t compost this kind of waste is that because cats and dogs are omnivores, their waste can carry harmful bacteria that may not be killed by the composting process.
If this bacteria comes into contact with human food – and compost is often used for food crops – then it could make people very sick.
Cat waste may have the parasite Toxoplasma in it, and this is a big risk to pregnant women and their unborn babies (which is why you should never flush cat waste either!!).
However, that leaves you with the option of filling up landfill sites with cat or dog waste, or finding other solutions – so let’s look at what those solutions may be.
Make Compost Not Intended For Food Crops
Firstly, if you have a compost pile that is not intended for food crops, you can safely put cat and dog waste in there to decompose. This can be used on lawns, ornamental beds, etc., without any problem.
If you have children, do not use this sort of compost anywhere if they have any interest in eating or playing with soil.They are more vulnerable to the parasite in cat waste than adults and while toxoplasmosis is relatively rare, it can be very serious and could – in some cases – result in blindness.
You should always wash your hands after handling compost, but this is particularly important if you have chosen to compost dog or cat waste.
Remember the dangers of spreading bacteria, and give your hands a very good scrub before doing anything in your kitchen.If you use some compost for food crops, you can still have a separate “non-food” compost bin.
However, you will need to make sure there’s no chance of them getting mixed up, and this may only work if you have plenty of compost material for both.
Hot composting is another option, but must be done sensibly. You need to know for sure that the temperature is high enough to kill off any bacteria, and there must be no uncertainties about this, or you or your family could end up very sick.
Many home compost heaps do not get hot enough to kill the nasty things in dog and cat waste, so don’t just throw it in the heap and hope for the best.
If you’re going to go for composting as a means of dealing with cat and dog poo, it’s crucial that you do it sensibly and make sure that your compost gets as hot as it needs to.
Compost must reach 145°F (63°C) if it is to kill most bacteria, and it should be kept at this level for several hours.
This should be enough to kill toxoplasmosis, meaning that you can compost cat waste provided you know your compost reaches and maintains this temperature.
You should use a thermometer to check this; you can easily purchase compost thermometers, and this will set your mind at rest if you are choosing to compost omnivore waste.
It will also ensure you notice quickly if the temperature drops for some reason, so you can deal with the problem.
There are other diseases and parasites carried in the waste of both cats and dogs. For example, dog feces can carry salmonella.
However, hot composting should be able to take care of most potential threats from both dog and cat waste, provided you are certain that the temperature is maintained for hours on end.
If you do use this compost for food crops, it is important to thoroughly wash any crops brought in before consumption to further reduce any risk of contamination from the dog and cat waste.
Hot composters should also be able to deal with worms and worm eggs that may be in your pet’s feces. If you treat your pet for worms regularly, this may be less of a concern, but if you are a little more relaxed about this, it needs to be taken into consideration.
You can purchase hot compost bins (though they are expensive) that are designed to maintain a high temperature, but you can also just make a hot composter at home – as long as you do keep an eye on temperature levels to ensure pathogens are being killed.
Increasing the levels of nitrogen in your compost bin can be a good way to increase the temperature.
Don’t add too much nitrogen, though, or you’ll upset the balance and end up having to stir a lot more carbon into your compost.Stirring and turning your heap often is another good way to raise the temperature levels.
This might seem counter-intuitive – aren’t you letting the heat out? – but it helps to encourage the oxygen-loving bacteria that produce the heat as they break down the food.
Remember that your compost is likely to get cooler and less active in winter, so do double-check that the temperature is still high enough to compost dog or cat waste, and stop doing so if the levels drop.
You may have heard of vermicomposter and wormeries and be wondering if they can solve your pet waste problem as an alternative to hot composting.
The answer is that wormeries should not be used for cat waste, but may be used for dog waste.Wormeries are not necessarily able to safely deal with cat waste.
It is possible that parasites such as the toxoplasma one can pass through the worms and end up in their casts, which will often then be handled by humans It is not a good idea to put the waste or litter into a wormery.
However, you may be able to safely add dog waste to your vermicomposter, provided you take some precautions. Firstly, do not overwhelm your worms; they need to be able to break down the waste effectively.
Secondly, do not use the worm casts for your vegetables or on fruits. You should use vermicompost made from dog feces on non-edibles only, such as in a rockery or flowerbed. Handle it with gloves, and wash your hands afterward.
Note that there is no guarantee that worms can deal with the pathogens in dog waste, but that this is generally considered a safe way of dealing with it, provided you don’t touch food or your mouth before you have washed your hands.
Pet Septic Tank
Pet septic tanks are considered an alternative to composting dog and cat waste, but do need to be purchased (which can be expensive) and might not be considered very “green” because they require a constant influx of chemicals.
Essentially, what you will be doing is mixing the pet waste with a “digester” that helps it to break down more quickly and effectively. This is all done in a hole in the ground, so you won’t be adding the end product to your compost heap – and that might annoy you, as valuable nutrients are being lost.
However, the goodness will still soak into the soil, and you won’t need to worry about pathogens potentially contaminating your food crops. The “digester” won’t necessarily deal with these pathogens, but you should not need to come into contact with them at any point.
You should be aware that this system does not work well in cold weather (though it can also be harder to maintain hot composting systems in the winter).
What About Compostable Bags?
Perhaps you’ve come across compostable bags as a solution to the dog/cat waste in landfills crisis, and think that’s a great idea. After all, once the bag decomposes, the waste can also decompose in the landfill, and will disappear – right?
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Landfills aren’t designed to encourage organic matter to break down, and anything that does will produce high levels of methane because of the lack of oxygen.
While compostable dog bags may be a good way to let you add the waste to your own compost – or municipal composting facilities if permitted – they are not a solution to pet waste in landfills.
Composting pet waste is a good alternative to adding it to our already overloaded landfill sites, but you should take sensible precautions.
The chances of contracting anything nasty by adding pet waste to your compost are relatively low, and you can further decrease them by hot composting or using the compost for non-edibles. This is the best way to handle cat or dog waste.