Image via iStock.com/Aonip
By Carol McCarthy
Brown spots on a dog’s coat are adorable. But brown spots on your lawn? Not so much. If one (or more) of your family members is a dog, chances are that your lawn might feature some patches of dead grass caused by dog pee. So how do dedicated dog parents maintain a lawn that doesn’t look like a dog urine minefield?
Is your dog to blame for your lawn’s brown grass spots?
Before blaming it on your dog, first confirm that he is indeed the culprit, says Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for the National Association of Landscape Professionals.
Several brown spots surrounded by dark green grass is one indication that the damage is caused by dog urine, she says. To check your lawn’s health and help determine the cause, gently pull on the discolored turf to see if the roots are firm.
“If the root system remains secured, then you can take action to reduce issues caused by dog urine. However, if you can easily pull back large amounts of grass, you might be dealing with a lawn disease,” Henriksen says. If that is the case, she recommends that you seek a lawn care professional’s help.
Why is dog pee on grass so damaging?
To figure out how to deal with so-called “dog spots,” you have to first understand the cause, says Theresa Smith, director of marketing for Natural Alternative, an organic lawn and home company. “The high concentration of nitrogen, from urea in urine, and associated salts found in dog urine essentially ‘burns’ the grass it directly hits,” Smith says. “However, the areas surrounding that spot will be lush and green, thanks to the added nutrients not being so concentrated.”
Do some dogs cause more damage to lawns than others?
While pee from all dogs will kill grass, some factors do influence the severity of the problem. “Dog spot damage is more prevalent with female dogs due to the fact they squat in a single place, while male dogs generally leave their calling cards in multiple areas around trees and other upright objects,” Smith said. The same effect would be true of young dogs of both genders who tend to squat when peeing.
In addition, it is not the size of your dog, but rather how frequently your dog pees in a specific location that determines the damage to your lawn, Henriksen notes.
Can you train your dog not to pee on your lawn?
The best way to prevent these brown grass spots is to train your dog to pee somewhere else, Smith says. “We recommend creating an area out of gravel or mulch in your backyard for your dog to urinate on, and train them to pee there,” she says. “Or train them to urinate in a less visible area of the lawn if the concern is about unsightly spots.”
Training your pet to pee in a particular spot is a good approach, but the training can be challenging, and it takes patience, especially if he has had free rein in the yard, notes David Jones, owner of Bio Tech Pest Controls of Westerly, Rhode Island.
Henriksen suggests consulting a landscape professional to help design an outdoor space specifically for your dog to do his business. “By creating areas lined with mulch or rocks, professionals can design spaces that are both beautiful and comfortable for your dog, while protecting your lawn from damage,” she says.
Is there a supplement you can give to your dog?
Pet parents often try feeding dogs enzyme supplements that reportedly balance the pH in dog urine, limiting its effect on lawns. But Dr. Virginia Sinnott of Angell Animal Medical Center’s Emergency & Critical Care Unit urges pet parents to be cautious if considering these products.
“Supplements containing DL Methionine are used to acidify the urine, which may leave your lawn greener, but can be harmful to dogs with pre-existing liver and kidney disease, and are not recommended for dogs who have these issues,” she says. This ingredient should be clearly marked on those products, Dr. Sinnott says.
“Also, if your dog has ever had a kidney or bladder stone, or is known to have crystals in their urine, you should check with your family vet before using a product to prevent greening.”
Dog Rocks offer a natural lawn burn patch preventative. These naturally occurring paramagnetic igneous rocks are dropped in your dog’s water bowl to filter impurities such as tin, ammonia and nitrate that can cause brown grass spots.
Is it possible to prevent dog urine from turning the grass brown?
“The safest way to keep your lawn green is to spray the area in which your dog urinated with a hose to dilute the urine,” Dr. Sinnott says. “If you are installing a new lawn, consider seeding it with ‘urine hardy’ grass such as tall fescue. This has been shown to be the most tolerant to urine of all the lawn grasses.”
Smith notes that it can be tedious to follow your dog around with a hose, but cautions pet parents against using chemical lawn treatments that could harm a dog’s paws when he comes in contact with them. She suggests raking a little grass seed into the dog-damaged area to fill back in, and to guide your dog to appropriate places to pee.
Can you repair brown grass spots after the fact?
Jones says lawn soil can be restored by neutralizing salts from the dog’s urine with gypsum-containing products such as NaturVet GrassSaver gypsum soil conditioner.
“To do this, get a small bag of gypsum, add a few tablespoons to the soil and water in gently, then cover the spot to stop the dog from peeing there. After a few days, scratch up the soil and apply some good quality grass seed. Again, keep the dog away. Just repeat the process as necessary,” he says.
Jones notes that you will need patience and must be vigilant about training your dog to keep away from the areas under restoration. Additional watering will also help revive the dead spots, says Henriksen.