It's likely that your dog lets you know when they need to go outside for a potty break. They might stand by the door or stare at you until you get off the couch and grab their harnesses. Then as soon as they walk out, they start peeing. But then, they pee all along the walk too. How do they do this? Is peeing and urine marking different?
It is different. Peeing empties their bladder, while urine marking is all about leaving a scent trail. There could be some medical causes for urinating too, especially when it's accidental, such as a urinary tract infection.
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The frequency of a dog's need to empty their bladder will vary based on the size of the dog. Naturally, a smaller dog will have a smaller bladder, and will need to urinate more frequently than a larger dog. Other factors that influence how long a dog can go without peeing are age, general health, and their diet.
Anatomy of a dog peeing
It's estimated that dogs pee approximately 10 to 20 ml per pound of body weight. That means a 20-pound dog will pee about 6.5 ounces per day on the low end. That's not a lot, but their bladders can only hold so much at a time. A puppy can only hold their bladder for up to three hours, while a senior dog may only be able to hold off on urinating for about the same amount of time.
An adult dog may be able to go without urinating for up to eight hours. But even though they may be able to go that long without urinating, that doesn't mean they should. There's an urgency in dogs to empty their bladder when they first go outside, but some dogs do "save" some urine to use for the purpose of urine marking by not completely emptying their bladder when they urinate so they ''save'' some urine for the purpose of marking.
Male dogs and female dogs pee slightly differently — males lift a leg and females squat. A 2004 study in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science found that male dogs urinate more frequently than females, and male dogs tend to direct their urine at specific objects in the environment. The study concluded that urinating is more specifically about emptying their bladder in female dogs, while in male dogs it also has an important function of scent marking.
Urine marking in a dog
Regular urination has the purpose of emptying the bladder. Urine marking, on the other hand, is meant to leave a scent trail. As dogs move along on their walk, many male dogs have an uncontrollable urge to label what they pass with their pee, so they do "save" some of their pee for marking. Marking may look like a lot of urine, but it's really not that much and the volume is a lot less than when dogs actually relieve themselves.
Dogs mark on the territory that they want to claim as their own. It's a way of setting their boundaries so that other dogs know it's claimed. Dogs mark along their walk to leave a trail that's simply to let other dogs know they've been there. Other dogs can perceive the dog's sex, age, rank, whether they're in heat or not (for female dogs), and more, just from the urine's scent. Neutered male dogs will still scent mark, but will do it less often. Female dogs who are not spayed will use urine marking to advertise their readiness for sex when they're in heat. Once spayed, they are much less likely to scent mark.
Dogs may use urine marking to over up other scents that stress them out. For instance, if an aggressive dog visited your yard and marked, your dog may mark to cover it up. They frequently mark on things that are new to the home, so it may happen when you have visitors or bring new furniture into the home or yard. Dogs may also urinate if they are excited or anxious.
A 2016 study called "Scent marking in shelter dogs: Effects of body size," that was also published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science observed the urination habits in the first 20 minutes of walking in 281 mostly mixed breed shelter dogs of different sizes. They recorded whether the dogs directed their urination at a specific target or not. The study found that smaller dogs marked more often than medium or large dogs and that they were more likely to direct their urine at targets compared to large dogs. The researchers did note that smaller dogs have a smaller bladder capacity, but they also said this didn't explain the much higher frequency of targeted urination. They explained targeted urination as urination that occurred after sniffing a spot on the ground or on some other surface.
Medical causes for dog urinating
Medical causes can be a reason for a dog urinating frequently or in strange places. Something like urinary tract infections can cause a dog to urinate in the house. Diabetes, kidney disease, and Cushing's disease are medical causes that should be ruled out.
If urine is leaking out, that could mean incontinence related to age or another problem. Sometimes, medications can cause irregular peeing. Dogs are creatures of habit, so a change in daily schedule or household routine, or a new member of the household can cause a dog to urinate out of anxiety, inability to hold their urine, or to add their scent to the house through urine marking.
A dog who goes outside for a potty break may not release all their urine when they first start peeing. In fact, they may empty their bladder but "save" some for urine marking. There is a difference between urinating, which is a bodily function to empty their bladder, and urine marking, which is done specifically for the purpose of leaving a scent message. Male dogs and female dogs both will use urine marking, but male dogs are much more likely to do it. There can also be medical causes for irregular peeing, including urinary tract infections.
- Homes Alive Pet Centre: How Long Can Dogs Hold Their Pee?
- Applied Animal Behaviour Science: Urinary Behavior of Female Domestic Dogs (Canis familiaris)
- Pet Helpful: How to Tell If a Dog Is Marking or Urinating
- Applied Animal Behaviour Science: Scent Marking in Shelter Dogs: Effects of Body Size
- VCA Hospitals: Dog Behavior Problems - House Soiling