Go, Spot, Go: 5 Myths About Dog Urine Spots on Lawns

Dog urinating on lawn

Your hard work has paid off, and you can’t wait to pull off your shoes and walk on that beautiful, green lawn. But you notice strange brown spots in several areas of the yard, maybe 3 inches across, ringed by tufts of strikingly green lawn. Crop circles? Insect damage? Perhaps. But it’s more likely you are seeing damage by dog urine.

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Dog urine spots are a common problem for home lawns. “There are several urban myths surrounding the cause and the cure of the spots,” says Ali Harivandi, former environmental horticulture adviser at the University of California Cooperative Extension.

Here are five urban myths and truths about those green-ringed spots in the yard:

Myth 1: Only Female Dogs Cause Spotting in Lawns

The Truth: Well, not necessarily. Female dogs tend to squat when they urinate, leaving a small but dense spot of urine on the grass. The quantity of urine can cause burning of the grass.

Males usually wander and urinate along the way, marking trees and shrubs instead of urinating on a flat lawn. But young males often squat before learning how to lift their legs to pee, and older male dogs will revert back to squatting on the grass when arthritis or other health issues make marking difficult.

Myth 2: Dog Urine Spots Are More Common With Certain Breeds

The Truth: This myth was probably started when a dog owner noticed more spots when owning one breed of dog in relation to another breed, says Harivandi. The truth is that the breed doesn’t have any say in the size or damage of the spot.

Some individual dogs have urine with a higher pH level and/or nitrogen content, or their urine is more concentrated. This has more to do with diet, water intake, and general health than with a specific breed of dog. Whether it is a Dalmatian or a dachshund, X still marks the spot.

Myth 3: Brown Spots Occur When Dog Urine Is Alkaline

The Truth: Although urine pH levels can have a bearing on lawn health, dog urine damages grass because of its high concentrations of nitrogen and salts — not its pH level.

Dogs are natural carnivores, and that helps to make their urine acidic – usually at levels of 6.0 to 6.5. Turfgrass is negatively affected by either overly acidic or overly alkaline conditions.

Although your lawn loves nitrogen just as much as the next blade of grass, the amount of nitrogen that a dog deposits in one small area is too much for the lawn to handle.

The urine spots are often ringed with lush green grass that grows faster than the surrounding lawn. This is because the outside circle receives a smaller boost of nitrogen that allows it to grow instead of burn.

Ali Harivandi
Ali Harivandi

Myth 4: Dog Urine Spots Can Be Prevented With Food Supplements

The Truth: Dog owners see shelves of dog food, supplements, and other products that advertise a solution to dog spotting. They usually work to reduce the alkalinity of your dog’s urine or make your dog drink more water.

But because dog spots are caused more from heavy concentrations of nitrogen and salts, these products are generally useless and can cause real damage to your dog’s health.

Always consult your veterinarian before adding supplements to your dog’s food.

Myth 5: Dog Pee Damage Can Be Cured With Household Products

The Truth: Sprinkling baking soda, gypsum, dishwashing detergent, and other random household products won’t get the yellow out of your yard and may cause even more trouble.

Here’s why: Baking soda and and gypsum contain salts, and may increase the problem.

Dishwashing detergent is a surfactant and could help with water movement through the soil. But other ingredients in the soap might burn the grass itself, so it’s best not to add to the problem.

The real magic ingredient is water. Deep watering of the spot can dilute the nitrogen and salts and allow them to leach into the surrounding soil.

It Helps To See the Bigger Lawn Picture

“Lawns are important. People have families and kids — and pets — who enjoy it,” Harivandi says. “A nice lawn is an extension of the family living room, so we have to find a balance.”

Ultimately, Harivandi says, remember what is really important. “Your dog will grow old and eventually you will have to say goodbye. Let them have a good time. You can replace and reseed a lawn. Remember that a damaged lawn is a lot easier to replace than a relationship with that beloved pet.”

Main Photo Credit: Daniel Ray / LawnStarter

Rosie Wolf Williams

Rosie Wolf Williams

Rosie Wolf Williams has kept bees, grown vegetables and flowers for farmers markets, and never misses an opportunity to have a conversation with an interesting tree.