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Can breathing dog urine harmful?

Breathing in dog urine, also known as ammonia inhalation, can potentially cause harmful health effects. Ammonia is a colorless gas that is a natural component of dog urine. When fresh urine is emitted, the ammonia vaporizes into the air where it can be inhaled. While occasional exposure to small amounts of ammonia in dog urine is unlikely to cause problems, repeated or prolonged exposure may lead to adverse health effects for both humans and dogs.

Health Effects of Ammonia Inhalation in Humans

Respiratory Effects

Inhaling high concentrations of ammonia gas can irritate the lungs, causing coughing, wheezing, chest pain, bronchospasms, and breathing difficulties. People with asthma may experience aggravated symptoms when exposed to ammonia fumes.

At very high concentrations, ammonia inhalation can cause swelling of the throat and upper airway. This can lead to asphyxiation or respiratory failure.

Eye, Nose, and Throat Irritation

Ammonia fumes can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat. Symptoms may include red or watery eyes, a burning sensation in the nose and throat, sneezing, coughing, and a runny nose.

Skin Irritation

Prolonged direct contact between ammonia gas and skin can cause chemical burns, blisters, and temporary blindness. Exposure to high concentrations of ammonia may lead to more severe caustic injuries.

Gastrointestinal Effects

Swallowing ammonia can burn the mouth, throat, and stomach. Ingesting large amounts can be fatal.

Central Nervous System Effects

Breathing very high levels of ammonia may affect the central nervous system. Symptoms can include headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, confusion, fatigue, and seizures. At extremely high concentrations, ammonia inhalation may lead to coma or death.

Health Effects of Ammonia Inhalation in Dogs

Respiratory Irritation

As in humans, breathing ammonia can irritate dogs’ respiratory tracts. Effects may include coughing, breathing difficulties, and respiratory inflammation. Brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds like pugs, bulldogs, and Boston terriers may be more susceptible.

Eye and Nose Irritation

Ammonia fumes can also irritate dogs’ eyes and nasal passages. Signs can include red, runny eyes, sneezing, and nasal discharge.

Skin Irritation

Prolonged direct contact with ammonia gas can irritate dogs’ skin. Effects may include redness, itching, and chemical burns.

Gastrointestinal Upset

Ingesting urine containing ammonia may cause mouth, throat, and stomach irritation in dogs. It may result in drooling, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Central Nervous System Effects

As in humans, severe ammonia toxicity can affect dogs’ CNS. Brain swelling (cerebral edema) may occur, resulting in neurological symptoms like disorientation, tremors, and seizures.

Amount of Ammonia in Dog Urine

The concentration of ammonia in dog urine varies based on diet and hydration status:

  • Normal dog urine contains 2 to 10 grams of ammonia per liter.
  • Concentrated urine has higher ammonia levels.
  • Dilute urine has lower ammonia levels.
  • High-protein diets produce urine with more ammonia.
  • Well-hydrated dogs excrete more dilute urine.

For perspective, household ammonia cleaning solutions are about 5% ammonia, or 50 grams per liter. So full-strength dog urine has ammonia levels about 5-25 times less concentrated than household ammonia.

Risk Factors for Ammonia Toxicity

Certain conditions increase the risk of ammonia inhalation toxicity for both humans and dogs:

  • Poor ventilation – Enclosed spaces allow ammonia gas to accumulate.
  • Inadequate urine clean-up – Allows pooling of urine and continuous ammonia release.
  • Large volumes of urine – More ammonia vapors are produced.
  • Concentrated urine – Higher ammonia content.
  • High urine pH – Ammonia vaporizes more readily at higher pH.
  • Underlying respiratory disease – Increased sensitivity to irritants.
  • Kidney/liver disease – Impaired ammonia metabolism.
  • Prolonged, repeated exposure – Cumulative effects over time.

Conditions like urinary tract infections, incontinence, marking behavior, and some medications can increase urination frequency and volume in dogs. Caution should be taken if any of these factors are present.

Preventing Ammonia Toxicity from Dog Urine

Here are some tips to help prevent ammonia toxicity when exposed to dog urine:

  • Allow ample ventilation and fresh air circulation.
  • Clean up urine immediately using an enzymatic cleaner.
  • Disinfect floors and surfaces with a properly diluted bleach solution.
  • Consider using litter boxes or urine pads if the dog regularly urinates indoors.
  • Address underlying medical conditions that may cause excessive urination.
  • Limit protein content in the dog’s diet if they have concentrated urine.
  • Make sure the dog stays well hydrated.
  • Avoid overcrowding multiple dogs in confined spaces.
  • Use protective equipment like gloves, goggles, and masks when handling large amounts of urine.

Taking precautions is important, especially if ammonia sensitivity issues already exist. Monitoring dogs closely can also help detect increased urination habits earlier.

Treatment of Ammonia Toxicity

If ammonia toxicity symptoms develop after inhaling dog urine, treatment may include:

  • Bringing the person or dog into fresh air.
  • Giving 100% oxygen for breathing support.
  • Administering bronchodilators for respiratory issues.
  • Irrigating exposed eyes with saline solution.
  • Hospitalizing severe cases for intensive treatment.
  • Prescribing topical creams for skin burns.
  • Treating secondary respiratory infections with antibiotics.

With prompt treatment, mild to moderate ammonia toxicity often resolves without permanent effects. However, severe toxicity can lead to long-term lung damage, blindness, or even death in extreme cases.


Inhaling dog urine and the ammonia it contains can potentially cause irritation and toxicity to the respiratory tract, eyes, skin, and other systems in both humans and dogs. While small amounts of exposure are unlikely to cause problems in most healthy individuals, precautions should be taken to minimize risks. Good ventilation, prompt urine clean-up, and limiting concentrated urine are key preventive steps. Treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and supporting respiratory function. Overall, being aware of the potential risks and taking proactive measures can help avoid adverse effects from inhaling dog urine ammonia.