Your dog’s poop might be a dangerous source of bacterial superbugs. In a new study, researchers in China detail evidence that dogs experiencing diarrhea are commonly carrying multi-drug resistant strains of Escherichia coli—around 50%, in their study.

The research was led by scientists at Sichuan Agricultural University. According to lead author Zhijun Zhong, an increasing number of studies have found that dogs can be a reservoir of E. coli superbugs, including strains resistant to more than one antibiotic. But there’s been relatively little data on how common these multi-drug resistant strains are among dogs in China, particularly within the Sichuan Province, which is known for its major pet-owning population.

To get a better sense of the issue, Zhong and his team studied poop samples taken from more than 100 pet dogs that had been brought to the university’s veterinary hospital and diagnosed with diarrhea. About 50% of these samples contained E coli bacteria that had resistance to three or more classes of antibiotics. And when the researchers analyzed the genetic make-up of these strains, they found that the bacteria carried a diverse arrangement of genes that promoted drug resistance and increased virulence (a microbe’s ability to cause illness to their host); they also tended to belong to groups of E. coli that commonly make people sick.

“In short, there was a high risk of antibiotic resistance causing disease in the [multi-drug resistant] E. coli isolated from dogs with diarrhea,” Zhong, a professor at the university’s College of Veterinary Medicine, told Gizmodo in an email. The team’s findings were published Wednesday in the journal PLOS-One.

The research only looked at dogs from a particular region of China, so the prevalence of these superbugs may differ in other parts of the world. But dogs are plenty popular globally, and studies elsewhere have suggested that companion pets often carry resistant strains of E. coli and other bacteria that could be dangerous to humans. Even healthy-looking dogs (and cats) can harbor relevant drug-resistant bacteria, and this study can’t tell us whether dogs with diarrhea are more likely to have them. But sick dogs might be more likely to have virulent strains that can cause disease in humans, Zhong notes.

There’s still more work that has to be done to understand the exact risk that dog-sourced E. coli and other bacteria pose to people, the authors say. But if nothing else, the current research should emphasize the need for safely scooping your dog’s poop, especially when they’re sick.

“If our findings are confirmed by further studies, they will provide a reference for the clinical use of antibiotics in pets and remind people to properly handle the feces excreted by dogs with diarrhea to prevent the spread of MDR E. coli to the environment, humans or other animals,” Zhong said.

The team next hopes to follow up on their research by studying more dogs and performing extensive genetic sequencing to better detail the superbugs that can lurk in their poop.

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