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Urinary Incontinence in Dogs
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Urinary Incontinence in Dogs

Dogs
Health & Safety

If your previously house trained dog is urinating inappropriately, more often than usual or in the wrong place, it can be both frustrating and annoying, and you may be tempted to reprimand or punish your dog for doing so. But before you act impulsively in anger, remember that man's best friends generally dedicate their lives to the people that care for them, and try every day to make you happy- so they are highly unlikely to deliberately do something which they know will make you cross. Urinary incontinence in dogs can be indicative of any one of many potential health problems or care issues, and it's important to get to the bottom of the reasons why your dog is urinating inappropriately and take the relevant action accordingly- which is generally much more likely to be a trip to the vet and relevant treatment than a harsh word and banishment to the garden.

Understanding urinary incontinence

Urinary incontinence refers specifically to involuntary and uncontrollable urine leakage from the bladder, and is distinctly different from urination caused by a lack of house training, scent marking, or servile urination (where a submissive dog urinates out of fear, insecurity or excitement in the presence of another dog or person). A situation which often causes confusion often comes about in the case of older dogs- if the dog urinates inappropriately due to loss of bladder control in old age, this is classed as incontinence. If an older dog is urinating inappropriately due to encroaching senility causing the dog to forget their house training and when and where to go to the toilet, this is a different problem, and not classed as incontinence.

Causes of urinary incontinence in dogs

There are a whole range of potential causes of urinary incontinence in dogs, and it's important to work with the vet to find out the specific reason behind any given case, in order to respond accordingly. Some of the most common reasons and conditions responsible for urinary incontinence are detailed here.

  • A bladder infection can cause the dog to feel an uncontrollable urge to urinate frequently, and if left untreated for prolonged periods of time, lead to scarring of the bladder which causes it to become unable to stretch to hold urine and so, leads to the constant dribbling of urine.
  • Excessive water drinking can also cause incontinence, which could be due to a variety of reasons such as kidney problems, the onset of diabetes, hyperthyroidism or Cushing's disease.
  • Weakened bladder muscles due to aging can lead to urinary incontinence, and mean that your dog is unable to hold its water for the usual amount of time and will urinate inappropriately, more frequently, or lose control of their bladder unexpectedly.
  • Weakened sphincter muscles can occur for several different reasons, including obesity in the dog, old age and various other factors. This condition is particularly prevalent in female dogs, with one in five bitches contracting the condition as they age. Early spaying and neutering can be one of the causes of the condition, as early neutering halts the development of oestrogen production, which plays a part in bladder control and urination. Incontinence due to low oestrogen levels can begin to manifest at any time in your dog's life, from shortly after spaying or neutering is performed, up to many years later.
  • Spinal problems such as damage to the lower lumbar region or the pelvis, incorrect development of the spinal cord and muscles, and genetic predisposition to abnormal development can all affect your dog's control of their bladder. Incontinence problems in dogs are relatively common in the aftermath of acquired traumas such as road traffic accidents, and other injuries which damage the spine, pelvis or back legs.
  • Blockage of the urethra caused by stones or tumours can lead to incontinence, as the blockage may mean that the dog is unable to fully empty their bladder or pass water with ease.
  • Birth defects such as ectopic ureter, a rare condition where the ureters, which carry urine to the bladder from the kidneys, actually bypass the bladder due to abnormal development and instead connect up to the vagina or urethra, can lead to regular slow leakage of urine. This condition is especially prevalent in certain breeds, most notably the Siberian husky but also the miniature poodle, collie, corgi, Labrador, West Highland terrier and wire haired fox terrier. Generally this condition affects female dogs, and may affect either one or both ureters. If only one is affected, the dog will generally suffer from slight urinary incontinence but also be able to urinate normally. Where both ureters are affected, the dog will be unable to urinate normally at all.
  • There are a few other relatively rare conditions that can lead to incontinence in dogs, including a condition called vulvovaginal stenosis, a condition where the vagina lays at the same level as the narrowing of the ends of the urethra. This causes urine to collect in the vagina, and then leak out at a later stage. Due to the wide variety of potential causes for incontinence in dogs, it is important that your pet undergoes veterinary testing and diagnosis to reveal the cause of the problem and treat it accordingly.

Treatment options for urinary incontinence

Deciding on the best course of action and appropriate treatment for any particular dog depends on a wide range of variables, including the age and sex of the dog, general health, financial constraints, and the precise nature of the cause or condition. Depending on the definitive diagnosis your vet reaches, treatment options can range from antibiotics for infection, hormone treatments for incontinence caused by lack of appropriate oestrogen production, or surgical intervention to remove tumours or stones and correct abnormalities. Treatment of conditions such as diabetes which lead to incontinence as a secondary effect sometimes provide subsequent resolution of the problem too. In some cases, simply managing the condition at home and minimising the impact of the effects of incontinence is the recommended way to proceed.There is no 'one size fits all' solution, and often no quick or easy fix. Talk to your vet as soon as you notice a problem developing, in order to maximise the likelihood of a positive outcome and correction of the problem for yourself and your pet.

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