Summarized from CSU Extension Service, Garden Note #553
Damage to lawns from dog urine is a common problem in urban landscapes and the smaller the yard, the greater the impact – yet the causes and cures are frequently misunderstood. Many urban legends have cropped up, leading to the development of commercial products and the use of home remedies. As a responsible pet owner and an informed consumer, you should be aware of both the true causes and the solutions that actually work and are safe for your dog.
“Dog spots” are caused by high concentrations of nitrogen and salts deposited on a small area of lawn causing injury or death to that area. Some common urban legends about dog urine damage to lawns are:
Urban Legends/True Causes
- Only female dogs cause spotting to lawns – MOSTLY FALSE
Dog spotting on lawns is caused by dogs that squat when they urinate which deposits a large amount of concentrated urine in one spot. Most “squatters” are generally female dogs but some males do this too particularly in their own yard. Most males prefer to mark vertical objects which present more problems for plants than for lawns.
- Dog spots are more common with certain breeds of dogs – FALSE
Dog spotting is not more common with any particular breed of dog but larger dogs tend to produce larger quantities of urine which is more destructive to a lawn. However, if a dog, regardless of size, tends to go to the same area each time to urinate, spotting will be more common.
- Dog spots occur because urine is alkaline – FALSE Dog spots are caused by high concentrations of nitrogen and salts on a small area of lawn. In some cases, the added nitrogen causes dark green spots and rapid grass growth without injuring the grass. In other cases, the result is a brown spot from the concentrated nitrogen. The brown spot is sometimes surrounded by a circle of dark green grass from the lower concentration of salts on the periphery that fertilizes the grass.
- Dog spots can be prevented by using food supplements that reduce the acidify a dog’s urine – FALSE
Dog spots do not occur because a dog’s urine is alkaline. There are no dietary supplements that have been scientifically proven to reduce lawn spotting. Products advertised to “naturally” reduce urine alkalinity may cause urinary system problems and can affect calcium deposition in growing bones of younger dogs so you should always contact your veterinarian before giving your dog this type of supplement.
- Dog spots can be cured by sprinkling the affected area with baking soda, gypsum, dishwashing detergent, etc. to neutralize the urine – FALSE
Water is the only thing that will reduce the impact of dog urine on your lawn. Gypsum and baking soda are salts and may actually compound the problem. Dishwashing detergent could theoretically help dilute the accumulated salts but it could also burn your grass.
- When your dog urinates on the lawn, hose down the area immediately afterward.
- Train your dog to use another area of your yard covered with mulch or gravel or even artificial turf.
- Make sure your dog always has plenty of water. Increased water will dilute urine and its negative impacts on your lawn, however, do not give your dog home remedies such as salt, garlic, tomato juice, etc. to increase their water consumption. The increased salt intake can cause problems for older dogs and those with heart or kidney conditions. You can also make sure your dog goes out more rather than less frequently to avoid more concentrated urine.
- Increase irrigation amount and/or frequency. This may help still-living grass recover and dilute salts where the grass has been killed, allowing for more effective reseeding results.
About Urban Gardens, Inc.:
Urban Gardens provides landscape design and consulting services to residential clients whose projects range from historic renovations to new subdivisions with a blank slate. Sarah Christian owns and operates Urban Gardens in the internationally recognized Stapleton Development in Denver, Colorado. She received her Masters degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Colorado at Denver in 1995 and has worked in Colorado since that time. She is licensed by the state of Colorado and is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects. You can visit her web page at www.urbangardensinc.com