White and brown papillon dog

Bladder infections in dogs should never be treated at home.

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How do you know if your dog has a bladder problem?

By Dr Jo de Klerk, BVetMed (Hons) MScTAH MRCVS Veterinarian

Updated on the

From peeing more to peeing less, or a change in colour or smell of your dog's urine, there are many different signs that your dog has a bladder problem – and a trip to the vet will be vital.

Bladder problems are common reasons why dogs need to visit a veterinarian. There are many different causes of bladder problems, ranging in severity. Not all bladder problems have the same symptoms and sometimes it is not obvious that the bladder is the cause. But being able to effectively produce and discharge urine is vital for life, and therefore bladder problems should not be ignored.

What are the symptoms of bladder problems in dogs?

Bladder problems can vary in their symptoms. A change in the urine itself is the most common symptom. This could mean more or less urine volume than normal; discharging urine more or less often, or even not at all; a change in the smell of urine; a change in the colour of urine; or lack of control when it comes to discharging urine. Bladder problems can also cause discomfort that can lead to excessive straining, licking at genitals or general malaise with a fever. Advanced bladder problems, which involve the kidneys too, may cause vomiting, lethargy and serious ill health.

What are the causes of bladder problems in dogs?

There are many causes of bladder problems. The most common causes are bladder stones and bladder infections. Other causes can include cancer, trauma, congenital malformations (such as ectopic ureters, where the tubes from the kidneys don’t enter the bladder in the correct place), problems with the sphincter closing the bladder (known as urethral sphincter mechanism incompetence), blood clots in the bladder and a poor diet.

There are also other internal organ diseases that may appear to cause bladder problems, such as kidney disease, diabetes, adrenal diseases and thyroid diseases. These can cause excessive urination. But they do not have a direct influence on the bladder and therefore are not true bladder diseases.

What treatments are there for bladder problems in dogs?

Treatment of bladder problems depends on the underlying cause. It might include: medications, such as antibiotics and anti-inflammatories; dietary changes; or surgery to remove stones, tumours or correct congenital malformations. Speak to a veterinarian and they will be able to make the best decision for your dog once he has a diagnosis.

How do you diagnosis a bladder problem in a dog?

Diagnosis of bladder problems usually starts with a urine sample to look for infection, inflammation, crystals or cancerous cells. If there is not a clear diagnosis from a urine sample, diagnostic imaging will be needed to visualise the bladder. This usually includes x-rays or an ultrasound scan. Sometimes advanced imaging is also required, such as contrast x-rays, where air and/or contrast medium is inserted into the bladder, or a cystoscopy, where a tiny camera is used to directly visualise the inside of the bladder.

What can you give a dog for a urinary tract infection?

Urinary tract infections (UTI) are common in dogs and usually easy to treat. You should take your dog to a veterinarian, with a urine sample in a clean plastic container or pot, and this will help them determine what medication your dog needs. The vet will probably recommend that your dog is given antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, as well as a new diet. There are no home treatments that you can give your dog for a urinary tract infection.

How can I help my dog's weak bladder?

If your dog has a weak bladder and is accidentally urinating in the house, you first need to determine if it is conscious or unconscious urination. If the bladder is leaking, a vet can prescribe some medication, which tightens up the muscular band at the exit of the bladder. This is known as the urethral sphincter. If your dog is consciously urinating in the house, this is more likely to be a behavioural problem, rather than a weak bladder, and further investigation into why this is happening is important. It is unlikely that something you give him will help in this situation, and you may need to call a canine behaviourist.

What causes bladder infections in dogs?

Bladder infections in dogs are caused by bacteria that ascends through the genitals and into the bladder. It can also be introduced by the use of catheters, if your dog has recently been hospitalised. In rare cases, fungi can also cause bladder infections. But this latter cause usually only happens if your dog has an underlying illness, has recently had surgery on the bladder or has a concurrent bacterial bladder infection.

Can a dog UTI cure itself?

A dog UTI is unlikely to cure itself and it is important that you take your dog to the vet to be treated. If left untreated, the urinary tract infection can track up to the kidneys, causing a life-threatening infection. Bladder infections can also change the pH of the urine, making your dog more susceptible to developing bladder stones, which can block the flow of urine.

What can I give my dog for a bladder infection?

Apart from giving your dog the medication that a vet has recommended, there are some things you can offer your dog at home to help their bladder infection. You can give them more water or encourage them to increase their water intake. This can be done by adding water to their diet, or adding some tinned food to their water to make it more enticing (although do not leave this down all day long, as it will become unhygienic). An increase in water will increase the urine production and help flush out the infection quicker.

You can also give your dog a ‘bladder’ diet, available from a veterinarian. This diet is designed to change the pH of the urine, to improve the health of the bladder and minimise infections and stone formation. Finally, the vet may prescribe a bladder ‘supplement’ that you can put on your dog’s food. This works in a similar way to the food, as it also helps change the pH of the urine, making it harder for bacteria to grow.

How can I treat my dog's bladder infection at home?

Bladder infections in dogs should never be treated at home. Left medically untreated, a bladder infection can track to the kidneys and cause a life-threatening infection. If you think your dog has a bladder infection, you should take them to a veterinarian for treatment sooner rather than later.

How long does a bladder infection last in dogs?

If treated promptly, bladder infections in dogs usually clear up with 14 days of antibiotics. You should see a vast improvement within the first few days of treatment. You should always finish the course to make sure that the infection has completely cleared. If left untreated, a bladder infection can last for weeks or even months, and cause serious consequences.

What happens when a dog has a bladder infection?

When a dog has a bladder infection, bacteria replicate within the urine. As a response, the body sends bacteria-fighting white blood cells to the bladder, but this results in the bladder lining becoming sore and inflamed. The inflammation will make your dog feel the urge to urinate more frequently, even if they have no urine to void, and lick their genitals as those might also be sore. The infection and the discomfort can also make your dog feel unwell, especially if they develop a temperature. This can lead to feelings of malaise and not wanting to eat. If left untreated, the bacteria can make their way from the bladder up to the kidneys, which can cause serious implications.

When should I see a vet? 

If you’re worried that your dog has a urinary tract infection, then you should take him to a vet. You might notice signs such as pain, malaise, lack of appetite, frequent urination, lack of urine production, a change in the colour or smell of the urine, or discharge from the genitals. If there is no urine production at all, this is an urgent situation. But the other symptoms mentioned here also require veterinary attention within the following 24 hours.

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