Preventing Lawn Dog Damage
From Pet Urination

We all love our pets. However, as fun and rewarding as dogs are, lawn dog damage remains a serious problem and a challenge for pet owners. Urine damage from dogs is a leading cause of dead spots throughout the lawn. There are things you can do to help lessen the damage and to stop almost all urine damage. This page contains several ideas and strategies that may work for you.

A Dead Patch From Dog Urine

You should expect a certain amount of lawn dog damage if you have pets. The best solution is to teach your pet to use only a small section of the lawn. Some people have even installed a gravel section and have trained their pet to use only that area. If training is not an option, there is always your neighbor’s lawn. (Just kidding, don’t do that.)

Understanding How Urine Turf Damage Occurs

Urine turf damage is probably the most common lawn dog damage affecting turf. Although both male and female dogs can cause urine damage, females are more frequently thought to be the culprits. Whether this assumption is fair or not, know that someone actually gave it a name. It is called "Female Dog Spot Disease". It is not really a disease, but the "disease" label makes it sound more official.

The primary reason female dogs are singled out as the chief culprits of lawn dog damage is because they tend to squat in one place while males often go in less amounts in multiple places. This is not a hard rule. My large male golden retriever can go in one place for what seems like several minutes.

What Lawn Dog Damage Looks Like

Urine Damaged Grass

Lawn dog damage is most notable on grass that is green or actively growing. Lawn dog damage takes a somewhat round shape from a few inches to a foot or more wide depending a lot on the size of the dog. Hot, dry conditions speed the grass' demise. Occasionally there will be a green ring of taller grass growing around the perimeter of the dead spot. This dead spot is caused by an overload of nutrients in the urine that is concentrated in a small area. The green outer ring received less urine and is acting more like fertilizer, thus causing a dark green and rapid growth. It is also common to see the green ring around dog feces that have been left on the lawn for several days. Again, this is related to the nutrients leaching into the soil.

Why Urine Damages Grass

Urine actually contains many elements that are in grass fertilizer. Lawn dog damage occurs when an excessive amount of urine is concentrated in a single area. It is like spilling some fertilizer in a single spot on the grass. This concentration of nutrients is more than the grass can handle which burns the roots and the grass dies. The primary nutrient responsible for the damage is urea, a form of organic nitrogen. Commercial urea comes in many forms and is a popular nitrogen source found in many fertilizers. Besides nitrogen, urine also contains potassium and phosphorus. You may have noticed that nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus are the main ingredients (N-P-K) in fertilizer. If urine is diluted with water it could actually be applied as a fertilizer. Believe me, I don’t need cheap fertilizer that badly. Urine also contains salts that can be harmful to some plants.

Most grasses can handle a certain amount of dog urine without adverse effect. (Smaller dogs more so than larger dogs) Tiny dogs may leave behind no damage at all. The exception may be during the heat of summer when lawn dog damage is most prevalent. During high temperatures of 90 degrees or above, pet urine may result in root burn, which can kill the grass. Sometimes the grass recovers as long as the dog doesn’t return to the same spot repeatedly.

Important: Drought conditions can increase the chances of nitrogen burn from pet urine. Nitrogen is the principle cause of lawn dog damage from pet urine. Roots are often waiting for water and will instantly absorb as much liquid as possible. To prevent lawn dog damage, implement proper lawn irrigation techniques during dry periods to help lower incidents of burned spots.

Affects of Heavy Clay Soil and Lawn Dog Damage

Heavy clay or compacted soil often drains more slowly leading to more lawn dog damage. This is because clay and compacted soil keeps moisture and nutrients in contact with roots longer. Well-draining soils, those with higher amounts of sand and/or organic matter, can either absorb moisture or allow moisture to drop below the root zone faster. Sandy soils do not hold moisture well, so nutrients tend to leach more quickly.

Adding organic matter, such as compost, helps solve many problems with clay soil. Please visit our page on Clay Soil to see how it can be done. However, we do not recommend adding sand to clay soil. Unless the sand is added in extremely large amounts, for example, creating a 50 percent sand to clay ratio, then you will likely create more problems than you solve. Adding just a little sand can make clay rock hard.

Ways of Decreasing Lawn Dog Damage

There are many home remedies that encourage your pet to drink more water thereby diluting their urine. However, avoid certain remedies that requires adding salt or baking soda to their food. Many pet foods (especially bargain brands) may contain a lot of salt already making the food more palatable. Adding even more salt for the purpose of increasing thirst may lead to other health problems down the road. Baking soda is a home remedy designed to raise the pH in urine, but extended use may lead to an increase in specific bladder stones.

Spraying water over urine spots: Using a water hose and spraying water over the area where you dog just urinated will dilute the urine and wash the nutrients down below the root zone. If you do this within several minutes after you dog has gone you will likely prevent any problems. The problem with this method is in trying to be vigilant all the time.

