Urinary Incontinence in Dogs

Oh no - there is a wet spot on the bed!  Is that a urine smell on my dog's fur? Are they just acting out and being naughty, or is there something wrong? 

Many families may believe that when their dog starts to leak urine or have "accidents," it is a natural result of aging or a behavior issue. They may even delay going to see their veterinarian, and instead try to change their dog's behavior by trying to correct them when it happens. Or they try to change or manage the "accidents" by crating, withholding water (never withhold water because it can seriously harm your pet!) or increasing the frequency of taking them outside to urinate.  

There are many reasons that a dog can develop some degree of urinary incontinence during their life. It can happen at any age, but it is most often found in middle aged to senior aged dogs. And while male dogs can suffer urinary incontinence as well, it's more common in females. Whether it caused by old age, hormonal changes, or illness, a visit to your veterinarian is recommended.

Here is what you need to know: 

1. No matter the age of your dog, head to the veterinarian if he or she begins wetting the bed, leaking even a little urine, or having accidents in the house. 

It is important to rule out medical and behavior issues. Some dogs will urinate when frightened or feel threatened. This is called submissive urination. Some puppies will urinate when they get excited, and many will outgrow it. Some male dogs who are not neutered will mark their territory by urinating. Some need more house training. Your veterinarian can help determine if any of these things might be occurring.

Other times "accidents" may be caused by urinary tract infections or other conditions such as Cushing’s disease, kidney failure, diabetes or bladder stones.  Changes in drinking and urination can be symptoms of an undiagnosed serious condition such as diabetes.  Sometime "accidents" can be a secondary problem associated with a primary medical condition that once treated can help resolve urine issue. For example, dog with arthritis may be too painful to get up unassisted to go to an appropriate area to eliminate. Medications and other aids can help with this.  Do not wait to visit your veterinarian. Early diagnosis means an earlier plan for treatment and a better outcome.

2. If no other medical problem is identified, and your dog is diagnosed with incontinence related to age, hormonal issues, or similar causes not secondary to a treatable condition, there are medications and management strategies that can help. 

What is urinary incontinence? Urinary incontinence occurs when a housetrained dog loses control of their bladder. This can range in severity from occasional small urine leaks to inadvertent voiding of a large amount of urine.

What are some common causes of urinary incontinence?

  • A urinary tract infection (usually a bladder infection)
  • A weak bladder sphincter (common in aging female dogs)
  • Excessive water consumption
  • Spinal cord disease, injury or degeneration
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Urinary stones
  • Prostate disorder
  • Presence of other diseases, such as diabetes, kidney or Cushing’s
  • Congenital abnormalities
  • Certain medications

What are common symptoms of urinary incontinence?

Dripping urine, which can irritate the skin and cause redness, is one of the most recognizable symptoms of incontinence, as is excessive licking of the vulva or penis area. Families may also notice the area where the dog sleeps has wet areas of urine (may be smaller quarter size areas or larger areas where they have released the full bladder). It is important to note whether your dog is urinating intentionally or dribbling, and whether she is awake or asleep  when it happens.

What will my veterinarian do to determine if my dog has urinary incontinence?

Your veterinarian will give your dog a physical exam, discuss what you are seeing at home and may recommend running a urinalysis and urine culture. They may recommend an ultrasound of your dog's bladder to look for abnormalities (such as growths or stones). They may take a sterile sample of the urine directly from the bladder to test the urine for infection. A sterile sample will allow the veterinarian to determine infection without contamination from the lower urinary tract. They may recommend radiographs or checking blood tests for underlying medical concerns. Your veterinarian will discuss concerns, their recommendations and treatment plans.  

How is urinary continence treated?

Depending on the underlying cause or if disease is present, your veterinarian  will recommend an appropriate course of treatment. Medications can often be effective to manage this condition and help prevent daily accidents. Your veterinarian can discuss the medication options for treatment. Some medications can help empty the bladder fully, and others can tighten the urethral sphincter directly or with hormone therapy to help control the leaking of urinary incontinence.  In cases of incontinence due to bladder stones, a protruding disc or congenital abnormality, surgery may be recommended. 

How Can I Manage Urinary Incontinence?

  • Use waterproof pads (washable or disposable) under the bedding to absorb any moisture.  Layer clean blankets and towels in your dog’s favorite sleeping spots.
  • Maintain clean bedding, change daily or as needed.
  • Consider using doggie diapers (for females) or belly bands (for males), which are available at many pet stores or online.
  • Take your dog for more frequent walks, including first thing in the morning and shortly after they wake from a nap.
  • Encourage your dog to empty their bladder right before bedtime,which can help control or even prevent nighttime accidents.
  • Please consult with your vet before limiting your dog’s water intake.
  • Provide proper hygiene to prevent any related skin infections. It's essential that the dog is kept impeccably clean, as skin irritations and "urine scalding" can develop, causing extreme discomfort and infection. 
  • Always monitor your dog's condition, since it can quickly accelerate to infection, especially in elderly dogs.

Your veterinarian at Animal Hospital of North Asheville can help with incontinence diagnosis and treatment so you and your dog don’t have to live with wet spots in the bed or around the house.