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 any more! 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?
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Common Causes of Incontinence in Dogs
Take a look at a quick overview of some of the most common causes of urinary incontinence in dogs:
- Urinary tract infection
- Anatomic abnormalities
- Weak bladder
- Spinal injury or degeneration
- Inherited medical condition that occurs at or before birth
- Hormonal imbalance
- Prostate disorders
Urinary Incontinence in Dogs
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
● 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 is a territorial behaviour where male dogs will release a small amount of urine on an upright object. It is more common in intact male dogs or males neutered later on in life. Marking is unfortunately something that male dogs instinctively do. There are a couple of things you can do to discourage your male dog marking, and hopefully stop marking in the house.
- Clean the mark
- Block off marked items
- Interrupt your dog in the act
Concerned about the general health of your pooch? Take a look at our Expert Guide on How to tell if your puppy is healthy.
Other signs you might notice
Incontinence or changes in 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 in Dogs
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.
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 of urine in young puppies.
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
● 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 in Dogs
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 urinalysis, 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.
Urinary Incontinence in Dogs – Final Thoughts
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 and how you can move forward.
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