What Is a Urinary Problem in a Dog?
A dog’s urinary tract consists of the kidneys, ureters, urinary bladder, and urethra. These anatomical parts of the urinary tract are located inside the abdomen as well as in an area in the back of the abdomen called the retroperitoneal space.
The urinary tract has many functions, some of the most important include filtering the blood to remove toxins, maintaining balance of electrolytes (such as sodium and potassium), and reabsorbing water for the body. Urine is created as a waste by-product. Unfortunately, problems can occur at any of the areas along the urinary tract. Problems of the urinary tract can range from an uncomplicated infection to serious cancers
Urinary Tract Infection in Dogs
Urinary tract infection or “UTI,” is a general term most often used to describe infection of the lower part of the urinary tract (the urinary bladder and/or urethra). Urinary tract infections can cause straining to urinate, blood in the urine, frequently urinating small volumes only or urinating in inappropriate places. Urinary tract infections are common in dogs and can be caused by many different types of bacteria. Urinary tract infections can also occur secondary to an underlying problem such as urinary crystals, stones, or cancers.
Urinary Bladder Infection in Dogs
Urinary bladder infections are also common in dogs and typically are treatable and curable. A UTI can be painful and require a prescription medication to resolve. Some dogs with a urinary bladder infection will drink more water. Therefore, it is important to monitor your dog’s drinking and urinary habits.
Lower Urinary Tract Disease in Dogs
“Lower urinary tract disease” is a general term that can describe multiple problems of the bladder and/or urethra. Some dogs experience infection, while others can have inflammation without infection (sterile cystitis). The symptoms are similar for both issues, but are treated differently, depending on the cause. Many dogs will drink more, strain to urinate, pass blood in their urine, or have accidents in the house.
Urinary Bladder Stones in Dogs
Stones that develop in a dog’s urinary bladder can become an emergency, if left untreated. When first formed in the body, they may go unnoticed for some time. However, if a stone from the urinary bladder moves to the urethra (which has a much smaller diameter), it can become stuck and block the flow of urine.
This can cause the urinary bladder to overfill and rupture, causing dogs to become septic and die from urine leakage inside the abdomen. Many dogs with urinary bladder stones will strain to urinate or attempt to urinate repeatedly but pass only small amounts of urine.
Urinary Bladder Cancer in Dogs
The most common type of cancer that develops in the urinary bladder in dogs is called transitional cell carcinoma. It most often develops in an area of the bladder called the trigone, where urine exits the bladder into the urethra to be voided. This painful cancer can cause symptoms such as straining to urinate, blood in the urine, and urinating small volumes at a time.
Urinary Incontinence in Dogs
Urinary incontinence is a common urinary problem seen most often in female dogs, but it can also occur in males. Urinary incontinence typically is seen as leaking of urine (large or small volumes) where the pet has been lying. Urinary incontinence often results from weak sphincter muscle tone at the urinary bladder.
Kidney Failure in Dogs
There are many causes of kidney failure in dogs, including injury, infection, toxins, some medications, and cancer. Ultimately, when the kidneys can no longer perform their function, dogs struggle with multiple symptoms. Typically, dogs suffering with kidney failure have a decreased appetite, often urinate large amounts of urine, experience possible weight loss, and may have episodes of vomiting and/or diarrhea.
Less Common Urinary Tract Conditions in Dogs
Diseases of the urinary tract in dogs that can have similar symptoms—but are less common—include pyelonephritis (kidney infection), kidney stones, proteinuria, neurologic conditions affecting the urinary bladder (atony), and problems of the ureters or urethra (e.g., strictures, diverticulum).
Diseases that start in other body systems, but may show signs in the urinary tract, include prostate diseases in male dogs, pyometra in female dogs, Cushing’s disease (hyperadrenocorticism), diabetes mellitus, and diabetes insipidus.
Symptoms of Urinary Issues in Dogs
As a pet parent it’s important to know your pet’s normal patterns and behaviors when drinking, eating, urinating, and defecating. For pets that live in multiple-pet households and share the same bowl for water, it can be difficult to tell, so you may need to temporarily separate your pets to determine what is normal and abnormal for each.
The most common symptoms of urinary issues in dogs are related to the amount of water consumed (too much or too little) and abnormal urination patterns such as straining to urinate, urinating small or large volumes, having urinary accidents, or having blood present in the urine.
Causes of Urinary Issues in Dogs
Urinary issues in dogs are common and many are treatable. Dogs of all ages, breeds, and sizes, as well as both male and female dogs, get urinary issues. Sometimes the cause can be prevented with proper hygiene and weight management. Other times, genetics, diet, and lifestyle play a role in the development of urinary issues.
How Veterinarians Diagnose Urinary Issues in Dogs
Many types of urinary problems have similar symptoms. However, treatment is different based on the cause of the issue, so it is important to make a proper diagnosis. Your veterinarian will likely order some tests to aid in determining the cause.
Initially, a urinalysis test is performed to examine your pet’s urine. This urine sample needs to be fresh. Sometimes, your veterinarian may also analyze bloodwork, submit urine for culturing, take X-rays, or use an ultrasound to better evaluate your pet’s urinary problem. Most of these tests can be done with your regular veterinarian, but in some cases pets may need to be referred to an internal medicine specialist for more advanced testing like an endoscopy or biopsy sampling.
Treatment of Urinary Problems in Dogs
Depending on the issue, treatment can range from a short course of medication or dietary changes to surgical intervention. When you notice any urinary issues, it is best to seek the help of your veterinarian as soon as possible to determine a diagnosis and initiate appropriate therapy.
Recovery and Management of Urinary Issues in Dogs
Many urinary issues can be resolved with therapy, and your dog can get back to its normal activities. If your veterinarian recommends follow-up testing after a course of medications, it is important to complete this step to make sure that the problem is stabilized, improving, or completely cleared. When your dog has its annual exam, make sure to discuss any changes in eating, drinking, and eliminating with your veterinarian.
Try to keep your pet at a proper weight and follow strict hygiene, as long hair/mats around the urogenital area can contribute to urinary problems. Occasionally when a pet has diarrhea, it can lead to urinary issues, as the rectum and vulva in females are near each other. Be sure your pet has access to clean, fresh drinking water at all times.
Some people even choose to use bottled water for their pets with urinary problems. There are some diets and supplements based on promoting urinary health that can be beneficial. However, different urinary problems require different approaches to maintain bladder health, so always work with your veterinarian before starting any therapy, including diets and supplements.
Veterinary Information Network. Urinary Tract (Bladder) Infection in Dogs and Cats. July 2021.
Veterinary Information Network. Cystotomy for Bladder Stones in Dogs and Cats. January 2022.
Featured Image: iStock.com/Andrii Zastrozhnov
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