Pets and gardens may not always be a match made in heaven; especially if the owner is a keen gardener. Dogs and cats often like to dig, and cats in particular love a freshly weeded or re-planted patch of soil to use as a toilet. Dogs are generally less discerning as to their chosen area/s for toileting, but will often find particular parts of the lawn especially desirable; and certain plants may be enjoyed as a convenient buffet. This little article is intended to help you to enjoy stress-free sharing of your garden with your canine and feline friends. Cats and dogs love to be outside just as much as their human friends, especially when the weather is nice, so these toileting tips aim to help you make your garden a place that you can all share and enjoy.
Cats are naturally drawn to areas of freshly dug-over or newly planted areas of soil, and it’s really hard to deter them from using flower beds as a latrine. You can endeavour to put them off by using safe, natural deterrents such as pepper or lines of sliced citrus fruits. However, cats are so attracted to freshly dug beds, that it is often a better solution to dig over an area specially designated for your cat (or neighbouring cats). You can make the patch more enticing by growing desirable plants nearby. Catnip is very hardy and is easily grown from seed; it can quickly grow to a considerable height. Not only is it attractive to cats, it’s also pretty to the human eye when it flowers. You could also consider planting some cat friendly grass species. A car tyre is a very economical way to create an outdoor litter tray. It may not be the most attractive thing, but could be painted a bright or pastel colour to brighten it up. The bottom of the tyre can be filled with earth, and then you can add a mixture of fine earth and your cat’s usual litter to the top. To encourage your cat to use the tyre rather than your flower beds you can even add a little soiled litter from an indoor litter tray to make sure the area smells safe and familiar to your cat. It’s really important that cats feel comfortable going to the toilet, as difficulty urinating can increase the risk of urinary tract problems.
Always make sure your cat has a safe and secure place to urinate and defecate. It may be that you need to provide areas both indoors and out. Your cat’s health is of utmost importance so do ensure there are preferential areas for feline toileting in privacy.
Unfortunately, it’s a fact of life that dog urine will damage your grass. Scalding of your lawn is caused by the nitrogenous waste that is naturally present. The most effective way to stop your dog from damaging your lawn is to train him or her to use a designated area such as a sand pit.
Bitches may cause more damage than dogs because they tend to urinate in once place, whilst dogs mark over a wider area when they lift their legs. It is thought that heavily fertilised lawns which already have a higher nitrogen content are more susceptible to “lawn burn”. Grass that is already damaged (e.g. having been subject to drought) or lawns that have been newly sown are more susceptible. Lawns that are already stressed (e.g. those that are very dry) are also more at risk from urine damage.
If your dog has urinated on the lawn, the best way to initially address the problem is to dilute the urine. Simply use a watering can to ensure that a good volume of pure water is poured over the affected area.
Products are available which bind and neutralise the nitrogen in the urea (these are applied to the lawn, not given directly to the pet). You can also help by not applying too much (or too little) fertiliser, and watering as often as is possible. Save water by having several water butts, and use water from them with a can rather than the hose.
There are products that can be given to your pet which contain methionine. These reduce the urinary pH, but if the urine is too acidic it can increase the risk of crystals such as calcium oxalate. A damaged lawn is far easier to resolve than a pet with a blocked bladder, so please do not try to alter the acidity or alkalinity of your pet’s urine for this reason.
Some commercial pet foods and treats contain an ingredient called yucca schidigera which safely binds nitrogenous waste meaning that there is less of it excreted in the urine.
Protein rich feeds used to be considered a prime cause of lawn stains, but recent research has indicated that high quality proteins (being extremely well digested) are not to be blamed. It may however be wise to avoid less digestible proteins such as those comprising raw hide chews. These proteins have limited nutritional value and may cause more nitrogenous waste that can ultimately damage your grass when excreted.
Dogs who pass very concentrated urine may also cause more damage to your lawn. Ensuring adequate fluid intake is always important, and it’s wise to ensure your dog (or cat) is drinking sufficiently. In the event of any doubt as to whether your pet is drinking more or less than usual, please do ask your vet’s professional opinion as changes to the drinking pattern may be symptomatic of a number of medical conditions.
Make sure your dog and / or cat’s outdoor toileting areas are kept clean to avoid flies and the risk of infection. Animals prefer a hygienic area in which to toilet so they are more likely to use your designated areas if faeces are picked up as quickly as possible and urine hosed down regularly.