I stood beside my neighbor as she looked across her lawn mottled with beige circles ringed in differing shades of green. Her beautiful spring lawn, by early summer, had succumbed to the dreaded disease Canis Lupus Urinus, a.k.a. Doggie-dot Disease.
The patterns in her lawn were the work of her two female boxers.
My neighbor wanted to know how to prevent the problem and repair the unsightly mess. I've always had dogs in my life, so this is a familiar issue.
The brown spots and darker overgrown green areas in the lawn are caused by the nitrogen in the urine, not the pH as some pet owners assume. Nitrogen is a good thing in moderation. It is the excessive puddling of the urine that does the damage in much the same way that a plant burn occurs when a high concentration of fertilizer is poured in one spot. The overgrown darker green areas are caused where the nitrogen is less concentrated but still excessive.
There are many urban legends on dietary changes, like reducing protein or adding tomato juice to a dog’s diet to reduce urine burn. Research has shown that changing the diet has very little affect on the nitrogen levels that cause lawn damage, and some of these dietary modifications may be harmful to a dog’s kidneys or cause other health issues.
There are turf grasses that are more resistant to doggie-dot disease. According to a research article by the Turfgrass Producers International in Chicago, IL:
Of the four grasses tested, Festuca sp. var. Kentucky 31 (fescue) and Lolium perrene (perennial ryegrass) were the most resistant to urine effects. …Poa pratensis (Kentucky bluegrass) and Cynodon sp. var. Fairway (Bermuda grass) were very sensitive to any urine concentration and severe burns resulted.
One of the simplest ways to reduce the concentration of puddle urine, which also works for male dogs hiking to urinate on shrubs or other plants, is water. Hose the area with about three times as much water as expelled urine within six to eight hours of elimination. I have found that urine sprays on plants by male dogs—and cats—needs to be washed off sooner, usually within a couple hours.
Once the burn has occurred there are a couple of actions you can take to do away with the unsightly spot. Rake out the damaged grass, dig up and replace the top few inches of soil, and reseed or lay a patch of sod. Place the nitrogen-rich soil that you just removed into your compost pile (but do not ever put feces in compost!) Because grass spreads by a rhizome root system, you can also rake out the dead material and flush the spot with water, allowing for your lawn to renew itself in that area within three or four weeks.
Training your pet to relieve themselves in a designated area is always an option, and more sanitary--especially if you have children.
Copyright 2015 Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB.
Photo by Seeman (2014) via Morguefile.com. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB lives an eremitic life and is the author of Cultivating God’s Garden through Lent, A Garden of Visible Prayer: Creating a Personal Sacred Space One Step at a Time, 2nd Edition, and A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac. A freelance writer with a Benedictine spirituality, Margaret has a master’s degree in communications and is a Certified Greenhouse Grower, Advanced Master Gardener, liturgical garden consultant, and workshop/retreat leader.