Managing Dog Pee Patches in the Lawn

Dog pee patch of dead grass on lawn

Dog pee can harm grass, creating the dreaded pee patches often seen on dog lovers’ lawns.  A little knowledge, a few defensive measures, and a whole lot of patience (in training or with the watering can) can go a long way towards reducing the damage. With our two large dogs, we’re always fighting against pee patches. Here’s some of what we’ve learned over the years about pee patches and how we try to manage patching in the lawn.

Why Does Dog Pee Damage Grass?

Different dogs and pee habits carry varying risks of damaging grass and other plants.  Urine may cause burn due to pH, nitrogen levels (similar to fertiliser burn) and other compounds in the urine, urine concentration, and how much pee is applied on a given area.  The vulnerability of the lawn to these factors can vary with the variety of grasses, lawn health, and environmental stresses.

Dog Factors Affecting Pee Patch Risk

Urinary pH

Maintaining a healthy urinary pH is good for our pets and our plants. Overly acidic or alkaline urine is more likely to burn. Carnivores, like dogs, tend to have slightly acidic urine. In most breeds, with a quality diet and good health, dog urine is slightly acidic but still in the mid-range. Starchy commercial foods, low-quality protein sources, dry kibble, and other modern dog diet issues can negatively affect urinary health and the pH of dog urine. 

Nitrogen Levels in the Dog’s Pee

Nitrogen compounds in urine are affected by a variety of influences, including (but not limited to) how much protein is in the diet (the more protein, the higher the nitrogen), the quality of the protein (the better the quality, the lower the excreted waste), and how efficiently the body processes that protein.  Too much nitrogen and the outcome is similar to over applying a fertiliser. On the flip side, diluted and in moderation, urine (dog or others, humans included) can actually be great fertiliser for nitrogen-loving plants including grass! 

Concentration of the Dog’s Pee

Concentration of the urine means that there is more waste product moving with the water in the urine.  This can vary depending on health, diet, activity, environment, hydration, access to toilet breaks, and other factors. 

Concentrated Areas of Dog Pee on the Lawn

Concentration of the application means that there is more urine applied in a given area – whether all at once or over time. It is a common misconception that female dog pee is more likely to burn than male; however, this comes from being more inclined to squat and pee in concentration vs. distributing markings. Concentration can also build up over time, depending on application and flushing, with repeat urination on the same areas. 

Caution! Don’t be tempted by products promising to alter dog pee for the sake of the lawn, unless you are choosing to do so after discussion with your vet. Healthy waste metabolism is a vital step in whole body health and not to be meddled with lightly. Your dog’s health matters more than a pretty lawn.

Lawn Factors Affecting Vulnerability to Dog Pee

Type(s) of Grass in the Lawn

The best grass varieties for your lawn depends on your local soil and weather conditions; however, where options allow, some varieties are more resilient to urine than others. Don’t forget that dogs also come with a likelihood of wear and tear through paw traffic and play. Opting for a rough and tough blend can be beneficial for more than just pee in a pet-friendly garden.

Lawn Health and Hydration

Like many liquid treatments applied to plants, the effects of dog urine on the lawn can be through the foliage and/or through the roots after soaking into the soil. Hot, sunny, dry weather can amplify the effects. A healthy lawn that is well-hydrated may be able to handle some pee without any problems. The same lawn under dry or stressed conditions may quickly succumb to patching.  Soils with poor drainage and transmission can increase the risks through longer retention. Our heavy clay soil is particularly difficult.

Combination with Fertilisers and Other Lawn Products

Take care with applied fertiliser treatments to avoid accidentally increasing the accumulated dose in frequent pee areas.

Defending Against the Dreaded Pee Patch

Influencing the Dog Pee Patch Risk Factors

Defending against pee patch lawn damage can involve a combination of influencing the factors above, such as feeding pets a healthy high-quality diet, selecting tough grass varieties, maintaining a well-hydrated lawn through hot dry periods, etc. If your healthy dog still has pee patch issues, (ours do, especially our senior) then you can ramp up the pee patch battle by working on location and concentration.