GrassSaver Dog Supplements: GrassSaver is popular among those seeking to prevent lawn dog damage. The product contains DL-Methionine. Methionine is an amino acid that is essential to a dog’s health. GrassSaver supplies an additional 133mg of methionine in a chewable tablet and works by making urine more acidic. Methionine is already added to many pet foods to adjust the product’s pH or is simply added for safe measure. Increasing urine acidity is not without some controversy, however. One concern that is sometimes cited, is by significantly increasing urine acidity may lead to bladder stones over time. It is always a good idea to check with your vet to be certain your pet has no kidney problems before starting them on pH altering products. Our friends at Countryside Pet Supply have GrassSaver and can help you with other dog related health issues.

For an all natural solution for increasing urine pH you can mix blueberries and cranberries into your pet's food. The cost will generally be significantly higher.

Choosing the Right Pet Food: Foods For Active Dogs Understand that an "active dog" refers to dogs that receive exercise each day. Police dogs, actively working cattle and other herding dogs, dogs that accompany owners on long walks or jogs, etc. are considered active dogs. The canine equivalent of a couch potato is not considered an active dog. Non-active dogs that eat high protein foods designed for active dogs are likely to gain weight.

Choose a quality food with a balanced pH. Choosing high quality, highly digestible foods mean more nutrients are absorbed into the body and less material is filtered out in feces and urine. In other words, it means smaller feces piles and less damaging urine. Dime store brands often have a large amount of non-digestible material. In comparison, more of the cheaper food must be eaten to equal the same level of nutrients consumed in smaller quantities of higher quality, more digestible brands. Less expensive foods will not usually give the product’s pH and you often will not even get it by calling the manufacturer.

An example of quality foods include: Eagle Pack Natural Pet Food, Science Diet, Purina Pro Plan, Iams, etc. This is not intended to be an endorsement and there are many other quality pet food manufacturers as well.

Tips for Choosing the Right Pet Food Formulation: For Less Active or Non-Active Dogs: Pet owners have been taught that high protein foods are always best, so manufacturers simply deliver what owners expect. However, inactive pets usually do not need high protein foods. High protein leads to weight gain in inactive pets. Choosing a quality food with less protein means less weight gain for your inactive pet and less filtered nutrients in urine.

Increasing Daily Water Intake: A simple method of increasing daily water intake is to add water to dry food. Some dry foods are developed specifically for adding water before serving. Gravy Train is a brand that markets how water creates a gravy that many dogs like. Many canned pet foods contain more water than anything else and will help with additional water intake. Make sure fresh water is always available as well.

Repairing the Damaged Areas

No one likes looking at dead spots in the lawn. Fixing the damaged area by reseeding is not hard. Remember, however, you will first need to train or restrict your pet to a different part of the lawn. Some people have successfully trained their pets to use only a small area of the yard. Sacrificing a small portion of your lawn is not a bad idea for most people.

Below are a few tips on repairing pet damage in your lawn.

  • For instant grass, laying sod over the damaged area is the best choice. It is important that you plant the same type of grass you have in the rest of the lawn. Some mixing is okay in cool season grasses, for example, if you have turf-type tall fescue, it is generally acceptable to plant a Kentucky bluegrass/turf-type tall fescue blend or a Kentucky bluegrass/turf-type tall fescue/perennial ryegrass. . It is not generally acceptable to mix different warm season grasses, however. Especially in full sun locations, do not plant bermudagrass sod into an established St. Augustinegrass lawn. The same rule applies for St. Augustine with Zoysiagrass or buffalograss. I think you get the picture. The exception is with bermudagrass. Bermudagrass only grows in full sun and will only tolerate very light shade. It will not grow in moderate to heavy shade. Planting a shade-tolerant grass in shady areas is acceptable in lawns where bermudagrass is the principle grass. Turf-type tall fescue works well in shade areas. The primary reason for not blending warm season grasses is because most warm season grass varieties have different textures. Different varieties also have extremely wide color variations from pale yellow green to very dark green and possess different spreading and growth habits. Some grasses can spread very aggressively and will take over a lawn. Instead, plant the same species of grass you already have. It may save you headaches down the road.
  • If you plan on reseeding your lawn, the timing of your seeding project is important. Planting grass seed should be timed correctly. Warm season grasses are best seeded in the spring or early summer. Cool season grasses will do best when seeded in late summer to early fall. For most of the U.S. and countries with a similar climate, the times stated will offer the best growth temperature and give the young grass time to develop a complete root system before the summer heat of the following year. For more specific help with reseeding, including detailed descriptions, be sure to visit our page on Overseeding Lawns.
  • Before seeding it may be helpful to saturate the lawn with water first or wait for a heavy rain. The downward movement of water in the soil will remove excess salts and certain nutrients. This is especially helpful if you have numerous pets that use the same area.
  • When choosing seed, choose a grass seed that matches the grass you already have. "Patch Seed Mixtures" are not always the best choice unless they are labeled specifically for the grass type you have. Bargain seed mixtures often use the cheapest seed varieties in the greatest amounts, especially annual ryegrass. Annual ryegrass is primarily a winter grass and has a one-year life cycle. This means it will die when the weather warms in late spring. It is included because it is inexpensive and has the fastest germination times of any grass seed.
  • Follow good cultural practices when planting seed or sod to ensure the best results. This includes irrigation, soil preparation, and proper fertilization. For additional help, be sure to check out our page on Overseeding Lawns.

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