Dogs and Lawns: How They Can Coexist
Dogs and lawns have been a balancing act for many homeowners for as long as the two have been part of the suburban dream. For more and more people, our dogs are members of the family with whom we spend as many hours as possible. More and more dogs are becoming indoor pets, but they still have to be let outside multiple times a day to do their business and other doggy things. Unfortunately, this is when the conflict has room to arise between our dogs and lawns.
There are multiple situations in which a dog can pose a risk to a lawn and vise versa. Depending on its size and habits, your dog can damage your lawn through digging or scratching, wearing a path, and going potty. On the other hand, your lawn can be a trigger for serious allergies in your dog and can harbor dangerous pests.
Digging and scratching seem to be the immediate concerns homeowners have about the impact their dogs can have in the lawn, but they’re not the biggest issue your lawn will face. This mechanical destruction caused by a dog digging in lawn areas rips out and disturbs the grass, making part of the lawn thin or bare based on how much root damage was done in the digging process. If a large hole is created, this issue in the lawn’s grading can cause problems by holding water and being a hazard to families enjoying the lawn. Smaller damaged spots in the lawn will fill their own holes in fairly quickly, but in more extreme cases, overseeding or applying sod may be needed to make a stronger repair.
A more long term issue from physical wear and tear can be the paths worn in a lawn by repetitive foot (or in this case paw) traffic. Especially when a large dog is present or multiple dogs are involved, it is common for our canine companions to have a routine when they venture outside. This routine can take them from the porch steps to the far fence corner, over to the tree where the squirrels hang out, around to the fence gate to bark at the mailman, then back to the stairs. This path getting beaten by excited paws several times a day every day not only wears down the grass, but also contributes to compaction and erosion. Unfortunately, there isn’t much that can be done to remedy this kind of problem. Even giving up the battle and installing stone pathways or mulch can often lead to your dog changing course to stick to the grass!
Aside from these physical threats between dogs and lawns is the chemical threat that is your dog’s waste. Surprisingly, dog urine in lawn areas is rich in nitrogen, which is a key macronutrient in fertilizer products. Urine carries a high concentration of urea, an organic compound that carries waste nitrogen out of the body. While nitrogen is fed to grass to make it green and growthful, too much nitrogen can burn your turf, making it a bright yellow or brown color and potentially killing it altogether. Among salts and pH discrepancies, this nitrogen imbalance is why some pet owners see so much of their lawn die under the ministrations of their dog. However, it’s also why the grass surrounding the dead spots or growing out of them can appear extremely dark green and develop at a much greater height than surrounding grass. Your dog is basically a poorly trained fertilizer applicator! To reduce these marks, it’s useful to make sure your dog has plenty of water to drink, keeping its urine more dilute. If possible, some pet owners have had success with teaching their dog to only go potty in a designated place like a mulch area or a natural area, but this depends on your determination.
In the veterinary world, one of the most common visits from canine patients is caused by atopic dermatitis, or environmental allergies that result in skin issues such as dryness, itching, rashes, and infections. This most commonly appears on the stomach, between paw pads, and in the ears. Symptoms of canine atopic dermatitis often flare up during pollen season just like with people’s seasonal allergies. These skin issues cause great discomfort for pups and can be difficult to treat. Grass allergies are a common source of atopic dermatitis, and there are many dogs whose paws and bellies have to be wiped down after every venture they make into the yard to go potty to prevent rashes from developing. The best method of prevention and treatment is to speak with your veterinarian to determine what’s right for your dog.
In addition to the grass itself, the pests that live within the grass can be a threat to your pet as well. Dogs and lawn pests don’t mix well. Fleas dwell within lawn areas and can cause terrible itchiness, skin issues, and even transmit tapeworms. Ticks can also be found in turf and ground cover and carry a host of diseases that can infect a dog. Additionally, mosquitoes living in the shaded parts of the yard can carry heartworms, a life threatening parasite that infects one in two hundred dogs each year. It’s valuable to consult with your veterinarian to determine any kind of topical or systemic preventatives for heartworms as well as for fleas and ticks, but you can also choose to treat your property with a natural mosquito, flea, and tick control product to greatly reduce the amount of initial exposure. To learn more about PPLM’s Pest Package, click here.
At the end of the day, your dog is and should be more important than the lawn. That being said, there are things that a homeowner can do and keep in mind to understand the impact dogs and lawns have on each other and how to make sure the coexistence is peaceful and safe. The lawn should be enjoyed by your and your dog alike, and proper care can make sure that both remain Picture Perfect!
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