Urine might have an ammonia smell due to eating certain foods, a urinary tract infection, a liver or kidney problem, or dehydration.

Urine is the body’s liquid waste made by the kidneys, which filter toxins out of the blood. Urine primarily contains water, salt, urea, and uric acid.

Changes in urine smell and color offer insight into a person’s health, diet, and lifestyle choices. These choices may contribute to an ammonia smell but are not the only causes.

This article covers the potential cause of urine that smells like ammonia.

Dehydration can cause strong-smelling urine, similar to ammonia. Dehydration occurs when someone does not drink enough fluids or has a significant fluid loss due to vomiting or diarrhea.

The ammonia odor develops when chemicals in urine are concentrated due to a lack of water.

Other signs of dehydration include:

Urinary retention refers to a condition in which a person is not able to empty all of the urine from their bladder. Prolonged urinary retention can cause urine that smells like ammonia.

It can develop due to other health conditions, such as cystocele or prostate problems.

Symptoms include:

Chronic urinary retention symptoms include:

  • being unable to empty the bladder completely
  • urinating often but in small amounts
  • having difficulty starting the flow of urine
  • an urgent need to urinate but not being able to
  • feeling the urge to urinate even after finishing urinating
  • a slow stream of urine
  • leaking urine
  • pain or discomfort in the lower stomach

Uncomplicated urinary tract infections (UTIs) are one of the most common bacterial infections.

These infections are the result of bacteria entering the urinary tract. Many bacteria that cause UITs break down urea into ammonia, giving the urine a strong smell.

Other symptoms include a burning sensation during urination and a frequent or intense urge to urinate.

Pregnant people have a higher risk for UTIs, increasing their chances of having ammonia-smelling urine. Up to 8% of pregnant people experience UTIs.

UTIs during pregnancy has associations with pregnancy complications, including premature labor and low birth weight.

Pregnant people should let their doctors know if they experience unpleasant-smelling urine, especially if the smell resembles ammonia.

Pregnancy vitamins can change the way a person’s urine looks and smells.

Learn more about pregnancy and ammonia-smelling urine.

Menopause can cause a variety of urinary symptoms, including an increase in the risk of developing a UTI that can cause strong smelling urine.

Other urinary symptoms include:

  • urinary urgency
  • needing to urinate more often during the night
  • urinary incontinence

Certain foods, medications, and vitamins can cause changes in urine smell and color. For example, asparagus, onion, and garlic can cause strong smelling urine.

When diet is the cause of ammonia-smelling urine, the odor disappears once a person eliminates food triggers from their diet. Odor caused by something a person has eaten is usually nothing to worry about.

Anyone who develops kidney or bladder stones may experience ammonia-smelling urine.

When stones pass through the urinary tract, the risk for UTIs increases, and they can cause urine to have an ammonia smell.

Kidney disease causes chemicals in urine to become concentrated and to cause a smell resembling ammonia.

Kidney dysfunction can also cause high urine bacteria and protein levels, contributing to an ammonia smell.

If the ammonia odor is accompanied by pain or symptoms of infection, including fever, it is time to contact a doctor.

A doctor will want to know:

  • how long urine has had an odor
  • how often ammonia odor occurs
  • other symptoms, including blood in urine, back pain, fever, pain with urination, and urgency

A doctor will likely do a physical exam and request urine samples and blood work.

Urine is examined for blood, bacteria, and kidney or bladder stone pieces. Usually, urine testing and blood work can help a doctor make a diagnosis.

A doctor may also request imaging studies to test for kidney, bladder, or liver abnormalities.

Treatments depend on the contributing cause. However, a person can take steps to help prevent strong smelling urine.

Drinking between 6 to 8 cups of fluid a day can reduce the chances of dehydration. Making sure to avoid the common causes of dehydration, such as heat and sweating, can also help people stay hydrated.

It is also important to urinate often. Most people urinate when their bladders are full. However, urine that is held in it can become more concentrated and have a foul odor.

Urinating when a person feels the urge to do so is also important in helping to prevent UTIs.

A doctor will be able to provide treatment for any underlying conditions, such as kidney disease.

The following are commonly asked questions about urine that smells like ammonia.

Should I be concerned if my urine smells like ammonia?

Some causes, such as mild dehydration, are not necessarily a cause for concern. However, some causes, such as infection or kidney problems, are more severe.

Does diabetic pee smell like ammonia?

Those with diabetes may have urine that smells sweet, similar to honey. Those experiencing diabetic ketoacidosis can produce urine that smells sweet and fruity. Diabetic ketoacidosis is an emergency, and a person should seek immediate medical attention.

Why does my pee smell bad even though I drink a lot of water?

Dehydration is only one cause of strong-smelling urine. Many different causes exist, including a person’s diet, supplements, or other underlying health conditions.

Urine that smells like ammonia can develop due to dehydration and diet. It can also develop due to underlying conditions, such as UTIs and kidney disease.

Treatment depends on the underlying cause. However, a person can take steps to prevent some causes, such as dehydration.

If this symptom persists or occurs alongside other symptoms that indicate an infection, a person should contact a doctor.