Lawn Spot Disease, or What That 'Spot' Can Do to Your Lawn

How to prevent dogs, cats from ruining your lawn

“Spring has sprung, the grass has ris (pronounced riz), I wonder where your doggie is … ” 

Unfortunately, it is not hard to tell where because pet urine, which contains high concentrations of nitrogen and salt, leaves tell-tale signs--evidence if you will, of an animal’s presence (presents?). 

While it is sometimes difficult to control, there are things you can do to limit damage to your lawn.

January through March is a dormant time for the lawn, and it is best to keep people and pets from walking on it until it dries out.  The recent snow and the fact that the temperature is still quite chilly, making lawns quite fragile, means pet urine will only exacerbate winter damage--so “hands off”--feet and paws too.

If you have a pet, you will most likely have a brown spot or two. Dogs like to “mark their spot” and especially like to “go” in the marked spots of others. The effect of dog urine on lawns falls into the category of too much of a good thing is no good. 

High concentrations of nitrogen and salt in urine act as an overdose of what healthy lawns need; the result is burns or brown patches on your grass.  Composting your lawn on a regular basis--that is, mulching in leaves and grass clippings--will make the soil healthier and more resistant to damage, but nothing stops brown spots like a little prevention.

Power-walk pet to appropriate place

Walking your dog on a leash is preferable as long as you are careful not to let your pet pollute someone else’s lawn. Most people are good about “picking up” after their pets, but may overlook the effects of a little sprinkling on the grass. Many towns are creating public dog parks. which are a great way to socialize your pet, while allowing you to make friends with other pet owners. 

A good alternative would be to create a mini-dog park in a remote or less visible part of your yard. Cover an area with pea gravel or mulch that your dog can dig up and provide an attractive "marking post": a bird feeder or a large boulder.

If you fertilize your lawn, make sure not to add any to areas that your pet has marked. Even a small amount of urine is enough to severely burn the grass.  Pour water over the urine to dilute it and lesson the effects of excess nitrogen. 

Encourage your dog to drink more water, which will dilute the concentration of nitrogen in his or her urine. It is also healthier for the dog. You can add a little low-sodium chicken broth to entice your pet to drink more.

Some pet foods have too much protein. It is better to buy a higher quality protein dog food--ask which one is the best at your local pet store. (Consult your veterinarian with questions about your pet’s diet before making changes.)   

Helps to think like a cat

While it is difficult to keep cats out of the yard, it is not impossible. Placing chicken wire on top of beds is not the most attractive solution, but cats do not like walking on it. (Extreme problems require extreme solutions.) 

To repel a cat, you have to think like a cat. Cats are fussy creatures and most cats dislike water--water is like “kryptonite” to them. Cats avoid water like any phobia, which can be exploited to keep them away. Hose them down when they are treading on forbidden grounds--doing this repeatedly may retrain their behavior. Keep a water pistol at the ready for quick attacks.

Cats are also, ironically, sensitive to smells. Sprinkling an organic product called “Shake-Away” on garden beds will remind them of predators they fear--namely the coyote, fox and bobcat. Some plants also give off a smell that cats dislike-“Coleus canina,” Latin for "scaredy cat plant" for one. Also try rue, lavender (a plant which deer do not like) and pennyroyal.

Other "stinky" repellants include dried blood (blood-meal fertilizer), mothballs and cayenne pepper flakes. (Mothballs are toxic and should be used in jars with holes pokes in the lids. Cayenne pepper is also harmful to cats if ingested. )  Some people swear by putting pine cones under shrubs.

"Scoop the poop” and compost?

No, no and more no!

Animal wastes must NOT BE COMPOSTED. Rabbits, chickens, cows and horses are vegetarians, whose waste is good for composting. Dogs and cats are carnivores, whose fecal matter contains high levels of bacterium that are harmful to humans. Dog wastes can contain up to 23 million fecal coliform bacteria, which are known to cause cramps, diarrhea, intestinal illness and serious kidney disorders in humans. The EPA estimates that two or three days worth of animal droppings from a population of about 100 dogs would be enough to close an entire bay to human contact as well as all watershed areas within 20 miles!

Dog feces also carry heartworms, whipworms, hookworms, tapeworms, parvo, corona, giardiasis, salmonellosis, crytosporidiosis and campylobacteriosis--yikes!

Cat poop can carry parasites, such as roundworm, and serious diseases, such as toxoplasmosis, which is extremely harmful to children and pregnant women, whose immune systems may be compromised.

So no pet wastes in the compost, on lawns where children play or in garden beds.

Once the grass has browned out, it needs to be replanted. Use a more urine-resistant variety: Ryegrass and fescue are better while Kentucky Bluegrass and Bermuda are more sensitive and should not be used.


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