Photo courtesy of Chewy Dog.
Stop Blaming the Dog;
Dog Pee & Lawns
"Make the puppy dance a jig."
-Winthrop Mackworth Praed
There are a number of lawn diseases caused by fungus & overall poor maintenance practices resulting in dispersed circular dead patches through a lawn. If a dog is present or visiting from the neighbors' yards, dogs get blamed. But dogs are not the cause.
People who own dogs wouldn't even be able to have lawns if there was justification for such blame. ›In theory, extremely smelly amonia-ridden urine will kill grass, but will also smell like an open sewer. Healthy animals do not produce amonia in their urine. Amonia arises as a bacterial waste product. If a dog has a bladder infection it produces more amonia, but even then not enough to harm a lawn. A healthy animal produces pretty much odorless urine & it will begin to break down naturally into plant nutrients long before bacteria have a chance to build up their disreputable population. And if a lawn is routinely watered, the urine is too dilute to sustain an unhealthy bacterial population.
Also in theory excesses of nitrogen can burn a lawn, but there has never been a dog anywhere in the known universe who peed enough nitrogen to cause such an effect.
A study by Dr. A.W. Allard, a Colorado veterinarian, found that pH levels in dog urine had no effect on lawns. None. Now no amount of science will convince some people & in the past I've even gotten irate e-mails from people absolutely convinced dog urine killed their lawn, & waging on-going wars of spite with neighbors over their neighbors' allegedly evil lawn-killing dogs. But just iddn't so kiddos.
For urine burns to occur required several unlikely factors. First, very bad overall lawn-care was required to secure susceptibility; prolonged urine exposure due to lack of normal watering; & for the grass type to be uniquely susceptible even under such poor conditions. Even then the urine would have to be unnaturally concentrated. Dr. Allard's tests with concentrated dog urine found that Fescue & Ryegrass made good use of it as a fertilizer, but bermuda grass & kentucky bluegrass if exposed to dog urine concentrates for long enough duration would be nitrogen-burned.
Non-concentrated dog urine did not have this harmful effect. Dr. Allard's study showed that Dog urine in normal concentrations did not harm even the most sensitive grasses.
Over cared for lawns may actually be as stressed & unhealthy as a neglected lawn, setting up turf for another exception: Occasionally the nitrogen content in dog urine was able to burn a lawn that is already at risk due to excessive applications of commercial fertilizers high in nitrogen content. Dehydrated crystaline urea is almost half nitrogen & is a major ingredient in commercial fertilizers of all sorts; fertilizing a lawn is a little bit like peeing all over it. To overload a lawn with fertilizer then have the dog load on more of the very same urea, but fresh from the fountain so to speak, is not going to result in a great lawn. Nor will it resolt in spotty brown patches, however, which are evidence only of pathogenic fungus.
Healthy lawns are encouraged to produce their own nitrogen assisted by beneficial microbes, but unhealthy lawns are so chemicalized the microbe population is low. Artificially applied nitrogen attempts to make up the difference at the maximum edge of safe application, & for that pitiful lawn one more squirt of liquid fertilizer (vis, dog urine) might well burn a bit of grass in what would already have been one ugly-ass maltreated lawn.
Rather than get mad at the dog, the turf keeper should realize he's been doing something very wrong. A healthier lawn would not only react to the urine as a mild fertilizing agent not at all harmful.
The primary chemical component of fresh pee is urea. This is also a component of blood & of milk, & is in the diet of anyone who eats meat or dairy products, so it is not in general harmful (perverts who drink pee for thrills are not at any great risk of injuring themselves unless the pisser was sick or the pee left to "go bad"). You could safely drink your own pee (or your seeing-eye dog's pee) to get that last little way across the desert & not hurt yourself so long as you drank it fresh.
Urea is manufactured by the body as a way to keep toxic amonia from building up in the blood system. When expelled from the body, it begins to break back down from bacteria, releasing amonia over time (it takes two to four days for urea to break down into ammonia & carbon dioxide where bacteria is sufficiently concentrated). This break-down will not occur if the soil is completely dry, or if it is quite cold outside, or if rainfall or watering is sufficent to dilute the urea so that it does not invite that particular bacterial breakdown.
During a heatspell urea more quickly volatilizes into amonia, so if a dog is peeing in the yard when summer weather is in the 90s, & peeing in the exact same spot time & time again, it conceivably could cause harm that would not be likely any other time of the year. The same dog peeing all over the lawn in Spring or Autumn is actually aiding the lawn's healthy growth, but peeing in one spot & one spot only in hot weather on the most sensitive bermuda grass that has already been over-fertilized, damage is possible for such an already-unhealthy maltreated turf. In all realistic conditions, however, some other cause for dead spots in the turf will have to be found.
The waste products of urea decay last only a few hours then has evaporated, though traces of ammonia salts might still build up over time if the same darned spot is peed on repeatedly & never watered. So the problem generally has to be ongoing to have even slight effect, i.e., continuous use of the same spot by dogs, continuous hot temperature conditions, continous failure to water the area to dilute nitrogen & ammonia concentrations, continuous poor lawn maintenance, all coinciding in repeated brief exposures to the ammonia component of old urine.
And even then the actual culprit is really poor lawn mainteance or a fungus; gasoline spill from lawnmower; herbicide misapplication or spill; excessive application of fertilizer; salt run-off from applications to melt ice off roads or sidewalks; waterlogging & poor drainage; drought; excesses of thatch; lawnmower set too low; fusarium snow-molds which flourish in winter; summer brown-patch Fungus (Rhizoctonia solani); dollar-spotr fungus (Sclerotinia homoeocarpa); cranefly grubs & numerous other insect infestations; sod webworms; red-threat foliar disease; pythium blight; & many other causes. Lawns are the ultimate in unnatural environment, lacking the complexity of a meadow environment, & are therefore invitations to pests & diseases. One of those diseases is the mental illness of the lawn-obsessed whose delusions cause them to wage wars against their neighbors' & their neighbors' dogs.
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