Training Dogs to Used Designated Toilet Areas

Avoiding any pee on the lawn can be tricky, but it is possible to train dogs to use preferred potty areas away from vulnerable lawn. Check out Dalmatian DIY’s fire hydrant dog pee post for a cute potty area idea.  Unfortunately, training may not be feasible depending on circumstances.  It takes time, patience, access control, and can be particularly difficult with established habits or old/infirm pets, especially is they have urinary or urinary control issues. It’s been an effort in futility for us! 

Distribution

If your dog can’t be persuaded off the lawn, peeing in the same place is detrimental. Even non-burning urine can build-up over time similar to applying fertiliser too frequently in the same place. Distribution can be your lawn’s friend. Peeing in different locations can lower the concentration of application on individual areas of the lawn. This does carry the risk of creating lots of patches though, but water can be your ally in the effort to reduce damage. Of course, walking for exercise helps share the pee output off property as well. 

Water to the Rescue!

To reduce the foliar coating, dilute the urine concentration, and increase soil distribution, watering the affected areas after urinating is extremely helpful in reducing the risk of patching. The sooner, the better.  We use this method for our dogs, and keep a filled watering can near the front and rear gardens to help make it easier to catch as many pees as possible when we’re present. Rain is a handy helper here! Watering is extra important if the lawn is dry/stressed (e.g. summertime) and when the dogs’ urine is likely to be more concentrated (e.g. first in the morning or after a confined period).
 

Recovering Patchy Lawns

Recovering from pee patch lawn damage depends on your patience, how much the imperfection of patches bothers you, and the severity of the patch damage problem. Left on their own, some pee patches can recover over time as grass regrows or spreads to refill the areas. Be aware that affected areas are vulnerable to invading weeds (or existing weeds may be more resilient and survive the pee). 

To repair small urine spots, dead grass can be raked or pulled free by hand to reduce thatching, then dressed and over-seeded. Repairing areas of concentrated damage from repeat urination may require extra effort in preparing the ground before dressing and reseeding. Where possible, the soil can be flushed with water (aeration can help if absorption is an issue) and it may need amendments to reach a healthy pH and nutrient level to support new grass growth. Severe damage in large area of lawn may be better suited to the extreme lawn makeover of turning, treating, and starting again with new grass from seed or sod.

Managing Dog Pee Patches in the Lawn
Green in Real Life blog spacer bar with floral accent

Footnote (Pawnote) on Dalmatians and Urine

Working to gaining an understanding of the Dalmatian purine metabolism issues in order to better care for our pets has, by chance, opened up a whole new range of understanding of dog urine and, by proxy, our lawn pee patch issues.

Although our assembly is quite different, there is a lot of commonality between the dog and human urinary systems in terms of organs, functions, and even the chemical composition of our pee. In most mammals, purines (a form of protein) are converted through multiple enzyme processes before waste is expelled from the body.  The end stage of this process is when derived uric acid is converted into allontoin, which is highly soluble and easily excreted out of the body.

Dalmatians lack the genetic ability to convert uric acid. Without this final enzyme process, the body must manage and expel the uric acid or risk developing health complications. In Dalmatians, these complications can manifest as urate crystals or stones in the urinary system, which can cause irritation, pain, and potentially creating life-threatening blockages. Not all Dalmatians will form stones (fortunately), but they will usually suffer the genetic issue of higher level of uric acid.

We moderate our dogs’ diets (and other lifestyle factors) as a preventative measure against the risk of stones, but they are still prone to pee patches, especially our senior. Even more so now that he is less mobile and likes to take great big stationary pees! But we love the old man no matter what! Diluted on healthy lawn, their pee areas are lush and green fertilised oases of best lawn. Undiluted or on stressed lawn, their pee is better than high-strength weed killer! Grass beware!!!

Dalmatian dog lying on green grass lawn

You might also enjoy: