Cow manure is good for your lawn and garden, so dog poop must be, too, right? Wrong. This line of thinking is dangerous not only for your grass but also for your family and community.
There seems to be a common misconception that dog poop fertilizes grass, but it’s NOT a good fertilizer. Dog poop kills grass if you let it sit out for too long. It also spreads bacteria and parasites and has the potential to pollute drinking water.
So, to answer the question, “Is dog poop good or bad for my grass?”: It’s bad. Very bad. We’ll explain why.
- Why dog poop kills grass
- Health hazards of leaving dog poop in your yard
- How to prevent lawn damage from dog waste
- FAQ about dog poop in the lawn
- Scoop your poop
Why dog poop kills grass
Dog feces kills grass because it contains a lot of nitrogen. Dogs need a high-protein diet, and the process of breaking down all that protein creates nitrogen as a byproduct. The dog then passes that nitrogen in its waste (dog urine has high nitrogen content, too).
What does nitrogen have to do with your lawn? Grass actually needs some nitrogen in the soil to grow lush and healthy, but there can be too much of any good thing. Too much nitrogen concentrated in a small area burns the grass. The same thing happens if you use too much nitrogen-rich fertilizer.
When doggie droppings sit out long enough to break down into the soil, they release a lot of nitrogen. That’s why the grass dies and turns brown.
What dog poop damage looks like
Stages of dog poop damage:
- Tall, dark green grass: The poop has only just begun to break down.
- Yellow spots: Excess nitrogen is beginning to burn your grass as the poop continues to break down.
- Brown spots: The grass is dead. You will have to reseed those spots if you want to see green grass there again.
Don’t be fooled if dog poop makes your grass grow faster at first. The first stage of dog poop damage is tall, dark green patches of grass that, by all appearances, are healthier than the rest of your lawn.
That’s because dog poop breaks down slowly, taking up to a year to decompose completely. At first, it releases only a little of its nitrogen, which has a fertilizing effect on the grass. But if the poop sits out and decomposes all the way, that same grass will soon turn yellow and then brown from nitrogen burn.
Pay attention to those dark green spots! Once they turn to brown spots, it will be too late to save the grass without reseeding.
Why is pet waste different from cow manure?
Think about a dog’s diet versus a cow’s diet. Dogs eat a lot of meat, while cows eat plant matter exclusively. Recall that protein from meat is what makes dog poop too nitrogen-rich for your lawn. Since cows don’t eat meat, cow manure doesn’t have the same problem. In fact, cow manure makes good fertilizer because it is low in nitrogen and high in nutrients.
Note that cow manure can still contain harmful pathogens, including E. coli, Listeria, Salmonella, Mycobacterium paratuberculosis, Cryptosporidium, and Giardia.
How dog poop causes lawn fungus
In addition to nitrogen burn, dog poop can kill your grass in a more roundabout way: It can cause lawn fungus to grow. Many fungal lawn diseases will kill your lawn if they have a chance to spread.
Fungi love moisture, and an excess of nitrogen in the soil helps them grow and spread faster. Dog poop provides a moist, nitrogen-rich environment where lawn-damaging fungi can thrive.
Health hazards of leaving dog poop in your yard
The consequences of leaving dog poop in your yard could be much worse than a few brown spots in your grass. Dog poop might cause serious illness for your family and the greater community.
Dog poop carries diseases and parasites
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), dogs can transmit the following diseases and parasites through their poop:
Many of these diseases only spread to people if they ingest the infected poop (we know — yuck). It might seem appalling and impossible that you would eat your dog’s poop, but imagine this scenario:
Dog poop sits out in your yard. Microscopic bacteria and parasites transfer to your soil. You go outside to play with your dog or tend your garden, and you touch the ground at some point. Later, you eat a snack without thinking of washing your hands first. And boom, the bacteria or parasite has found its way inside your body.
To reduce the risk of spreading disease, remove dog poop from your lawn immediately, then wash your hands right after. Leave the poop out, and it can easily infect other members of your family (especially young children who play in the yard and aren’t very good at washing their hands).
