A Veterinarian Outlines Signs and Treatments for Urinary Incontinence in Dogs

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Are you noticing urine puddles on the floor or wet spots on your dog's bed? Even if your dog is young or middle-aged, it's possible they have urinary incontinence. Read on to learn more about this condition that mostly affects female dogs but can also affect male dogs.

What is dog incontinence?

Urinary incontinence in dogs is when a dog leaks urine.‌ This is not something they have control over, and it can be caused by a variety of medical conditions. It occurs when either their urinary sphincter isn't tight enough and urine leaks out or their bladder is weak and doesn't empty completely. Urine may then leak out. Medical conditions that cause frequent urination can make a mild case of incontinence worse.

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What causes urinary incontinence in dogs?

There are many reasons for urinary incontinence, ranging from low estrogen to anatomical abnormalities.

Underlying causes of canine urinary incontinence are:

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  • Anatomic abnormalities, such as ectopic ureter, which is the most common cause in young dogs. Dogs who have trouble with house training should be evaluated for an ectopic ureter.
  • Hormonal imbalance (e.g., estrogen deficiency) can cause a weak urinary sphincter (known as urethral sphincter mechanism incompetence, or USMI). This is the most common cause of canine urinary incontinence in female dogs. It tends to occur within a few years of spaying.
  • Trauma
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Neurological defects and diseases
  • Intervertebral disk disease
  • Vertebral fracture or displacement
  • Urinary tract infection (UTI) or inflammation (cystitis)
  • Bladder stones
  • Breed predisposition, including Dobermans and boxers
  • Kidney disease
  • Cushing's disease
  • Obesity
  • Cancer or a tumor, such as in the bladder
  • A weak bladder (more common in male dogs)

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Caring for an incontinent dog can be difficult, but the key is to develop a strict feeding and bathroom schedule. Such a schedule combined with regular diaper changes or manual bladder expression (depending on the dog's precise needs) will help to prevent infection, discomfort, and illness.

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Though other parts of your dog's schedule may become more regimented, water should never be withheld or limited. Your dog should have access to fresh drinking water at all times.

Signs of urinary incontinence in dogs

If your dog has any of these symptoms, they might have urinary incontinence:

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  • The dog bed or your couch has urine spots on them.
  • Your dog dribbles urine.
  • Your pet smells of urine.
  • Your dog is licking their genital area a lot.
  • There is urine scalding on their belly or hind legs.

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How to care for an incontinent dog

Depending on the reason for your dog's incontinence, they may only need medication, or they might need more intensive care, such as surgery and ongoing diaper changes. Your pet's treatment may be temporary or long term depending on their condition.

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Visit your veterinarian

The cause of the incontinence must be diagnosed. Your veterinarian will do a physical exam and run a urinalysis. They may also do a urine culture, blood tests, and radiographs (X-rays.) X-rays can often show if bladder stones are present.

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Treatment depends on the underlying cause. Something simple, like an uncomplicated bladder infection, can be treated with antibiotics. Spinal-cord injuries and some other conditions, on the other hand, may be associated with chronic incontinence despite surgery and medication. For dogs who are incontinent due to hormonal reasons, medical treatment may include phenylpropanolamine or estrogen supplementation. In some cases, collagen may be injected around the urethra to tighten it.

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Get clear on your dog's needs

Ask the veterinarian about your dog's specific needs and bathroom abilities. Depending on the cause of the incontinence, the dog may have no control over urination or other functions. For example, a dog who has suffered a spinal cord injury will be unable to initiate bathroom activities. Therefore, manual bladder expression will be required.

Learn to express the bladder

If manual expression is required for an incontinent dog, your veterinarian will provide you with lessons and detailed instructions on how to perform this procedure. Do not attempt to express your dog's bladder unless you have been properly trained by a veterinarian.

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Establish a diaper change schedule

Once you get your dog home, be prepared to assist them with a diaper change or bladder expression every four to six hours. However, change diapers whenever soiling occurs. In the beginning, setting a timer can be a good way to stay on schedule.

Leaving a dog with a soiled diaper or a full bladder will result in serious infections and discomfort, which can be painful and difficult to heal. Frequent diaper use can increase the risk of urine scald and skin infection because the skin is constantly damp.

Make arrangements if you cannot be present to assist your dog with their bathroom activities. A dog walker can be hired and trained to assist an incontinent dog while you're at work.

Have a feeding schedule

Implement a regular feeding schedule. A dog who eats at the same times every day will typically need to go to the bathroom at the same times every day. This makes it much easier to anticipate the dog's needs, resulting in less time for the animal to suffer through a dirty diaper or a full bladder that's in need of expression.

Clip fur from the hind legs

For a dog who requires diapering, trim or shave the fur around the genitals, on the inside of the rear legs, and on the rear portion of the underbelly. This will prevent the urine from soaking into the fur, resulting in prolonged contact with the skin — a common cause of infection and skin rashes.

Keep your dog's skin clean

Keep your dog's skin and fur clean and dry. Gently wash their genital area daily and as needed. Dry them with a clean towel afterward.

During a dog's diaper changes, use an unscented baby wipe to clean the genitals, underbelly, and any other regions that have come in contact with urine or feces.

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If redness, irritation, or a skin rash occurs, seek veterinary advice. Your veterinarian may prescribe a cream or other treatment to clear it up. Every day, make sure to leave some time when your dog doesn't have the diaper on. This allows the skin to dry, which reduces the chance of an infection developing.

Keep your dog's bedding clean

Always check an incontinent dog's bed and other sleeping areas on a daily basis. Leakage can occur, resulting in soiled bedding. Launder bedding as needed.

Some dogs do not do well with disposable diapers due to an improper fit. For a better, more customized fit, opt for a fabric diaper garment, which uses sanitary napkins to absorb urine. The fabric diaper garment can be altered at home or by a tailor. If you use fabric diaper garments, purchase two or three of them. This will allow your dog to have access to a clean diaper when laundering is required.

Other medical conditions to watch for

If your dog is showing signs of a bladder infection, such as frequent urination, painful urination, blood in the urine, tender belly, fever, or poor appetite, bring them to the veterinarian right away. Incontinent dogs are prone to bladder, kidney, and urinary tract infections.

Skin infections can be difficult to heal in an incontinent dog. So if a dog's skin rash or skin sore does not improve within a day or if the lesion appears to be worsening, bring them to the veterinarian as soon as possible. Prescription antibiotics are often necessary in order to heal a skin infection.

The bottom line

If your dog is dripping urine or you're finding wet spots on your dog's bed, take them to your veterinarian to be evaluated. It's possible they have urinary incontinence (trouble with bladder control) due to an underlying medical condition. Senior dogs aren't the only ones who can develop this issue. Young and middle-aged dogs can as well. There are many causes of urinary incontinence, such as a weak bladder sphincter due to low estrogen levels after a female dog is spayed. After making a diagnosis, your veterinarian will devise a treatment plan to help manage your pet's urine leakage.

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