Though bladder infections are common in dogs, most are cleared up with a course of prescribed antibiotics and sometimes pain medication. But symptoms of several other serious urinary tract problems closely resemble those of bladder infections, especially in the early stages. That's why it's important to familiarize yourself with the characteristic signs of bladder infection in dogs and always have your dog checked out by a veterinarian. Sudden onset of symptoms should be considered a medical emergency and a danger to dog health.
Causes of bladder infections in dogs
All urinary tract infections involve some type of bacteria, such as E. coli. In addition to bacteria, there are several common causes of bladder infections in dogs, including the following:
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- Bladder stones
- Bladder tumors
Human and canine urinary systems function in much the same way. After urine is produced in the kidneys, it flows down tubes called ureters into the bladder. This organ, near the back of a dog's abdomen, is capable of expanding like a balloon. The fuller a dog's bladder gets, the more urgently they feel the need to empty it. Healthy urine, which is sterile, leaves the body through a tube called the urethra.
However, harmful bacteria from the outside can use the urethra as a doorway into the body. From this urinary opening, the bacteria travel up to the bladder, causing infection to set in and threatening your dog's wellness. In female dogs, the urethra is closer to the microbe-laden rectal and genital areas than in male dogs, making female dogs more susceptible to these bladder infections.
What is a bladder infection in dogs?
Cystitis is a catch-all term for bladder inflammation. Infection is the most common of all possible causes, but others include the following:
- Sharp-edged bladder stones
- Malignant or benign growths
- Prostate disease in males
- Congenital abnormalities
Adrenal disease and diabetes also increase the risk that a dog will develop bladder infections, as do medications such as corticosteroids, which depress the body's immune system, and antibiotics. As dogs age, they become increasingly susceptible to cystitis. Sterile cystitis can cause the same symptoms as an infection even though no infection is present.
Signs of bladder infections in dogs
Monitoring your dog for behavioral changes is a good way to detect health issues, including bladder infections. Signs of canine bladder infections include the following:
- Blood in urine
- Visible pain while urinating
- Urinating small, frequent amounts
- Cloudy or strong-smelling urine
- Accidents indoors and incontinence
- Low energy
- Increased water consumption
Bladder infection symptoms your veterinarian should check out
Inflammation of the walls of the bladder triggers the urge to urinate even if little or no liquid has accumulated. Consequently, the most common indication that something is not right is seeing your dog frequently squatting and straining to urinate without much coming out. When urine is produced by a dog with an infected bladder, it's often tinged with blood or is cloudy rather than clear. The dog's urine often has a strong odor.
Other warning signs include:
- Losing bladder control in the house
- Dribbling urine
- Constant licking of the genital area
- Increased thirst
If you notice such symptoms in your dog, call your veterinarian immediately. Providing a urine sample might be required for diagnostic testing in addition to blood work. When scheduling your dog's appointment, ask them if you should try to collect a urine sample or if they prefer to collect it there.
When bladder infection symptoms in dogs indicate a medical emergency
If left untreated, bladder and urinary tract infections (UTI in dogs) can become life-threatening. If your dog is feverish and has a swollen, tender abdomen or is crying and whimpering in pain and unable to pass urine, seek emergency medical help immediately.
If a bladder infection spreads to the kidneys, which is called pyelonephritis, this issue is serious. Those organs, which are essential for life, can shut down, also called kidney failure. Bladder stones are a double threat because they can cause infections and blockage. If stones block the urethra and prevent urination, the bladder can overfill to the point of rupture. One way or another, blockages must be cleared immediately.
Treating symptoms of bladder infection in dogs
The treatment options your veterinarian recommends will depend on the nature and severity of the problem and the underlying causes. If they diagnose a bladder infection based on examination and urinalysis, the standard treatment is a one- or two-week course of antibiotics. Chronic or severe cases may take longer to clear up. Dogs with recurring UTIs should be checked for bladder stones or crystals as well as bladder cancer.
If your veterinarian suspects bladder stones, tumors, or other abnormalities, they'll likely want X-rays or ultrasound images of your dog's abdomen. If the situation has become life-threatening, immediate surgery to remove any blockage might be the only option.
However, if time permits, a nonsurgical procedure using sound waves to pulverize the stones might be a better choice but will likely require a referral to a specialist. Prescription diets that dissolve stones take much longer but if the stones are small, it's a reasonable and readily available option.
The bottom line
Bladder infections in dogs can lead to very serious medical conditions, such as kidney disease. The earlier infections are diagnosed and treated, the better. That's why it's important to watch for signs of bladder infection in dogs. Symptoms of canine bladder infections include but are not limited to difficulty urinating, blood in the urine, frequent urination, and accidents in the house. Contact your DVM if you notice any or all of these symptoms.