Urinary Incontinence in Dogs: Don’t assume it’s time for “doggy depends” just yet!
Urinary incontinence (involuntary urine leakage) is a scary and frustrating problem that many dog owners encounter. When your four-legged friend develops urinary incontinence don’t fear the worst. It is a fairly common problem, especially in older female dogs. Many dog owners fear that incontinence is due to senility or irreparable age related change. Most cases of incontinence are easily diagnosed and treated, though there can be some more serious causes. If your pet cannot seem to “hold it,” it is important to see your veterinarian sooner rather than later. There is just no need for you to keep cleaning up those pesky puddles of urine.
When you bring your dog to the vet because of urinary incontinence, your veterinarian will need to determine the cause. The first step is to differentiate urinary incontinence from such things as behavioral issues (submissive urination), territorial marking, lack of house training). This messy problem can be due to many different things. The most common include:
- Infection in the urinary tract, usually a bladder infection
- Excessive consumption of water due to an underlying disease
- Decreased urethral sphincter tone, especially common in older female dogs
- Spinal cord disease
It is important to differentiate incontinence from behavioral issues such as lack of house training or territorial marking. Animals may urinate in the house voluntarily, which is different from incontinence. Watch your pet closely to be sure what you are seeing is really incontinence. In addition, incontinence can come in different forms. The specific behavior of your dog can give the veterinarian clues into what is causing the problem. An example is making the differentiation between leaking small amounts of urine at night versus dribbling urine from a full bladder while heading to the door.
In most cases the doctor will perform a urinalysis and a urine culture. The urinalysis reveals cell types and biochemical elements while the culture identifies any bacteria growing in the urine. If bacteria are found they can be grown, identified and tested for sensitivity towards different antibiotics. Bacteria in the urine signify a bladder infection that can be treated with antibiotics.
The veterinarian will often take a blood sample and test for common canine diseases. If the patient is drinking more than usual a blood test is particularly important. Common diseases that cause increased drinking and urinary incontinence include: Diabetes, Cushing’s Disease, and Hypothyroidism.
If you have an older female dog and the veterinarian has ruled out a bladder infection and underlying disease, it is likely that the incontinence is due to a weak bladder sphincter. This is a common ailment affecting up to 20% of older female dogs. There are several different options for medical treatment. Medications should be chosen based on the blood work and physical exam in case there are any problems with the liver, bone marrow, or heart. Your dog will likely respond quickly to treatment.
Blood and urine tests are enough to determine the cause of the incontinence in approximately 90% of cases. If the cause is still unclear, your veterinarian may do X-rays or ultrasound to look for anatomical problems, bladder or kidney stones, or tumors. Depending on what is found further treatment could include medication, a change in diet, or surgery. The most important thing to remember is that urinary incontinence is often easily treated. Identifying the problem early and starting proper medical treatment will greatly improve your and your dog’s quality of life.