Schatzie has bachelor's degrees in animal science and English and a master's in education.
Can My Dog's Urine Destroy My Garden?
In one word, yes. Your dog may be the cause of your once green but now brown-spotted lawn or your once-thriving but now dying rose bushes. As for the why, that requires a longer answer.
Dog urine contains urea, a waste product with high concentrations of nitrogen created from the breakdown of proteins. In addition to urea, the urine has other compounds, including water, salt, and glucose. It is the nitrogen from the urea and the salt in the urine that combine to form a lethal cocktail when it comes to plants. These essentially burn the plants alive upon contact. It's both brutal and ugly.
Check If It’s Spotting From Urine or Disease on Your Lawn
However, before you go blaming Rufus for the destruction of your garden, you should make sure he is indeed the cause. For example, those splotches of brown grass could also appear on a diseased lawn. What you should do first is look at the brown spots themselves.
Study the Pattern of the Spotting
Does more rather unhealthy grass surround them? Or is it an extra lush and vibrant green? In the second case, this points the paw back at Rufus. This is because, whereas the nitrogen and salts in a direct stream of urine are overwhelming, these dilute by the time the urine soaks into further away areas. Believe it or not, in lower quantities, they will actually nourish your plants and help them grow. In fact, if you were to look at your bag of plant fertilizer, you’d see nitrogen is a crucial ingredient. So brown spots surrounded by particularly green areas is a sign you’re dealing with a dog-related issue.
Does the Grass Pull Up Easily?
If you want to be absolutely certain about the source of your problems, you can also tug on the grass in a brown spot. If it comes right up, this indicates the roots of the plant are compromised which would occur as a result of disease. However, if it remains rooted to the spot or only comes up with intense effort, this again places the blame on your pooch.
The reason is that dog urine will not typically destroy the structure of the anchoring root network that extends deep below the surface. Disease, on the other hand, will. If you suspect that disease is the problem and your dog is, in fact, innocent, the right lawn treatment should help.
Not All Pee Puddles Are Created Equal
As previously mentioned, dog pee can kill grass and other plants. However, some dogs will destroy more than others. This comes down to four factors:
- personal preference
Age matters, because when very young, both male and female puppies squat to pee. Males will not lift their leg until they are 6 to 12 months old. Once they are this age, this is when gender becomes significant. Because females, the same as all puppies, kill more plants than mature males.
Do Female Dogs Cause More Damage to Grass?
This is due to the nature of the squat. It allows dogs to deposit all of their urine close to the ground in one specific area. In contrast, the three-legged acrobatics of the male tend to create a traveling stream that spreads it out. As a consequence, one patch isn’t mercilessly drenched in a combination of urea and salt. Areas getting a less significant dose may, therefore, escape with minor damage. In addition, males often urinate in several alternate spots. Females typically use only a few.
Urea Is a Waste Product of Protein
Of course, as urea is the waste product of ingested protein, the more protein a dog eats, the higher the urea concentration will be in its urine. Additional urea means increased nitrogen, which, in turn, leads to a more intense burn on the plants with which it comes into contact. Therefore, pee from a dog that eats large amounts of protein is more problematic.
But it ultimately comes down to your pet. The most crucial factor for whether or not your plants will be significantly damaged depends on how often he or she urinates in the same location.
How to Save Your Plants
So now that you know how and why your plants are dying, you may be wondering about a solution. Fortunately, there are a few. The most obvious one is to get your dog to go to the bathroom elsewhere. Of course, the location you choose should be devoid of plants. Look for areas covered in mulch or woodchips. Or, if none exist, create one. If this doesn’t quite work out and your dog still insists on grass or other plants, try to reward him or her for using the far corner of your garden. This will make any damage less obvious.
Replace Dead Areas and Neutralize Urine
In the meantime, try to replace dead areas with plants or seeds after neutralizing residual urine with special salts called gypsum. Then water them to help them grow. Of course, none of this will be an overnight fix. Your pet will need some convincing if up until this point, he or she has been free to pee anywhere, and new grass will need time to grow.
Consider an Alternative Source of Protein
Some sources say grass burns are a sign that your pet cannot properly digest the type of protein he or she is eating and recommend that you try an alternate source. In this case, if you’re feeding a food with chicken, try fish or beef. You may also want to give an enzymatic supplement to your pet to assist with the digestive process. However, as always, when it comes to changes in your pet’s diet, consult a veterinarian. He or she can analyze the food that you use and recommend another that still provides sufficient nutrients. Do not make adjustments on your own without seeking advice first.
Spray Down the Urine Spot
Worst case scenario, the garden hose is an effective solution. Simply spray your plants once your dog has used them as a restroom to dilute the urine left behind. While a bit labor-intensive, it is well worth it in the end.
And, whatever you do, stop fertilizing your lawn and other affected areas. As mentioned previously, the main component in commercial fertilizers is nitrogen. The main component in urine is nitrogen, too. You will only make problems worse instead of better with the use of fertilizer.
A Warning About Tomatoes, Enzymes, and Chemicals
While some claim that giving pets tomato juice will naturally neutralize nitrates, this is not in fact true. Furthermore, there's no science to back it up. In other words, don’t do it.
In addition to this, there are other bad ideas. Pet parents may be tempted to give their dog a supplement with enzymes, not ones for digestion, but other purposes. Marketers claim these balance a dog urine’s pH and thereby prevent damage to plants. However, while your lawn may thrive, your dog may suffer grave medical consequences.
This is particularly true for pets that have pre-existing conditions, such as diseases of the liver or kidneys or a history of stones or urine crystals. Changing the internal pH may exacerbate or aggravate these conditions. Whatever you do, never offer you pet this product without first consulting the advice of a veterinarian. And, even once given, know that it could also worsen any as yet undiagnosed conditions.
As an additional warning, also avoid any chemical lawn treatments. These may irritate your pet’s feet and may not be safe for families with young children.
How to Prevent Problems
For pet owners, certain grasses are better than others. While some, such as Bermuda and Kentucky Bluegrass are particularly susceptible when exposed to urine, there are also some well-known resistant types like ryegrass and Fescue. If you are in the process of planting your lawn or can afford to replace the one you have, consider these much hardier types.
And, while you’re at it, try adding some other urine-resistant plants to your garden. These include Sword fern, Holly fern, Bears breech, Mexican sage, and Snowball viburnum. The very best way to tackle a dog pee problem is to prevent one from ever occurring in the first place.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.