How to Care for Your Lawn as a Pet Owner

A small, happy dog jumps across a lawn.

Caring for your lawn as a pet owner is a twofold responsibility: you want to make sure both your plants and your animals are healthy. Pets can destroy a lawn just by running and playing on weak grass. Urination and defecation are also problematic for lawns, as the concentrated organic material can leave burn spots. Your pet also needs to be considered, however, as many lawn products are toxic to animals. This article will help explain how to care for your lawn while protecting your pet.

Use Fertilizer and Insecticides Carefully Around Pets

Most of these products include chemicals that are toxic to animals. If you must use fertilizers, herbicides, and/or insecticides, make sure to water thoroughly after treating your lawn. At the very minimum, wait until fertilizer dries fully before allowing the furry creatures to walk around. A good rule of thumb is to allow a full 24-48 hours before any pets are allowed on the grass (sometimes longer for the herbicides and insecticides). Always check manufacturer specifications for pet safety. This will both protect your fuzzy pals and ensure the products get enough time to do their job.

When spreading any chemical products, make sure to break apart the large pieces, since dogs will often sniff or chew objects they find lying around. Know the signs and symptoms of animal poisoning and what to do if a pet is acting sick, and always keep opened bags of lawn products in a sealed container.

A young dog on a leash pees on a lawn.

Designate Urination and Defecation Areas

Most pets are fairly obedient, if their owners are responsible, and will quickly pick up on the concept of a urination and defecation area. Cats return to spots with their smell, and many outdoor cats prefer to spread their scent throughout lawns around the neighborhood, so they may not use your yard often. Dogs are more likely to go in your yard, but they can learn to reliably use one spot, especially if led on a leash and trained with treats for good behavior. Consider making a specific gravel or dirt patch for pet business, to give your lawn and garden a rest from burn spots and clawing.

Creating a dog-run or fenced area can help keep pets off the rest of the lawn, though many animals enjoy the freedom to move around, and don’t like being limited to a small space. This can be a good option for pets that are young or lack proper training. You can also take the reverse approach and section off a small part of the lawn for humans only.

Keep Your Lawn Healthy

Sometimes there is no way to get an animal to listen to reason, and a certain amount of pet activity will happen no matter how hard you try to prevent it. Keep your lawn strong with urine-resistant grass varietals, and those that can withstand the rough play some animals like. Practice good lawn care to set yourself up for lasting success.

Close up image of thick, green grass

Eco-Friendly Products

Before pre-packaged fertilizers, healthy grass relied on natural, organic compounds readily found in nature. These happen to be the safest kinds of fertilizers for your pets as well, with a few exceptions. An easy and pet-safe way to return nitrogen to your lawn is to leave grass clippings after mowing. Seaweed and fish emulsions are high in nitrogen, so they make good natural fertilizers, too, though they may attract animal attention with their scent. Consider a combination of gypsum, lime, and/or bone meal for different lawn conditions: use gypsum to add calcium and strengthen soil structure, lime to naturally balance overly acidic soils, and bone meal as a slow-release plant food that delivers nitrogen, phosphorus, and calcium.

If you do use bone meal, make sure you water thoroughly after applying, and maintain the same rule of keeping pets away for at least 24-48 hours, just like with chemical fertilizers. Bone meal is a natural, non-toxic product, but dogs especially love the smell. They sometimes dig up and eat the compound, which can cause gastrointestinal issues.

Pet-Friendly Brands

Be careful even with commercial fertilizers and products that claim to be pet-friendly. While some manufacturers are true to their word, others are less scrupulous. Don’t be fooled by good marketing. Check the labels and ingredients, and do your due diligence when researching products.

Most products that kill weeds will be toxic to pets, but thankfully you can get around that by using ingredients found around the home. Instead of grabbing the Round-Up, make a natural homemade weed killer out of vinegar, salt, and dish detergent (just remember to spray directly on the weed and not the grass).

A human cleans up after a dog with a plastic bag.

Clean Up Properly

Let’s face it, your pet is going to use the outdoor lavatory if they really need to. If you see them do their business, clean it up right away. Use the hose to drench urine spots, and pick up feces with a compostable bag (many “green bins” and compost garbage programs will accept these along with your other compost items). If you can’t always be outside to monitor your critters, make an effort to clean up after them on a daily or nightly basis.

Keep in mind that the thicker and healthier your grass is, the fewer weeds you'll have, and the fewer chemicals you'll need to use. Grow strong native varietals, stick to proper fertilizing and watering times, and use organic compounds to encourage robust soil structure. That way your lawn will stay thick and vibrant, even if your fur-baby wants to “water and fertilize” it too.