ITHACA, N.Y. -- The "greening" of American backyards -- as more people turnto composting food scraps -- is turning some dogs a bilious shade of green.Certain microorganisms and the toxins they produce can sicken or even killdogs that get into the wrong compost pile, a Cornell University veterinarytoxicologist is warning.
"We're seeing more and more cases of 'compost poisoning,' where thefermentation of meat, dairy products and other food in compost pilesproduces clostridial toxins that can be very nasty to a dog," said Larry J.Thompson, D.V.M., Ph.D., a toxicologist in the Cornell University Collegeof Veterinary Medicine's Diagnostic Laboratory.
Samples sent to the Cornell Diagnostic Laboratory from throughout New Yorkstate and the Northeast give veterinarians an early warning about diseaseand toxicological trends in the animal population, and they now have arenewed concern about "garbage gut."
"Particularly in warm weather, when animals ingest garbage with clostridialtoxins, we see severe vomiting, severe diarrhea, dehydration and sometimesdeath if garbage gut is not treated," Thompson said. "As more peopleutilize compost for degrading biological materials -- if they're notjudicious about what they put in their compost and how they protect theircompost pile -- dogs and other animal can smell the meat and gain access tothe compost."
Composts can be a microcosm of potentially harmful bacteria tomeat-foraging pets, according to Patrick McDonough, Ph.D., amicrobiologist at the Cornell Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. He pointedto Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter jejuni, Yersinia enterocolitica,Staphylococcus aureus and some of the Salmonellae and Bacillus species asprime suspects.
In any case, meat scraps have no business being in backyard composts, saidDan Cogan, a compost technology expert at the Cornell Waste ManagementInstitute.
"It's true that meat can be composted in some of the high-tech, in-vesselsystems that are now in commercial use," Cogan said. "But please don't trythis at home -- for a number of reasons, including the 'attractive-nuisance' problem with dogs and other animals. Also, if you simply makesure your pile is enclosed on all sides, dogs won't be able to gainaccess."
Most of the compost garbage-gut cases recorded at the Cornell VeterinaryDiagnostic Laboratory involve dogs, Thompson said, hoping to alert petowners to hazards in their own backyards and to encourage owners to monitorthe health of dogs that roam the neighborhood. "Dogs are not putoff by smells that offend us humans," he said, "and dogs -- more so thancats -- will eat garbage without hesitation. It takes all kinds oforganisms to make a compost work, but a dog isn't one of them."
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