Dog poop pollutes water sources
Do you like the sound of dog poop in your lakes, rivers, or even drinking water? Neither do your neighbors. But according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), that’s exactly where it could end up if you let it sit in your lawn.
Remember, dog poop takes up to a year to break down into the soil. That means it just sits on top of the ground for a whole year. During that time, rain or water from watering your lawn washes bits of poop into storm drains. From there, it contaminates natural bodies of water.
How to prevent lawn damage from dog waste
Preventing lawn damage from dog poop is incredibly simple, even if it’s a little nasty. All you have to do is pick up your dog’s poop ASAP.
Here are some tips for dealing with dog poop in your lawn:
- Scoop dog poop immediately after your dog goes to the bathroom (even in your own backyard). If not immediately, clean up all dog poop in your yard at least once a week.
- Never mow the lawn with dog poop in it. Your lawn mower will spread any bacteria or parasites in the poop all over your yard.
- Pick up all the dog poop from winter as soon as possible. We get it, picking up dog poop in harsh winter weather isn’t easy. But if you let your lawn fill up with poop over winter, be prepared for a huge spring cleaning as soon as the snow melts.
- Always wash your hands immediately after cleaning up dog poop, even if you didn’t touch the poop directly (which hopefully, you didn’t).
Preventing lawn damage from dog pee is a little more complicated since you can’t just pick it up. Here are the methods we cover in detail in our guide How to Prevent Dog Pee Damage on Your Grass:
- Water the spots where your dog pees as soon as possible. If you can’t do it immediately, at least within a few hours.
- Train your dog to pee in a designated spot covered with mulch or gravel instead of on the grass.
- Raise the mowing height of your lawn mower and let your grass grow a little taller than usual to mask any damage and make your grass hardier.
- Put “Dog Rocks” in your dog’s water. Dog Rocks are a product designed to reduce the amount of nitrogen in your dog’s waste. They’re made with natural ingredients and are safe for your pup.
- Change your dog’s diet to fresh dog food under guidance from a veterinarian to reduce nitrogen in waste.
- Switch your lawn to a more urine-resistant grass type, such as Bermudagrass, Zoysiagrass, tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, or perennial ryegrass.
FAQ about dog poop in the lawn
First of all, we have to say that manually picking up (or “scooping”) the poop from your yard is the best method. You get immediate results, and there are no negative side effects.
But if you can’t or don’t want to pick up your dog’s poop for some reason, you can dissolve it with:
—Enzyme-based dissolving products such as Doggie Dooley
Warning: Each of these methods comes with downsides. Vinegar will only partially dissolve the poop and can harm your lawn. Agricultural lime is dangerous for your dog and can hurt the grass. Doggie Dooley is effective, but it’s an entire system you have to have installed, kind of like a septic system.
Don’t like the idea of scooping poop by hand? Try out an automatic scooper or “poop vacuum.” These automatic scoopers operate just like a regular handheld vacuum, but they suck up poop. Then, all you have to do is detach and throw away the disposable collection bag.
NEVER attempt to remove dog poop by spraying it with water. You may dilute the nitrogen and save your lawn this way, but you’ll spread harmful bacteria all over your yard, and the polluted water will likely end up in a storm drain.
Yes, you should always pick up your pup’s poop, even when you’re walking through a forest, field, or other natural settings with no one around.
Poop in the middle of the woods can still end up polluting a water source. Plus, the bacteria and parasites could infect wildlife. Do you want to be responsible for a disease outbreak in the local squirrel population?
Scoop your poop
Trust us, we know dog poop is gross. It stinks, it’s sticky, and you don’t want to be anywhere near it. But if you want a healthy lawn, you’ll have to suck it up and get to scooping!
Does your lawn already have dead patches from lazy pooper scooper habits or dog urine? Here’s how to repair the damage.
Next time you think of skipping the scoop, remember all the health problems your dog’s poop could cause if you leave it out. Then plug your nose and fulfill your “doody” as a dog owner.
Do you need help keeping your lawn healthy and free of brown spots? A service call from our local lawn care professionals is only a click away. Just…pick up the dog poop first, please.
Main Photo Credit: joan6116 | Pixabay