Why Dog Pee Kills Your Grass (and How to Fix Your Lawn)

Dog urinating on lawn

Your hard work has paid off, and you can’t wait to get out of your shoes and walk on that beautiful, green lawn. But strange brown spots have popped up, ringed by tufts of strikingly green grass. What you’re seeing may be damage from dog urine. In this article, we’ll discuss why dog pee kills your grass and how to fix your lawn.

Does Dog Pee Kill Grass?

Simply put, yes. Dog urine is very high in nitrogen and associated salts. You might wonder: Isn’t nitrogen a fertilizer? Then why does dog urine kill grass? The answer is in the nitrogen concentration. So when pups pee on the lawn, a high concentration is left to sit, puddle, and eventually get absorbed by the grass. 

Dogs are natural carnivores, and that carnivore diet leads to a higher nitrogen content in their urine. This acts like a concentrated dose of nitrogen fertilizer and “burns” the grass. These high levels of nitrogen cause injury or even death in turf, which is why it turns brown. It’s a common misconception that the pH from the dog urine burns the grass, but this isn’t so. 

Turfgrass is negatively affected by either overly acidic or overly alkaline conditions, but a dog’s urine ranges from 6-8 on the pH scale, straddling the line between acidic and alkaline. This means your turf shouldn’t be bothered by the pH of the urine. It’s the nitrates, not the pH, in dog pee that kills grass.

How to Treat Dog Urine Spots on Grass

Now that you know why dog pee kills grass, let’s go through methods to strengthen your lawn. There are a few ways you can revive your yard:

  • Remove dead grass: If you notice the grass has lost its color and is dead, the first thing to do is get rid of the affected grass.
  • Till or rake the soil: To remove the dead grass, you’ll want to break up the soil and grass. Tilling helps aerate the ground to prepare for new seeds. It’s okay if not all the grass is torn up, as long as there is room for new seed.
  • Seed it: Plant new seeds in the dead areas or throughout the lawn to get new growth. 
  • Fertilize and water: As is the next step with any new growth, it’s important to fertilize and water the new grass seeds. Make sure to stay clear of fertilizers with nitrogen in them since this is what initially made the brown spots.

You can also overseed these dead patches in the fall or late spring so they are ready and green come summertime. You can opt for urine-resistant types of grass, such as Bermudagrass or fescue.

How to Prevent Spotty Grass in Lawns

Say you’ve just reseeded your lawn to eliminate those dead spots from last year. The summer season has come around, and you want to keep your lawn green without dead patches. For this, you’ll want to focus on preventative steps to stop dog pee from killing your grass.

Spray Water

The best grass treatment for dog urine could not be simpler: Just water the area to prevent urine damage. Whenever your dog goes outside to use the bathroom, be ready with a watering can, spray bottle, or hose. Water can help cleanse the effects of harmful nitrogens in dog pee on your grass, preventing brown spots on your lawn.

Watch where your dog pees and thoroughly water down the area soon after to keep the green in your lawn.

Walk Your Dog

Rather than risking your lovely green lawn, taking your canine companion around the block may be a better alternative. Walking your dog gets three things accomplished in one activity. You get exercise, your dog gets exercise, and they get a chance to use the bathroom without the risk of dog pee burning your grass.

Train Your Pup

Your grass and dog pee are not a good match. Training your dog to pee in one area can help decrease the number of dead spots on any given lawn. Pick a corner of the yard for the family canines to do their business. Reward the pups when they do business there, and before you know it, you’ll only need to take care of one damaged area instead of 20 pee spots on your grass.

Pro Tip: Consider making a doggy potty area if you don’t want any spots to fix or water later. You can use tall grasses, mulch, or dog rocks that absorb the urine better than regular lawn grass and won’t leave any lasting brown spots. You can also resort to pads made of artificial grass for your dog to pee in. 

5 Myths About Dog Urine Spots

Dog Urinating
Photo Credit: Karen Arnold / PublicDomainPictures
Ali Harivandi
Ali Harivandi

With yellow spots on grass come many urban legends about dog urine and how it can affect your lawn. It’s important to separate fact from fiction regarding lawn care and your pet’s health.

Dog urine spots on lawns are a common problem for homeowners. “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 myths about dog urine on lawns:

Myth 1: Only Female Dogs Cause Spotting in Lawns

The Truth: Female dogs tend to squat when they urinate, leaving a small but dense urine spot on the grass. The quantity of urine can cause the grass to burn. But does female dog urine kill grass more quickly than male dog urine? Yes, because of the urine quantity. 

But male dogs’ urine kills grass too: While it’s true that male dogs usually wander and urinate along the way, marking trees and shrubs instead of urinating on a flat lawn, they can still cause spotting. Young and older males often squat rather than lift their legs to pee, leaving concentrated areas of urine in the same way that females do. 

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

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

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 affect lawn health, dog urine kills 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 a dog deposits in one small area is too much for the yard to handle.

The urine spots in grass 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.

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

The Truth: Dog owners see shelves of dog food, dietary 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 heavy concentrations of nitrogen and salts cause dog spots more, 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: Will baking soda neutralize dog urine on grass? 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 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, which prevents the dreaded dog pee stains on your grass.

FAQ About Your Lawn and Your Dog

What Do Dog Urine Spots on Grass Look Like? 

Dog pee spots on lawns are easy to identify: Brown or yellow patches about 3 inches in diameter, ringed with lush green grass that grows faster than the surrounding lawn. The outside circle receives a smaller boost of nitrogen that allows it to grow instead of burn.

Will Grass Grow Back After Dog Urine Burns?

Not without some help. When the grass turns brown, it’s already dead and there’s no way to revive the dead grass from dog urine. But the soil is still good, and if you reseed and take care of your new growing grass, you’ll have a healthy green lawn in no time. That is, as long as your furry best friend doesn’t keep peeing on it.

How Do I Lower the Nitrogen in My Dog’s Urine?

While salt can lower your dog’s nitrogen levels, giving your dog more salt than is medically necessary can cause damage. Always talk with your veterinarian before making changes to your dog’s diet.

Getting your dog to drink more water may help dilute their urine but getting your dog to do anything when they don’t want to can be a handful. 

Does Dog Poop Ruin Grass?

It is a common misconception that dog poop is good for grass. It isn’t a natural fertilizer like many people would like to believe. Nitrogen, the stuff in dog urine that kills your grass, is also found in dog feces. It’s best to pick up the dropping left behind by your proud pooch and dispose of them before they turn your yard brown.

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 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 easier to replace than a relationship with that beloved pet.”

If your dog’s pee is killing your grass and you want someone to overseed those brown spots so you don’t have to, consider calling a professional for any mowing, planting, or lawn care needs. This way you can spend the time with your dog that you would have spent on your landscaping.

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.