If your dog is unable to control their ability to hold their urine until they're outside, they're probably suffering from urinary incontinence. Still, there are slight differences between the symptoms of urinary incontinence and other problems with urination. Learn the facts for your dog here.
There are all sorts of reasons why a formerly house-trained dog can develop an incontinence problem, ranging from serious diseases and conditions to behavior issues. For middle-aged or senior dogs, incontinence is most likely an age-related condition that is the result of weakened muscles no longer capable of properly controlling the flow of urine. Bladder control is particularly affected when the dog is resting or sleeping. Regardless of the reason for your dog’s incontinence, be aware that your dog is not intentionally having accidents.
Since there is such a wide range of causes, it’s recommended that you visit the veterinarian to determine the cause and get proper treatment. Learn about some of the most common symptoms and causes of incontinence below.
Symptoms of Urinary Incontinence in Dogs
The main symptom of incontinent dogs is the inability to control urination. Dogs may leak urine or void in unusual places. They might trail urine while walking or leave behind wet spots where they were lying or sitting down. You might also notice that your pet is often damp around the hindquarters.
Most typically, you’ll spot urine in the area where your dog sleeps. Another very common symptom is that your dog will lick around their penis or vulva. The genital areas may also become red as a result of the licking. Discover more details on how to detect the symptoms of incontinence.
Possible Causes for Incontinence
Once a dog is house-trained, incontinence is most commonly observed in middle-aged or elderly dogs, which lose strength in the sphincter muscle with age. It’s particularly common with spayed females since they have a shortage of the hormone estrogen, which helps maintain the muscle tone of the sphincter. Some other potential causes of incontinence are:
- Diseases such as diabetes, kidney disease, or hypothyroidism: These diseases all lead to increased thirst and increased water drinking. With more water being ingested, dogs have a corresponding need to urinate more frequently, which can sometimes result in an inability to hold it properly and go to the appropriate place.
- Ectopic ureter: Although it’s not necessarily the most common cause, an ectopic ureter, or misaligned ureter which fails to connect the bladder and the kidneys properly, can also cause a dog to experience incontinence.
- Behavioral issues: Submissive urination is a stress-related cause of involuntary urination, which is characterized by the dog assuming a submissive (think: belly up) position while urinating. This may occur when your dog is scolded or confronted by a dog or person that the dog sees as an alpha. If the urination occurs when you come home or play with the dog and is not accompanied by a submissive position, it’s called excitement urination.
- Infections: Bladder infections or UTIs can cause incontinence as a side effect. Urine analysis and a course of medications will generally identify and treat these infections, and with the treatment, the symptoms of incontinence will dissipate.
Get more detailed information on the primary causes of incontinence in dogs.
Ruling Out Behavioral Issues
Before looking for a medical cause for your dog’s accidents, look for signs of a simpler explanation. For instance, your dog may not be completely house-trained: It can take a long time for certain puppies or adult dogs that are transitioning to a new environment to develop appropriate bladder and bowel control, and there may be setbacks after you think you’ve fully trained your dog.
In addition, dogs that urinate while assuming submissive postures, when over-excited, or to mark their territory are probably not incontinent. You will need to train dogs to overcome these behaviors, but your pet should not require any medical treatment.
Signs of Incontinence
Incontinent dogs often urinate while sleeping and at unrelated times throughout the day. You may also see your pet licking the genital area more frequently and notice scaling around the penis or vulva.
You should monitor your dog and alert your veterinarian immediately if the problem worsens. For instance, dogs that have a partially blocked urethra may start off leaking urine occasionally while still being able to urinate normally. Left untreated, however, your dog may begin to have problems passing urine and develop a full blockage, a condition usually fatal within a few days.
Diagnosis and Treatment:
When it comes to diagnosis, your vet will evaluate your dog based on the history you provide and run blood and urine tests accordingly. For instance, blood tests can determine if a bladder or urinary tract infection is causing the incontinence. Treatment can often be a matter of medication to strengthen the sphincter muscles or replenish hormones, such as Proin. Find out more about how vets will diagnose and treat incontinence.
Especially if your dog is older, you may assume that incontinence is just something that you and your pet have to accept, but it may actually point to a medical condition that your veterinarian can treat or help you manage. So talk with your veterinarian as soon as you start noticing accidents.
Your veterinarian will try to determine whether a lack of urinary control is a symptom of age-related degeneration, hormone deficiency, a bladder infection, nerve damage, or a disease that leads pets to consume excessive amounts of water. To pinpoint the cause, your veterinarian will likely first consider relevant factors such as:
- Age when incontinence started
- Time of day incontinence usually occurs
- Frequency of urination
- Whether your dog is in pain when urinating
- Age when a female dog was spayed if applicable
- Whether your pet can urinate normally
- History of surgeries or illnesses
- How much water your dog drinks daily
- Whether there are signs of nervous system problems
- Use of diuretics, anticonvulsants, prednisone, or other medications that can dilute urine
Your veterinarian will likely test your pet’s urine for an infection and may do a blood test to check for kidney damage or other diseases. In some cases, veterinarians will take X-rays or perform an ultrasound to rule out problems with the urinary tract. Either way, knowing and addressing the symptoms will help you find the right treatment for your dog's problems.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why has my dog become suddenly incontinent?
Veterinarians say that pet incontinence has many causes, including abnormalities in parts of the brain and spinal cord that control bladder function, birth defects, disease, and especially with age. As pets age, they may become incontinent because muscles that hold urine in the bladder weaken.
How do you fix urinary incontinence in dogs?
There is no way to fix urinary incontinence in dogs. There are several ways to manage it. This includes medications, waterproof pads, doggie diapers, proper hygiene, and frequent dog walking. Proper hygiene can prevent skin infections. Medications include phenylpropanolamine (PPA) which can strengthen the urethral sphincter, or estrogen or diethylstilbestrol (DES), which can act as hormone replacements.
How do I know if my dog has urinary incontinence?
Veterinarians say that the most common clinical signs of urethral incontinence are pooling or spotting urine underneath your dog while in a relaxed state.
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This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.