by Jennifer Coates, DVM
Sometimes it’s hard to know when your dog isn’t feeling well, but urinary problems have a way of getting the attention they deserve. When dogs have blood in their urine, strain to urinate, produce abnormally small or large amounts of urine, or start having accidents in the house, it’s obvious that something is wrong. Let’s take a look at some common urinary problems in dogs and what can be done about them.
Bacterial urinary tract infections (UTIs) are most common in females but can occur in any dog. Bladder infections are relatively routine but the situation is more serious if the infection involves a dog’s kidneys.
A veterinarian may be able to diagnose a UTI based on your dog’s symptoms and a routine urinalysis but more complicated cases require blood work, a urine culture, or other diagnostic tests. Bladder infections usually respond well to treatment with an appropriate antibiotic. Kidney infections often require hospitalization for intravenous fluid therapy and antibiotics.
If urinary tract infections become a recurrent problem, your veterinarian will need to look for an underlying cause.
Stones (uroliths) can develop anywhere in a dog’s urinary tract but are most commonly found within the bladder. Large stones are usually visible on x-rays, but an abdominal ultrasound may be needed to find smaller ones.
Bladder stones can be composed of a variety of minerals, including struvite, calcium oxalate, and urate, and treatment recommendations will vary based on which type of stone is identified. For example, struvite stones can usually be dissolved by feeding dogs specific type of foods or giving them urinary acidifiers, but surgery is necessary to remove other types of stones.
Sometimes a stone will become lodged in the urethra, which complete prevents a dog from urinating. This is an emergency! If you think your dog has a urethral blockage, bring them to a veterinarian immediately.
Different types of cancer can affect all parts of a dog’s urinary tract, but transitional cell carcinoma (TCC) of the bladder is the most common. This is an aggressive, malignant cancer. It is commonly diagnosed through a combination of urinalysis, urine sediment cytology, bladder tumor antigen testing, x-rays and/or ultrasound, and tissue biopsy.
Treatment for TCC may involve surgery, chemotherapy, radiation treatment, and/or palliative care. Most dogs with TCC take the drug piroxicam because it relieves discomfort and also appears to slow the progression of the disease. It is important to understand that even the most aggressive forms of treatment will not cure TCC, but they can improve a dog’s quality of life and prolong survival.
Acute kidney failure occurs when infection, exposure to toxins (e.g., antifreeze), or other problems cause the kidneys to lose their ability to function over a short period of time. Chronic kidney failure occurs more gradually and oftentimes no specific cause can be identified.
Dogs with kidney failure often drink and urinate more than normal, become lethargic, stop eating, vomit, and lose weight. Later in the course of the disease, they may produce only small amounts of urine or stop urinating altogether. The results of blood work and a urinalysis can determine if a dog’s kidneys are functioning properly, but additional tests may be needed to identify an underlying cause.
Treatment for kidney failure depends on a dog’s specific condition but typically involves some combination of fluid therapy, special diets, and medications to treat the underlying cause or manage symptoms. Chronic kidney failure does get worse over time but the speed with which this happens can vary tremendously.
Urinary incontinence most commonly affects spayed, female dogs but can develop in any individual. It is usually caused by hormonal deficiencies that result in a loss of control of the urethral sphincter (the muscle that prevents urine from leaking out of the bladder), but structural or neurological problems can also be involved.
Dogs who are incontinent leak urine but otherwise appear to be normal. Mildly affected individuals may only occasionally leak small amounts of urine (particularly when they are sleeping). In extreme cases, affected dogs drip urine almost continuously. Dogs with incontinence can develop skin problems around their hind end as a result of urine scald, and are at higher risk for urinary tract infections.
Phenylpropanolamine (PPA) is the most common medication used to treat incontinence in dogs. Hormone replacement therapy is another option although it carries with it a higher risk of side effects. If medications do not adequately control a dog’s incontinence, a variety of surgical procedures are available. Which treatment is best depends on a dog’s specific circumstances.
Disease of the prostate gland is a relatively common cause of urinary symptoms in male dogs. Neutered dogs are at higher risk for prostatic cancer while intact individuals more commonly develop prostate gland infections or benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH). Dogs with prostatic disease may strain to urinate or defecate and have blood in their urine.
A veterinarian can usually feel whether a dog’s prostate gland is normal or enlarged with a digital rectal exam, but other tests may be necessary to identify the specific disease involved and plan appropriate treatment. Neutering is almost always curative when an intact male dog is diagnosed BPH. Prostatic infections may respond to prolonged antibiotic treatment but sometimes surgery is necessary to drain abscesses. Therapeutic options for prostatic cancer include surgery, radiation treatment, chemotherapy, and/or palliative care, but prognosis is generally poor.
Intact female dogs are at high risk for a uterine infection called pyometra. Pyometras most frequently develop in middle aged or older females approximately one to two months after their heat cycle has ended. A dog with pyometra will often urinate and drink more than normal and blood-tinged pus may drain from the vulva. Lethargy, depression, and vomiting are also common. The results of blood work, x-rays, abdominal ultrasound, and microscopic examination of a sample of cells swabbed from a dog’s vulva are used to confirm the diagnosis and plan appropriate treatment.
An emergency spay is the best treatment for pyometra. Individuals who are in poor condition may need fluid therapy, antibiotics, and other types of supportive care before surgery can be attempted. Pyometra is a fatal disease unless it is treated rapidly.
Cushing’s disease (hyperadrenocorticism) develops when a dog’s body is under the influence of abnormally high levels of cortisol. This can occur because of treatment with corticosteroid medications, a tumor of the pituitary gland, or adrenal tumors. Dogs with Cushing’s disease often urinate and drink more than normal, have tremendous appetites, and have poor quality coats, skin abnormalities, and a pot-bellied appearance.
Diagnosing Cushing’s disease is not always easy and can involve a number of different laboratory tests. Treatment depends on the underlying cause. Dogs receiving corticosteroids need to be slowly tapered off these drugs. Adrenal tumors can be surgically removed. Dogs with the pituitary form of the disease are usually treated with to trilostane or mitotane suppress cortisol production.
Diabetes mellitus is caused by insufficient insulin production by the pancreas (type one diabetes) or the inability of cells within the body to respond to normal concentrations of insulin (type two diabetes), either of which results in excessively high levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood and low levels of glucose within cells.
Typical symptoms of diabetes include increased urination and thirst, weakness, weight loss despite a good or even ravenous appetite, recurrent infections (especially of the urinary tract), and the development of cataracts. Over time, severe, uncontrolled diabetes can lead to dehydration, electrolyte abnormalities, and death. A veterinarian will usually diagnose diabetes based on a combination of an animal’s clinical signs, elevated blood glucose levels, and the presence of glucose in the urine.
Diabetic dogs are usually treated with insulin injections, dietary modifications, and sometimes oral medications.
Of course this isn’t an exhaustive list of all the possible causes of urinary problems in dogs. Other conditions can also make dogs urinate abnormally. If you suspect that your dog has a urinary problem, make an appointment with your veterinarian. Early diagnosis and treatment is the best way to quickly put your dog on the road to recovery.