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Watch where your dog pees – he may be harming green infrastructure

Dog pee in the wrong places may be bad for the environment.
© pcdazero - Pixabay

Dog pee in ‘bioswales’ or rain gardens designed to filter natural water may be preventing the benefits of these ecological structures.

By G. John Cole Published on 20 May 2019

Wee doctors

A bioswale is a shallow gutter treated with biological material to naturally filter water as it runs off of the streets. But dog urine can affect the composition and growth of plants and microbes, so owners should help their pets to aim it away from green infrastructure such as this.

Wee scientists in New York City subjected one unfortunate breed of plant to different amounts of dog pee, which contains lots of nitrogen.

“Nitrogen from urine builds up in the soil in the form of ammonia and ammonium, which have an ionic charge,” explains microbial ecologist Linh Anh Cat on Forbes. “This charge, along with osmolytic effects, pulls water into the soil and away from microbes and plant roots, causing them to dry up.”

Uncock that leg, Buster

One of the main challenges for the wee team was to find enough dog pee to use in the experiment. Like jazz, which is also common in New York and potentially harmful, dog pee is just too unpredictable to gather for posterity and is best enjoyed in the moment. The urine boffins ended up buying coyote pee instead, although whether they had to go to the dark web for this is not clear.

They found that more dog urine means less microbial diversity in the soil. Plant root growth was inhibited, and who can blame it. And most pertinently to the rain garden issue, rain garden soil would not hold and filter as much water when it had previously encountered dog pee.

So, although dog pee may seem among the most joyful and natural of fluids that you encounter in your daily life, that doesn’t mean it can be sprayed about ‘willy-nilly.’ If an area of the street or park appears to be designed for water filtering or other ecological purposes, tell you dog to put it back in his pants until you reach a legitimate target.