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Urinary incontinence in dogs: Causes and treatments

Golden labrador who peed on the carpet advice
© Shutterstock

Is your dog passing urine all over the house without even realising? Urine incontinence in dogs is an uncontrollable and involuntary loss of urine which can be caused by a variety of different conditions

By Alice Lang

Thankfully, there are a number of effective treatments and methods to help manage dog incontinence - so you can get your pup’s toilet troubles under control!

Signs of dog incontinence

  • Wet patches where your dog has been sleeping
  • Damp, smelly bedding
  • Wet legs
  • Sores on the skin due to dampness
  • A lingering smell of urine on the dog
  • Leaking urine when the dog jumps, runs or walks
  • Increased thirst and excessive drinking
  • Blood in the urine

One of the most important things to understand about urinary incontinence in dogs is that it’s completely out of your dog's control. It can be a startling, concerning and somewhat irritating problem to have to deal with, but can normally be cured or at least managed once the underlying cause is identified.

Causes of urinary incontinence in dogs

Dr Jeffrey Levy, a doctor of veterinary medicine and certified veterinary acupuncturist, told Pet MD that “Incontinence in dogs can be a symptom of many different conditions, so getting to the cause is essential”.

Behavioural issues can cause frequent urination, inappropriate urination or the persistent marking of territory, but this isn’t true dog incontinence. It’s important to understand the difference between dog incontinence and other conditions or behavioural problems which affect a dog’s toilet habits, in order to get the appropriate treatment for your pooch.

Age

Dog incontinence related to age is extremely common. Both sexes of dog can develop incontinence as they grow older, but it’s much more common in females. When female dog's age, they often lose full control of the neck of the bladder. This condition is called 'sphincter mechanism incontinence' and means that urine will leak out easily.

Both males and females may become a little senile or develop dementia in their old age and forget the house rules. In this case, you might often find a wet patch where they’re lying down. They don’t mean to do this - so punishment is never a good idea.

As well as this, pelvic floors and bladder tone are likely to weaken during a dog’s later years, which can result in ‘urine dribbling’.

Spay surgery

One of the top causes of urinary incontinence in dogs is related to hormones. After a pooch is spayed or neutered, the levels of the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen fluctuate dramatically. These hormones play a vital role in closing the urethral sphincter - so without them, leakage can easily occur. This type of incontinence is far more common in spayed female dogs, with around 20% being affected.

Illnesses, diseases or medications

There are a number of underlying illnesses or syndromes which could be the cause of dog incontinence - hence why it’s so important to investigate. This could be anything from Cushing’s disease and Addison’s disease to diabetes and liver disease. When the underlying illness or syndrome is treated or managed, dog incontinence is likely to be relieved.

Dog incontinence It's important to find out the underlying cause of dog incontinence ©MCarper on Shutterstock
 

Bladder infections

A sudden occurrence of urinary incontinence in dogs could signal a urinary tract or bladder infection. Although they can affect either sex, UTI’s are especially common in female dogs and puppies.

If your pooch is suffering from an infection, they might have a sudden urge to wee and go to the toilet much more often than normal. Urine might be cloudy, dark and a little bit smelly. These are all things to keep an eye on.

Bladder stones or an acid/alkali bladder imbalance can also trigger urinary incontinence in dogs.

Birth defects

Sometimes, dogs have a birth defect on their external genitalia or a neurological reflex which causes urinary incontinence. If your dog has shown signs of incontinence from a young age with no signs of improvement, a birth defect may well be to blame. Some breeds are more prone to birth defects which affect the bladder. In this case, the best thing to do is be fully evaluated by a vet - in some cases, surgery may be required.

Sedative or pain medications, as well as lingering anaesthetic effects following an operation, can also trigger dog incontinence.

What to do if you think your dog has urinary incontinence

No matter what the age or gender of your pup, you should get to the vet as soon as you start recognising symptoms of dog incontinence. This is because leaky urine could be a sign of disease, a disorder or an infection. Even if urine dribbling or leakage doesn’t bother you much, your pooch could be in pain or in danger of developing a more serious illness.

In most cases, your vet will be able to diagnose the cause of the incontinence by looking through your dog’s medical history, carrying out a physical exam, and analysing a urine or blood sample.

How to treat or manage dog incontinence

The treatment for dog incontinence will depend entirely on the cause. Antibiotics will be prescribed if an infection is found, which is likely to ease symptoms entirely within a few days. If a birth defect, bladder stones or an injury are to blame, surgery may be required.

A drug called phenylpropanolamine may be prescribed to help strengthen the urinary sphincter function. Hormone replacement therapy called diethylstilbestrol or DES is a good option, too. Both of these medications are common dog incontinence treatments which are extremely effective when used long-term.

The good news? Dr Michael D. Lucroy, a veterinary medical oncologist, told Pet MD that “about 90% of dogs with urinary incontinence will respond to medical management.”

If treatment is not successful, Lucroy suggested a number of things which you can do to help manage and control the problem at home, including:

  • Walking your dog often
  • Using waterproof pads or sheets below bedding
  • Using dog nappies
  • Buying special bedding which draws moisture away from the skin
  • Washing your dog’s legs more regularly
  • Encouraging regular ‘toilet time’