Spot's Spots

If you start seeing scalded, dead grass on your lawn this summer, chances are the family dog is the culprit. More specifically, the dog’s pee is the offending agent.

Before blaming it on your dog, first confirm it isn’t a bigger problem. Several brown spots surrounded by dark green grass is one indication that the damage is caused by dog urine. Gently pull on the discolored turf to see if the roots are firm.

If the root system is secured, it’s urine that’s causing it. If you can easily pull back large amounts of grass, you may be dealing with a lawn disease and should seek a lawn care professional’s help.

Assuming the issue is with your pet’s pee, thankfully, there are several solutions to restore your lawn to its lush, green state — and prevent damage from recurring.

What causes the grass to burn? It’s the high nitrogen content of the dog’s urine.

Nitrogen is the waste and the result of protein breakdown through normal body processes. Female dogs can cause more damage to grass simply because most tend to squat and urinate in one place; many males lift a leg and mark in multiple locations.

One way to prevent dog urine spots that won’t cost you a dime is to the water the area immediately after your dog urinates with a hose. At the same time, encourage your dog to drink more water. The more your dog drinks, the less nitrogen will be concentrated in the urine and the less damaging it will be to your lawn.

You can also repair affected spots by neutralizing salts from the dog’s urine with a few tablespoons of gypsum-containing products that can be added to the soil and watered before covering the spot to stop your dog from peeing there. After a few days, scratch up the soil and apply some good-quality grass seed.  

As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and that’s the case with dog urine and your lawn. The best method is the one that works best for you.

You can start by choosing the right grass. Fescue and perennial ryegrass are most resistant to dog urine, and diluted amounts of urine (hosing down the spot like stated above) can actually act as a fertilizer. The least hearty of grasses are Kentucky Bluegrass and Bermuda grass. Planting a urine-resistant ground cover like clover is another option.

Fertilize your lawn less, or not in all, in areas where your dog urinates. Fertilized lawns may already have as much nitrogen as they can handle. Even a small amount of nitrogen in dog urine may be all that is needed to burn the lawn.

If you fertilize your lawn, use a reduced nitrogen fertilizer. Some lawn treatments contain organic enzymes with soil cleansers to flush the salts from the root zone. You could also use a non-chemical citrus spray on the lawn to deter them from peeing in the area.

Another very effective prevention option is create a specific space for your dog to do his business away from your lawn. A graveled, mulched, or artificial turf area in the back or side of your yard works well.

Train your pet to go there by accompanying them when they go outside to pee. By giving your dog positive reinforcement and praise, they will eventually and automatically head to that area to go. You can make this site visually appealing by placing potted hostas, ferns or other greenery around the perimeter.  

If needed, fence in a portion of your yard so your dog only goes in that area. Products like The Pet Loo replicates a small, square patch of “grass” for your dog to pee on making it ideal for those who have minimal outdoor space.

Some products contain pheromones to encourage your dog to pee on or near them, like pee posts. Your dog will be attracted to the post and once he’s sniffed out the area, he’ll pee in that exact spot.

When it comes to preventing urine scald, addressing the environment — not your pet — is the best solution. Giving your dog supplements that change the pH of urine should be avoided.

Urine burn is a nitrogen problem, not a pH problem. These medications run the risk of causing urinary crystals or bladder stones or causing eye, skin, oral, and respiratory irritation in your pet.

A natural and safe alternative is a product called Dog Rocks, made from naturally-occurring magnetic rock mined in Australia. They work like a sponge, absorbing excess nitrates and other trace elements from your dog’s water that cause urine to burn grass.

Simply place them in your pet’s water bowl and replace them every two months, leaving you with a greener lawn within three to five weeks.