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What is Urinary Incontinence?

While there are cases of urinary incontinence that are not able to be addressed medically, there are far more of them that can benefit from medications or surgical procedures. Dogs may become incontinent due to diseases that increase their thirst, due to disorders that affect the mental processing or just due to the weakening of the muscles that surround the urethra. If your dog develops incontinence, you should consult a veterinary professional to determine the best course of action for your specific situation.

Urinary incontinence, or the unintentional leakage of urine, is a distressing disorder for many owners of dogs, particularly owners of middle-aged and senior dogs.

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Symptoms of Urinary Incontinence in Dogs

Many dogs that experience urinary incontinence due to a physical disorder are unaware that they are leaking. They may leak in large or small amounts when standing, sitting, or even sleeping, and they may end up with wet hindquarters, inflamed or irritated skin, and may smell strongly of urine. Other diseases such as diabetes, bladder stones, or kidney disease may cause the dog may be unable to get to a proper area for elimination in time, but they still typically recognize the need to go out. If this behavior is accompanied by whimpering or yelping during urination, lethargy, blood in the urine, or a bloated or tight abdomen, it should be treated as an emergency.

Types

Although there are many physical conditions that can lead to a dog urinating uncontrollably, there are also mental and behavioral disorders that may be at the root of the condition. If your dog is urinating due to a behavioral issue rather than a medical issue, the urination will likely coincide with certain circumstances. For instance, some dogs, particularly young dogs, may urinate in response to excitement without even noticing, and dogs that are particularly submissive may urinate during greetings or while making submissive gestures. These type of behavioral urinary accidents should never be met with scolding, as that can aggravate the condition. If your dog doesn’t grow out of these tendencies on their own, positive training techniques may be useful in reducing these types of conditions.

Causes of Urinary Incontinence in Dogs

There are many circumstances that can lead a dog to develop urinary incontinence. Some of these circumstances may include: 

  • Bladder Stones - Although bladder stones in the urethra do not cause true incontinence, your dog may appear to be incontinent as the trapped urine dribbles around the stone; if dribbling urine is accompanied by vocalizations, blood in the urine, or a bloated or tight abdomen, it should be treated as an emergency 
  • Canine Cognitive Disorder - Canine cognitive disorder typically strikes elderly dogs and may render the animal completely unaware that they are going to the bathroom 
  • Ectopic Ureter - This condition is characterized by a ureter that is supposed to carry urine to the bladder, but ends somewhere else, such as the urethra
  • Excessive Thirst - Certain disorders like diabetes and Cushing’s disease tend to excessively increase the patient’s thirst, sometimes causing an overextension of the bladder that results in leakage 
  • Hormonal - This can occur up to several years after either spaying or neutering, and is a result of a loss of tone in the smooth muscles of the urethra 
  • Spinal Cord Disease - Diseases of the spinal cord may reduce sensation, leaving the patient unable to know when their bladder is full or when they are voiding it
  • Urinary Tract Infection - Infections of the urinary tract may cause scarring of the lining of the bladder

Diagnosis of Urinary Incontinence in Dogs

When you bring your dog to the veterinarian’s clinic, they will start by gathering some information from you about the history of the symptoms. This will include information regarding whether leakage is happening more commonly during sleeping or waking hours if any other symptoms have been observed, and if there has been a change in diet or medications. A full physical will be completed, including standard diagnostic tests such as a biochemical profile, a complete blood count (CBC), and a urinalysis. 

The urinalysis is particularly useful when dealing with urinary incontinence as it can help determine if the patient is drinking too much water by its specific gravity as well as identifying imbalances in the chemicals that can lead to stones. The blood tests will help to assess the functioning of the liver and kidneys, check for bacterial or viral infections, and may even reveal changing hormone levels. If infection is found in the urine, the urine will be cultured to evaluate which specific illness is causing the symptoms. X-ray and ultrasound technologies may be used to get a better image of the dog’s spine along with the bladder, kidneys, and the ureters.

Treatment of Urinary Incontinence in Dogs

The treatment of this condition will vary depending on its underlying cause. Ectopic ureters are typically repositioned surgically so that they will feed into the bladder or in severe or complicated malformations, the affected ureter and the kidney it is attached to may require removal. Any stones or crystals that are found in the urethra will require removal in order to allow the passage of urine. When an infection is found in the bladder or the urinary tract, antibiotics are typically prescribed to eliminate the bacteria that are causing the illness and diseases such as diabetes and Cushing’s disease will be treated with medications like supplemental insulin or the drug trilostane, designed to rebalance the hormones that are out of balance. While antibiotic medications may only be required as a temporary measure until the infection is cleared, many of the other medications may be required on at least a daily basis for the remainder of the animal’s life.

Recovery of Urinary Incontinence in Dogs

Many canines remain incontinent, even after treatments, and may require specialized treatment in order to keep them clean and dry and to prevent unpleasant odors. As many dogs tend to soil themselves during their sleep, it is important to provide a place for them to sleep that can be kept clean. There are many easily washable dog beds that you can make or buy, as well as some types of dog beds on the market that are designed specifically with the incontinent dog in mind. Your dog may also require a doggy diaper or belly band to prevent any leakage when they are active during the day.