Effects of Dog Urine and Feces on Lawns

dog pawDog urine and feces are a frustrating problem for lawn care . Small amounts may produce a greener or more fertilized effect while larger amounts mostly result in burnt or dead patches. Usually most burn spots will recover with time, but dead areas may need reseeding or sodding.  Lets find out why and what to do about it.

*Don’t forget to read “THINGS TO CONSIDER!” at the bottom!

What Causes the Damage?

The essence of the problem with dog urine and/or feces on lawns is based on nitrogen concentration. A little nitrogen, as found in many fertilizers, is actually quite good for the lawn, however the heavy concentrated amounts found in dog waste has the complete opposite effect. Dogs and cats naturally have higher levels. Why you may ask? Nitrogen waste is the result of protein breakdown. When you consider dogs (and cats) have a predominantly protein based diet,  you can understand why the concentration of nitrogen is so much higher. They are essentially nitrogen producing factories! Feces only slowly release the waste product, so as long as you pick up after your dog right away, it should be ok. However, a dogs urine is more of a problem because it is a concentrated liquid directly applied and deep penetrating.

Female vs Male Dogs

There is a myth that female dogs are more detrimental for lawns. Where the myth suggest that the chemical make up of female waste product differs from male is not quite right. The true reason why female dog owners may experience more dead patches in their lawn has to do with the habits more so than chemistry of female vs male dogs. Male dogs tend to mark territory, it’s in their nature. As such, when they urinate, they do not release all that is in their bladder, they will reserve some for marking. Also, consider male dogs lift a leg to urinate thereby resulting in more of a spray effect. As such, the concentration on any one spot of grass is not as dense. However, with female dogs, they squat to urinate therefore localizing the waste to only one specific spot and they completely empty their bladder as they are not as prone to marking territory as males. The result is often not just burn patches but complete dead patches due to the sudden excess of nitrogen concentration.

What to do?

Training:  Though it may be time consuming walking the dog to a park or field away from the house is the simplest and most preferred remedy. The benefits of this approach is beneficial for everyone involved. This is exercise for the dog and the owner, and its known that exercising has not only physical benefits but also emotional benefits for both.  With that said, for those who are simply not able to take their dog for a walk as described, you can train your pet to eliminate in a designated area of the yard. Note that this designated area should have something that stands out from the rest of the yard. Perhaps a different type of grass or even gravel. Also, a marking post like a lawn ornament, a fake hydrant or birdbath would encourage the dog to utilize the area to do its business. In order to train the dog to use this area you will have to collect the dogs urine (may get messy) and disperse in that area only. Also, collect the dogs feces and relocate to the designated area. If you continue this process for about 2 or 3 weeks, the dog will begin to understand.  As with any dog training, you will have to use a leash and walk the dog over to the designated area, when the dog uses the designated area be sure to reward the dog with treats (treats different from the ones you use at home as you do not want the dog to get confused).

Dietary Alterations:  As we learned above, the culprit is not the volume of nitrogen but the concentration, and nitrogen is the result of protein breakdown through normal bodily processes. So what can you do to dilute the concentrate? Adjusting the dogs diet is an option. No, we’re not suggesting you turn your dog vegan. They are dogs after all not rabbits. However, something as simple as changing to wet food instead of dry kibble, or even soaking the kibble in water before offering it to the dog will help dilute the urine and therefore nitrogen concentration. But yes, adding fruits and vegetables to the dogs diet will not only improve the health of the dog but it will help your lawn too. (Our dog loves apples, pears and carrots!)

Post Urination Recovery:  Another option for dog owners who are not able to take their dogs for walks to nearby parks or fields is to keep an eye on the dog and thoroughly water the spot where the dog urinated immediately afterwards. This will dilute the concentration of nitrogen. Just as you would clean up after your dog when out for a walk, do the same in your yard. Pick up the feces as soon as the dog has finished, and water down the area where they urinated. This will help for a healthy lawn, and also will be kind to any visitors to your home, which include any landscapers/grass cutters you have hired to maintain your yard.

THINGS TO CONSIDER!

Weeds:  Weeds take advantage of unhealthy lawns. They will not plant root on top of healthy grass roots, instead they will go after patches of dead grass or weak roots. Therefore, keeping your lawn as dense as possible will eliminate most weed threats. Correct burn spots and dead patches right away! Seed or sod those open areas immediately or deal with a bigger problem known as weeds in result.

Preferred Grass Types for Dog Owners:   Even though Kentucky Blue Grass is the preferred grass by most home owners due to its beautiful colour and texture, if you are a dog owner you must think more practically. The two best grasses for your home, that are hardy enough to deal with pets and high traffic, are Ryegrass and Tall Fescue.

Ryegrass: Does well in cooler climates and can sustain itself through droughts and winter seasons. It is a good option for home lawns as well as any high traffic areas such as playgrounds or sports fields with its good tolerance of shade and good wear resistance. Ryegrass has a normal schedule of 3 to 5 fertilizes per year. It stand well at 2 to 4 inches in mowing height.

Tall Fescue: Tall fescue is a cool season grass that can also tolerate hot and dry conditions better than other species. It is one of the most durable grasses and is often used on high traffic, it also tolerates shade well if you don’t have much sunlight in parts of your yard. It’s quite easy to maintain, it grows quite quickly, needs only 2 to 4 fertilizes per year and the mowing height is preferred at 2.5 to 4 inches and few insects bother it.

Message from Timbers

We encourage everyone to use some of our tips and let us know how it worked for you. If you need more detail or suggestions, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Alternatively, if you lack the time to do the work yourself, drop us a line or give us a call and we’ll give you a hand with the project of your choice at a fair price as always!

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