What you need to know when it comes to urinary incontinence in dogs

5th March 2022

Urinary incontinence can often be a frustrating problem for pet parents. Every dog owner at some point
has had the dreaded wet sock moment when stepping in an undesirable puddle somewhere in the house.
If you’ve noticed this is becoming a frequent feature in your daily life, then it’s time to get some advice.
Urinary incontinence and inappropriate urination in dogs are not things you “need to get used to”.

Often your veterinarian can address the cause, and your socks won’t get caught short anymore! This article
considers urinary incontinence, how it differs from inappropriate urination, and what can be done to help.
Incontinence, polyuria/pollakiuria, inappropriate urination, or marking – what’s the
difference?

Urinary Incontinence

True urinary incontinence is the passive, involuntary leaking of urine from the bladder via the urethra (the
tube connecting the bladder to the outside) and out of the external genitals. It usually happens when a dog
is relaxed or lying down. There are several other types of urine leakage, which include:

● Overflow incontinence: resulting from the bladder becoming overfull and stretched.
● Anatomical abnormalities: when the urinary tract develops incorrectly, predisposing your dog to
urine leakage.

Polyuria and pollakiuria


“Polyuria” is the medical term for increased urine production, while “pollakiuria” is the term for increased
frequency of urination. Both can sometimes be confused with true incontinence as your pet may have
accidents in the home. Examples of mechanisms of increased frequency of peeing include:

● Urge incontinence: when the urinary tract becomes irritated, which stimulates increased frequency
of urination.
● Increased water intake or thirst: this leads to more urine production. Or the kidneys may make
more urine than usual, meaning your dog becomes thirstier to keep up with the water loss. Either
way, this usually causes an increased frequency of peeing.
Inappropriate urination
Peeing in the house doesn’t just have to happen due to true incontinence or a medical condition affecting
the urinary tract or water intake. Other possible causes of inappropriate urination include:
● Submissive or anxious behaviour
● Excitement
● Not enough house training: this can include ending training too soon, having unrealistic
expectations of puppies, or expecting a dog to comfortably hold urine for longer than they are able
(especially in young dogs).
● Conditions causing joint or back pain: this can make your pet less willing to get up to go outside and
so more likely to have accidents in the house.
● As your pet gets older, they may develop declines in brain function that mean they forget where to
go to the toilet.

Marking

Marking is a territorial behaviour. It is more common in intact male dogs or males neutered later on in life.

Other signs you might notice

Incontinence or changes to urination behaviour can present as a clinical sign in isolation but can also be
seen alongside many other clinical signs such as:

● Increased thirst
● Pain or straining when urinating
● Blood in the urine
● Changes in appetite – it may be increased or decreased
● Weakness in the back end, limping, or stiffness
● Licking back end

Causes of Incontinence

When thinking about the causes of incontinence and polyuria, it’s often helpful to split dogs into age
categories as some conditions are more likely to present in specific age groups:

Adult female dogs

Urinary sphincter mechanism incontinence (or USMI) is the most common cause of incontinence in adult
female dogs, especially in large breed dogs. USMI is when the valve that keeps urine within the bladder
becomes weak and becomes leaky. It appears this is more common in spayed female dogs, but the exact
reason for this is unclear.

Adult male dogs

In the adult, male dog problems with the prostate gland can lead to incontinence issues as the urethra
passes right through it. Female dogs do not have a prostate, so they are not affected. Adult male dogs can
also develop a perineal hernia condition (females can develop this, but it is much less common), where the
muscle and ligaments near the bottom rupture, and the bladder can move out of its normal position. This
can also cause urinary incontinence.

Young dogs

The most common cause of incontinence in puppies and young dogs is ectopic ureters. The ureters are the
tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder. “Ectopic ureters” is when these tubes attach to the
bladder in the wrong place. This defect is present from birth and often presents as continual dripping o
urine in young puppies.

Any age

Dogs of any age can be affected by conditions such as:

● Urinary infections
● Urinary tract damage
● Spinal problems – whilst disc disease and tumours are more likely in older animals, any problem
with the spine can lead to urinary issues.
● Urinary blockage
● Urine retention: this can be due to stress or fear for example
● Bladder stones
● Tumours of the urinary tract – again, these are more common in older dogs, but any age can be
affected. Tumours of the urinary tract are rare.
● Problems leading to increased thirst or urine production. This list is very long and covers everything
from hormonal diseases to kidney issues, behavioural disorders, and brain disease.

Treatment for Incontinence

Whether your dog has true incontinence or polyuria/pollakiuria the treatment varies largely depending on
the underlying cause. For example, urinary infections may need treatment with antibiotics, bladder
sphincter problems may benefit from medications, whilst “ectopic ureters” may need laser therapy or
surgery, and spinal problems may need surgery. Your veterinarian will recommend tests such as a urine
analysis, blood tests, imaging, or camera studies to diagnose the cause of your fur baby’s drippy bits and
then advise on appropriate treatment from there.

Inappropriate elimination, providing it is not a result of a medical problem, can often be addressed with
positive training techniques and the provision of house-training facilities such as real grass training pads.
When to visit your vet

It is essential to contact your veterinarian as soon as you notice your dog is developing any problems
peeing, including leaking urine. Your vet is likely to ask you to bring along a urine sample to the
appointment. This should be collected in a clean container as things like food contamination can lead to
false errors in urine test results. If you don’t have a suitable container at home, let your veterinarian know
– they will have easy-to-use collection devices.

Conclusions

Urinary incontinence is never a normal thing, even in older fur babies. It is important not to ignore the
problem if you are noticing wet patches around the house. Many of the causes of urinary incontinence are
treatable. It can be beneficial for your vet if you keep notes of the behaviour associated with incontinence
– for example, is it only when your dog is sleeping or excited? If a medical cause for your dog’s
incontinence has been ruled out, there is a wealth of information on toilet training your dog.

Unsure where to start? Speak to your veterinarian, who will advise where best to seek behavioural advice.

If you’re looking for more house-training advice, please check out our Training Tips.

By Dr. Emma Rogers-Smith, BSc(Hons) BA VetMB MRCVS