Brown Dog Spots on Lawns

Preventing brown urine spots on your lawn

By: Sandy Feather ©2011
Penn State Extension

Q. Can you suggest a fertilizer or some product we can spray on our lawn to prevent damage from our female dog? The large number of brown spots on our lawn really detracts from its beauty!

A: One of the most common questions we receive at the Penn State Cooperative Extension office in Allegheny County concerns eliminating dead spots in the lawn caused by dog urine.

There are a number of misconceptions about the problem, including that the urine of female dogs is more acidic and that is why they typically cause more damage than males. However, it is not the acidity of dog urine that kills patches of grass where dogs relieve themselves. The problem is the nitrogen content of the urine. Nitrogen waste products are created by the breakdown of proteins consumed by meat-eaters such as cats, dogs and humans. These waste products are removed from the body by the kidneys and expelled in urine.


Nitrogen is the predominate nutrient applied when you fertilize your lawn. If fertilizer is spilled on the lawn, or a spreader malfunctions and over-applies the fertilizer in some areas, the grass usually dies in those spots. The salts in fertilizer draw moisture out of the grass and “burn” it to death. The dead spots where a dog urinates are the same thing: an overapplication of nitrogen.


"Watch out where those Huskies go..."

Female dogs do not have more acidic urine than male dogs, nor does their urine have a higher nitrogen content; they damage lawns more because of the sheer volume of urine they expel at one time in one place. Male puppies who have not yet learned to lift their legs to urinate create similar damage. Adult male dogs tend to go in small amounts in different areas to mark their territory. Shrubs and other plants that male dogs mark repeatedly are damaged by the nitrogen content of the urine just as the lawn is damaged.

Although gypsum is often touted to "neutralize" dog urine, it cannot neutralize excess nitrogen. Some dog owners report success with gypsum, but it may simply be that it improves soil drainage, which prevents the urine from collecting near the crowns and roots of the grass plants.

Dealing with the Dog Problem

There are several options for dealing with the problem. A dog can be trained to go in an area of your yard set aside for that purpose - if you can train yourself to accept that the grass in that section is not going to be perfect. You might even consider removing the turf from that area and replacing it with bark mulch or pea gravel.

Detective Dig

You can also try to watch your dog when you let her out, then grab the hose and flush the spots where she goes with lots of water to dilute the urine. The diluted urine will not burn the grass, but those areas may be greener than the rest of your lawn. This may be a little more work for you, but it protects your lawn without changing the dog’s lifestyle.

Dog Walking Strategies

You could also arrange to walk her regularly so that she can relieve herself elsewhere. If you choose this option, please respect your neighbors’ desire for nice lawns and do not allow her to go in someone else’s yard.

Finally, there a number of suggestions to add things like tomato juice, baking soda or other dietary supplements to your dog’s diet. There is no evidence that such dietary changes reduce urine damage to turfgrass, but they could impact your dog’s health. Always discuss dietary supplements with your veterinarian before starting your dog on any kind of regimen.



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