Driving around a beautiful suburban neighborhood, you can easily spot at least a few of the homes that have pets, without ever once seeing the animals themselves or the more stereotypical signs like a dog house or a collection of toys. What is it that so quickly and easily identifies these homes, without such simple identifiers?
It’s the dead lawns.
Whether it’s because of their biowaste or just a digging habit, your pets can spread widespread damage to your lawn, undoing all the hard work you’ve put in with seeding and care. All is not lost though! You can mitigate and even correct the damage done by your pets with just a few simple steps.
The most difficult problem to deal with is that of waste. Cats and dogs are both natural predators and as such need high protein diets. Even if you’re feeding your pet with prepared food bought from the store, it will likely contain a high amount of complex proteins which when digested break down and produce nitrogen. Normally, nitrogen in your soil is healthy for most plants, but since in a natural environment predators like your pets would normally not stay in such a small area as the average yard, the amount of nitrogen produced is more than your yard can handle. This gets worse the larger your pet is, or the more pets you have.
Because the problem is the abundance of nitrogen created, planting nitrogen hungry plants in your yard can help. Plants such as corn or squash will use up excess nitrogen in your lawn allowing the rest of your plants to thrive. Spreading fresh mulch on problem areas will also help, as the mulch decomposes it will process and remove nitrogen from the soil.
Another option is to train your pet to restrict its use of your yard to a specific spot. You can train your pet to relieve itself in an area that you specifically landscape for that purpose, using stone or mulch to avoid the unsightly plant death.
You may read some suggestions that changing your pet’s diet can alleviate this issue. Since the cause of the damage is nitrogen, any suggestion such as giving your pet juice or adding baking soda to their water won’t correct this problem, and can in fact increase their risk for kidney stones. No major diet change should be taken without consulting with your veterinarian.
If you have a cat, they’re less likely to cause damage with their waste. Due to their size, they simply don’t produce as much as dogs, and tend to relieve themselves indoors anyways. However, if you are allowing your cat out of doors, they can cause significant damage to the wildlife in your area, with domestic cats being one of the deadliest predators in the United States. (An article in the journal Nature estimates that domestic cats are responsible for killing up to 4.0 billion birds and 22.3 billion mammals annually) In addition to causing a threat to endangered species, this also can chase off songbirds that can create a pleasant atmosphere for your home.
The National Wildlife Federation recommends protecting birds from your cat by strategic placement of feeders and fences, though the only sure fire protection is to keep your cat indoors at all times.