How to stop dog urine burning your grass

FRI 14 SEP 2018

This article is written by our in-house veterinarian, Dr Carla Paszkowski

Is your dog ruining your lawn? (No - I'm not talking about hole-digging!) I'm talking about those unsightly pale brown patches of dead grass, scalded by your dog's flora-destroying super-pee. Nothing says 'we own a dog' quite like a lawn full of scalded, dead patches of grass!

What exactly is it about dog pee that causes grass to suffer and die? And what can you do to stop the problem?

Is dog urine actually the cause?

First, it's important to be sure it is actually your dog's urine causing the problem, and not something else like a disease of the grass or neighbourhood dogs getting in. A tip for figuring out if the grass has been burned or if it is diseased is by grasping the grass shoots and lifting them up. If the roots are firmly attached, it's likely to be urine burn, whereas if the roots are loose and come out of the ground easily, it's more likely to be caused by a bug or grass disease.

True urine scalding usually occurs when your dog urinates on the same patch repeatedly. Many dogs instinctively prefer to allocate one section of their territory as their 'toilet area'. This is great for keeping other parts of the yard waste-free, but can really concentrate the urine in one area of grass.

The component of dog urine which kills grass is actually the nitrogen compounds. Dog urine naturally contains a lot of nitrogen-containing waste products. Many assume that the problem lies with the urine's pH, and refer to 'acidic' urine causing the problem. But this is incorrect; the culprit is the nitrogen, not the pH.

The amount of urine being deposited onto one patch of grass contributes too. For example, female dogs are more likely to cause urine scalding on the grass, as they tend to void their entire bladder in one go, rather than marking around the yard in smaller amounts like males. Likewise, a large dog is more likely to cause the problem than a small dog, because a larger bladder means a greater quantity of urine.

How to stop dog urine from staining your lawn

So now that you understand what causes it, let's talk about a solution. There are a few principles involved in treating the problem:

1. The solution to pollution is DILUTION!

Hydrate your grass: Water is the key here. If you can manage it, try to saturate the area of grass with water right after your dog pees on it. Grab the hose or a bucket, and get watering!

Hydrate your pooch: On the same train of thought, you should also try to dilute the urine itself by encouraging your dog to drink more water. More dilute urine = less concentrated levels of nitrogen in the pee.

How to encourage your dog to drink more water: Obviously we can't reason with a dog and ask them to drink more water. We can however use little tricks to get them to drink more, such as:

  • Keep water sources fresh and plentiful. Try adding a couple more bowls to the household and clean the bowls every couple of days.
  • Provide a water fountain. Moving water seems more fresh and enticing to dogs, and can help increase their water intake.
  • Try adding ice to the water, or use a freezable chilled bowl. Some dogs are more inclined to drink chilled water - and really, who doesn't love a nice cool drink!
  • Introduce some wet food. If you only feed your dog dry kibble, it can help to mix a little wet food into the diet. The higher water content will help keep them hydrated and dilute their urine.
  • Provide some doggy ice blocks. You can make your own at home by simply freezing a little mince or wet food into a container of water.

2. Decrease nitrogen in the urine

You can decrease nitrogen products in your dog's urine via a couple of different ways; the first is via nutrition, and the second is with supplemental 'lawn burn products'.

A quick google search might point you towards these 'lawn burn products'. These are designed to be added to your dog's food, but are mostly only available overseas (not in Australia). Unfortunately, many contain methionine to decrease the urine pH. Not only is decreasing your dog's urine pH not going to work (because remember, it's about the nitrogen, not the pH!) but it can potentially lead to urinary issues and crystal formation if fed to a healthy dog. Therefore, we recommend erring on the side of caution and avoiding food additives like these. Try nutritional modifications instead.

What about water additives? Dog Rocks are a product that are available in Australia. They are natural rocks designed to be added to your dog's drinking bowl. This product claims to use magnet technology to draw out tin, ammonia and nitrites from the water. However, efficacy and reviews for this product are mixed at this point.

Is there a dog food to help decrease the nitrogen in the urine?

While there aren't any diets created for the express purpose of reducing nitrogen in the urine, it can help to feed a high quality diet that doesn't exceed your pet's protein requirement.

Nitrogen is a secondary component from protein metabolism, so it follows that excessive protein = excessive nitrogen in the urine.

Many diets these days contain a little too much protein - over 35% dry matter sometimes. While this doesn't do any harm to a healthy dog, and can actually be very beneficial in active or working breeds, it isn't ideal to overload your dog with protein if they don't need it.

Another dietary trick to help decrease nitrogen in the urine is by feeding a food containing Yucca shidigera. This natural plant is very fibrous, and is often used in pet food recipes to increase fibre content. It is also sometimes used to decrease litter box odour in cats.

Yucca shidigera helps bind the nitrogen in the urine, so that less is excreted onto the grass. See our suggestions below for some diets that contain Yucca.

Finally, if you are currently buying a cheaper pet food, it can also help to swap over to a better quality, premium diet in general. Cheaper pet foods often contain poor quality, less-bioavailable sources of protein, which aren't able to be used by the body as easily and tend to get excreted in the form of nitrogen.

Which pet food is best for decreasing nitrogen in the urine?

With all this in mind about protein levels, quality, and Yucca shidigera, we have found a couple of options which might be perfect for lawn-destroying dogs.

1. Savourlife Lite - this premium diet is 22% protein, which is certainly sufficient for a normal adult dog but doesn't overload their body with excess levels. It contains Yucca shidigera (listed as 'yucca' in the ingredients). It is made in Australia and premium quality - and even donates 50% of profits to rescue shelters. Note: as this is a 'lite' food, it might not be ideal for underweight dogs.

2. BlackHawk Chicken and Rice - this diet is also 22% protein and contains Yucca shidigera (listed as 'yucca' in the ingredients). It is also made in Australia and one of our most popular brands.

3. Train them to pee somewhere else

As discussed earlier, grass burn occurs only in areas where your dog pees repeatedly. So, it can help to train your dog to urinate in a location that is less visible. This approach is very effective for owners who do not want to change their dog's diet, or who can't always be around to hose the grass every time their dog lifts his leg.

How to train your dog to urinate in one area

If your dog is male, it usually isn't too hard to train them to pee in a desired area. All you need is a pee post, some treats to reward them when they use it, and some time and patience. You might also like to use a liquid 'attractant' like the Rufus and Coco Pee Here product - which works by attracting your dog to pee on a desired area.

For females, it can be a little trickier. The process is similar to toilet training a puppy - put your dog on a leash and wait in one area of the yard until they 'go'. Give them a reward such as a treat and repeat until the process is learned. The 'Pee Here' attractant liquid mentioned above will help for females too.

4. Change your lawn

If you feel that you've tried everything and haven't found a resolution, it might help to replant your yard with a tougher breed of grass. The most resistant grasses tend to be perennial rye grasses and fescues, while the most sensitive tend to be Kentucky bluegrass and Bermuda.

With all that in mind, we hope that your lawn will be lush and green in no time. If you have any questions about whether the recommended diets or products might be appropriate for your dog, don't hesitate to ask our team of veterinarians!