How to Keep your Lawn Free from Urine Spots

Dilution is the solution to pollution
By Shea Cox DVM, July 2012, Updated July 2020
Tips to keep green grass and remove dog urine stains.

Dogs love grass—eating it, rolling on it, playing on it and, unfortunately, “fertilizing” it too. It is a common misconception that "acid" in a dog’s urine is what causes the brown spots left behind on our lawns. However, the culprit causing lawn burn is actually the high nitrogen content of the dog's urine.

Nitrogen is “the waste” in the urine and is the result of protein breakdown through normal body processes. Urine can cause a nitrogen overload on most grasses, and females, because their squatting produces a steady, concentrated stream, are more likely to create the brown ring pattern on lawns, which some horticulturists call “female dog spot disease.” Does dog pee kill grass? Yes, because a canine diet is very high in protein, there will be high levels of nitrogen, and you’ll be battling blemishes for as long as your pet uses the lawn for its place of business. 

A repeated vet school mantra was, "dilution is the solution to pollution," and that concept holds equally true in the case of urine scald on our once green lawns. Therefore, the best way to help prevent brown spots is either by dilution or by addressing the external environment. Besides training your male dogs to pee through the fence onto your neighbor’s lawn (kidding!), see some tips on maintaining your lawn.

Here are tips to keep your lawn lush and green:

The most effective way to prevent dog urine spots (grass scald) is to the water the area immediately after your dog urinates. If you have easy access to a hose or a rain barrel, give the area a quick dousing.  I also have a tub in my sink that I use to catch excess water when I’m at the sink; instead of letting it go down the drain, I collect it and use it to water my plants. This idea could be used to water the lawn as well, while remaining mindful of the environment.

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The kind of grass you put in your yard also determines how well it will tolerate dog urine. So, if you’re planting—or replanting—a lawn, chose your grass type with that in mind. Fescue and perennial ryegrass have been found to be the most urine tolerant, while bluegrass and bermudagrass seem to be the most sensitive.

What are the best grass for dogs? 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. 

What are the least hardy of grasses? Kentucky Bluegrass and Bermuda grass are the most sensitive to urine scald. 

There are also several species of taller grasses (used in meadow cultivation) which are salt tolerant and fairly urine resistant including Zoysia, Paspalum and Distichlis. A tall meadow is a natural alternative to a traditional lawn. But you could also consider another lawn substitute like white clover or O’Connor’s strawberry clover, both of which are easy to maintain. Another plus: they require less water and, being nitrogen-fixing themselves, require less (if any) fertilization.

Fertilization tip: if you fertilize your lawn, use a reduced nitrogen fertilizer.

Another intervention, if you don't want to fight this battle, is the construction of a small graveled, mulched, or artificial turf area in the back or side of your yard. You can train your pet to "go to the back," and with positive reinforcement and praise, they will eventually and automatically head to that area to do their business. You can make this site visually appealing by placing potted hostas, ferns, or other greenery around the perimeter.

Do Grass Saving Supplements for Dogs Work?

Now a word for those over-the-counter medications that are touted to be "lawn-saving supplements." I personally (and strongly) caution against their use.  Nothing you give your pet internally will safely stop urine from damaging grass, and the only appropriate interventions are those that address the environment–not the dog!  The environmental changes discussed above may be more time-consuming work, but it’s a small price to pay if you wish to have both a lush lawn and a healthy pet.

Related: Why Do Dogs Eat Grass?

These medications work by either changing the pH of the urine, or by adding salt to the body. And it should be reiterated: urine burn is a nitrogen problem, not a pH problem. When you use medications that alter the pH of the urine, you run the risk of causing urinary crystals or bladder stones in your pet. Certain types of crystals and stones thrive in the altered pH environment, which will create a much bigger problem than a lawn blemish.  The other “lawn-saving supplements” are actually pills that contain high amounts of salt. This in turn causes your pet to drink more, thereby diluting its urine (dilute the grass, not the dog!).  Giving your pet high amounts of unnecessary salt is not a good option, and this is especially true if your pet has underlying kidney or heart disease.

Another recommendation I have heard is the use gypsum salts and this is another option I caution against.  Gypsum is calcium sulfate, and this material can cause eye, skin, oral, and respiratory irritation in our pets.

Since we’ll never be free from pee, I hope these tips have helped, and I’ll see you next week!

Shea Cox earned a veterinary medical degree from Michigan State University in 2001 and has been practicing emergency and critical care medicine since. In 2006, she joined PETS Referral Center. In her spare time, she loves to paint, wield her green thumb and cook up a storm. She shares her days with the three loves of her life: her husband Scott and their two Doberman.

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