Why Pets Pee: Recognizing a Problem and Promoting a Healthy Urinary Tract
"Why pets pee" sounds like the amusing title of an educational children’s book, yet pet owners are often faced with the uncomfortable reality of Fido or Fluffy’s urinary mannerisms.
People often take their pet’s normal house training habits for granted once good patterns have been successfully established. Any alteration typically provides sufficient impetus for better appreciating the complicated nature of urinary tract health.
Pets urinate based on both their physiologic need to eliminate waste, and for the behavioral tendency to mark their territory. The internal plumbing is complicated, so here’s my attempt at a simplistic explanation:
In producing urine, the kidneys (nature gave us two) filter the blood to remove metabolic waste and manage the body’s hydration. The ureters (one for each kidney) transport urine from the kidneys to the bladder for storage. Distention of the bladder to an uncomfortable threshold is the stimulus for your pet to sniff out an appropriate location to void its bladder. Urinary posture preludes the flow of urine through the urethra (the tube connecting the bladder to the outside world), as permitted by the opening of the urethral sphincters.
Marking behavior is a more complicated process motivated by the biological urge to leave pheromone enhanced urine around the environment animals share with humans and other pets. My dog’s drive to lift his leg to produce a minuscule drop of urine capable of only metaphorically covering another dog’s chosen spot continually astounds me.
As urinary patterns are based primarily on physiology and secondarily on behavior, we also must recognize that abnormal urination nearly always has an underlying medical cause meriting further evaluation by your veterinarian.
Clinical signs of urinary tract disease include:
- Increased or decreased water consumption and urinary volume or frequency
- Urinating in unusual locations
- Vocalizing or straining to urinate
- Color changes
- Presence of a foul smell or the complete absence of odor
- Excessive grooming of external genitalia
- Anorexia (decreased appetite)
- Lethargy (decreased energy or activity)
Metabolic diseases such as kidney failure, diabetes, and Cushing’s disease all cause increased water consumption, which leads to larger volume and more frequent urination. Dehydration and lack of water consumption yield decreased urine output.
Your pet may urinate in an unusual location due to bladder inflammation caused by the presence of bacteria, crystals, or calculi (bouncing around like a "stone in a water balloon"). Vocalizing, straining to urinate, and overindulgent self grooming of the penis or vulva are signs associated with urinary tract pain.
Urine color changes are often alarming (especially when light covered fabrics are soiled), and are attributed to a variety of severe diseases. A scarlet tinge or blood clots in the urine indicate the presence of red blood cells — commonly occurring with bladder irritation or cancer. A dark yellow to green colored urine results from bilirubin spilling into the kidneys, which can be brought about by the destruction of red blood cells within the circulatory system (as seen with Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia), and liver or gall bladder disease. Muscle fibers damaged by severe overexertion causes the release of myoglobin into the blood, which the kidneys filter out to create a chocolatey brown urinary hue.
Foul smelling urine can indicate a bacterial urinary tract infection (not just "stinkle," as often experienced after eating asparagus), while lack of smell (or color), as seen with dilute urine, is seen with metabolic diseases (kidney failure, etc.).
Should your pet urinate abnormally, veterinary evaluation and laboratory testing must be immediately pursued. A sterile urine sample should be collected by cystocentesis (a needle placed directly into the bladder through the abdominal wall) for a urinalysis, culture and antibiotic sensitivity, and possibly other testing. Using an ultrasound to visualize the bladder and safely aid cystocentesis yields additional valuable information. Discovering a thickened bladder wall, crystals (like snowflakes floating around a snow globe), or even calculi may alter the course of treatment.
Management of your pet’s urinary tract disease should be based on a clinical conclusion established by diagnostic testing, but pain medication, acupuncture and activity restriction can relieve discomfort while tests are pending.
What can you do to maintain or improve the functioning of your pet’s urinary tract? My top holistic health tip is to promote hydration. More water consumption means a higher volume of toxin flushing urine will be produced. Additionally, an increased outward directional flow reduces the likelihood of urinary tract infection from bacteria that opportunistically ascend from the perineal skin (the area between the anus and vulva/scrotum).
Just how much water your pet should consume each day depends on its degree of activity, environmental conditions, state of health or illness, and format of food consumed. A moist, complete and balanced, nutrient dense whole food diet (instead of one based on desiccated kibble) also provides additional water and natural anti-oxidants to combat inflammation, as it helps to maintain a highly functioning immune system.
Finally, don’t take your pet’s healthy urinary habits for granted. When urination occurs at the right place and the right time, make sure to lend praise by saying, "Good pee."
Dr. Patrick Mahaney