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
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
Training Dogs to Used Designated Toilet Areas
Water to the Rescue!
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.
Footnote (Pawnote) on Dalmatians and Urine
Working to gain 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. You can read more and find some handy links in Dalmatian DIY’s post on the Dalmatian diet and purine problems. 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 adore the old lad 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!!!