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Posted on 07-29-2015

Pawsitively Helpful Pet Tips

with DR. DEB

"Lawn Issues and Care"

What actually causes the burning of the lawn by dog urine and feces?

  • As a waste product, urine primarily removes excess nitrogen from the body via the kidneys as a result of normal protein breakdown.  It is the NITROGEN CONTENT OF URINE AND FECES that burns lawns.
  • URINE IS A BIGGER PROBLEM FOR LAWNS THAN FECES because it is applied in high concentration as a "liquid" fertilizer, whereas feces slowly releases the waste products over time and may be easily removed.
  • Lawns that already receive maximum amounts of fertilization are most susceptible to nitrogen burns.
  • High urine concentrations mean a higher nitrogen content, thus creating the most deleterious effects on lawns.
  • The URINE pH, or acid or alkaline nature of the urine, has NO effect on lawn burning.
  • Both female and male dogs have equal amounts of nitrogen in their urine, so neither sex is more likely to cause lawn burning-it is the location of urination that will have more effect on yard damage.  Young dogs of both sexes and adult female dogs that squat to urinate typically relieve themselves all in one spot in various places around the yard causing more damage.  Male dogs that lift a leg to urinate will cause similar burning of small bushes, shrubs, vines, or tree sprouts with less issue to the lawn.  Dogs of either sex that urine mark often utilize many and numerous scent spots resulting in many smaller volume urinations rather than single large puddles.  Grass and bushes can handle small volume nitrogen bursts easier than fertilizer overload.
  • The brown spot that results from the large nitrogen concentration in one area will often have a green ring around the outside as the urine is more diluted toward the periphery.
  • There is no breed difference when it comes to lawn burning, though large breed dogs produce larger spots.

Lawn grasses most likely to be damaged by dog urine:

  • KENTUCKY BLUEGRASS and BERMUDA GRASS seem to be most sensitive to any urine concentration.

Lawn grasses most resistant to effects of dog urine unless urine is very concentrated:

  • FESCUE and PERENNIAL RYEGRASS may be good choices for dog owning families starting a new lawn.

WHAT DOES NOT WORK TO DECREASE LAWN BURNING:

  • DO NOT USE ACIDIFYING AGENTS, (DL-methionine, or Vitamin C), OR  ALKALINIZING AGENTS, (including baking soda and potassium citrate) !!!  Most over the counter products sold to reduce lawn burning as a feed supplement contain one or more of the above products even if they are advertised with names such as cranberry extract.  Read the label!  These products are DANGEROUS AS THEY MAY ALTER THE DOG'S URINE pH PREDISPOSING THEM TO CERTAIN BLADDER STONES.  Owner reported successes with above products are likely due to their additional effect of increasing the dog's water consumption which dilutes concentrated urine.
  • Avoid products advertised as odor repellant or meant to deter urination as they actually may encourage some dogs to over mark the strange odor with their urine!

How can I minimize my dog's urine burning my lawn?

  • Always consult your veterinarian before making a change in your pet's diet or adding a supplement. 
  • A better way to dilute you dog's urine during green lawn months includes adding canned foods to the diet, soaking dry food with water, or adding a little salt or TOMATO JUICE (2 tbsp of tomato juice for most dogs twice daily-- 1/2 to 1 tbsp for smaller dogs twice daily).  Remember, increased salt in the diet may be harmful for some dogs, so check with your veterinarian.
  • Consult your veterinarian regarding a higher quality diet.  Many expensive "high end, specialty" dog foods advertising large amounts of "quality" proteins in fact often contain excessive protein for your dog's requirements and lifestyle.  These proteins are meant to appeal to the consumer, but may also not be in a digestible form for your dog.  This not only results in higher nitrogen content of the dog's urine, but the breakdown of extra protein puts extra load on organs like the kidneys.
  • When possible, apply water to the lawn area where the dog has urinated (at least three times the volume of the urine) within 8 hours of the pet's urination to dilute the urine.  This produced more of a fertilization effect than a burn,(darker green spots).  Garden hoses may be handy for this purpose during summer months. 
  • Train your dog to eliminate in a designated area of the yard.  Young puppies may respond better than an older dog with a previously established routine, but taking your dog to the specific area on a leash with consistency and proper rewards for 2-3 weeks up to several months can help.  A pea gravel, mulch or artificial turf material designed for dog yards can be used in the new "dog area".  Some dog owners designate a corner of their lawn that they are willing to have damaged in order to save the rest.  Collecting you dog's urine in a cup and pouring it on the new area may provide some odor attractant value, and feces can also be collected and transferred to the new area.
  • Other ideas for more intensive lawn management can be found at www.TurfGrassSod.org

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