Diagnosing And Treating Urinary Incontinence In Dogs

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Urinary incontinence happens when a dog who’s usually house trained and able wait until they find an appropriate place to urinate loses control of their bladder.

Some dog owners believe that urinary incontinence is a natural result of aging and delay taking their dogs to the veterinarian. While many dogs do develop age-related problems, there are many other causes to consider, too.

Urinary incontinence is often easily treated, and the medications are not expensive, so the sooner you get your dog to the veterinarian, the better.

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Here are a few things you should know about urinary incontinence in dogs.

Causes Of Incontinence In Dogs

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Before you jump to conclusions, first make sure that your dog is indeed suffering from incontinence.

A dog who feels frightened or threatened may urinate. This is called submissive urination and it mainly affects young dogs. It is normally something they outgrow.

An unaltered (not neutered) male dog will mark his territory, or a dog may simply need more housetraining.

Sometimes age plays a part. For example, an older dog may be suffering from canine cognitive dysfunction and simply forgets their housetraining.

If all of these causes are ruled out, your dog will likely be diagnosed with urinary incontinence.

The first thing your veterinarian will do is perform a urinalysis and urine culture. The urinalysis finds certain cell types and biochemical elements in the dog’s urine, while the culture grows the bacteria in the urine for identification purposes and to test different antibiotics to see which one would be most effective in fighting that particular strain.

Most canine incontinence is caused by:

  • A urinary tract infection (usually a bladder infection)
  • A weak bladder sphincter (common in aging female dogs)
  • Excessive water consumption
  • Spinal cord disease

Bladder Infection

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A bladder infection is a common cause of urinary incontinence in young adult female dogs, and vets generally diagnos it with a urine culture, although signs of the infection will usually show up in the urinalysis.

In this case, the urine culture will confirm the diagnosis, identify the infecting bacteria and list the antibiotics that will be most effective in clearing the infection.

There are usually several choices of antibiotics and your veterinarian will choose the one most suited to your dog.

Dogs usually take one to three weeks of medication, after which they should have a second culture done to ensure that the infection is truly cleared up.

Incontinence caused by a bladder infection will sometimes show an improvement only a few days after treatment begins, but it is important to finish the entire regimen to avoid a recurrence.

Weak Bladder Sphincter

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Several factors, such as aging, obesity, and reduced sensitivity of receptors in the sphincter, can contribute to urinary incontinence in dogs.

It’s a common problem in older female dogs, with one in five dogs affected. This is also sometimes called spay incontinence and is believed to be caused by low estrogen levels.

Once a veterinarian rules out other conditions, they may treat the weak sphincter using one of several medications.

  • Estrogens. Estrogens help maintain neuroreceptors in the bladder sphincter. Without estrogens, a common problem in spayed females, receptors ignore the message to store urine, and it leaks out, often while sleeping. DES (diethylstilbestrol), is the most common estrogen for dogs. Although DES is no longer considered safe for humans, the low dosage for dogs is considered safe. The medication has to be ordered through a pharmacy. The normal dose is 1mg once a day for five days and then once every four to seven days after. Male dogs respond better to testosterones, but dogs must be watched for aggression, which is sometimes a side effect.
  • Alpha-Adrenergic Agonists. These medications increase the pressure of the bladder neck and help hold urine in the bladder. The most common medication for canine use is phenylpropanolamine, which comes in pill or liquid form. Side effects of the medication can include irritability, loss of appetite, anxiety, and blood pressure changes. Most dogs have few problems with side effects.

Your veterinarian may prescribe a combination of estrogens and alpha-adrenergic agonists in particularly resistant cases.

  • Anticholinergics. Anticholinergic drugs relax the muscles of the bladder, thus facilitating urine storage. Vets can use a human anti-anxiety drug, Imipramine, which has anticholinergic properties, in combination with phenylpropanolamine to treat canine incontinence, but they only use it in cases that don’t respond to traditional therapies.

Excessive Water Consumption

Some dogs consume such large quantities of water that their bladders simply cannot hold it all. Some owners are aware that their dogs are drinking a lot of water, but most are surprised when the urinalysis shows that the dog has diluted urine.

A vet can easily detect the problem through a measurement called “specific gravity” which compares the amount of dissolved biochemicals in the dog’s urine to pure water, which contains none.

A urine specific gravity approximately equal to the water confirms excessive water consumption. Your veterinarian will probably order blood tests to determine if your dog has an underlying disease that would cause them to drink excessively.

Some causes of excessive water consumption include:

There are other, less common causes, but a blood panel and urine culture will disclose the presence or prove the absence of 90 percent of them.

Unusual Causes Of Incontinence

The list of causes above has just scratched the surface of incontinence.

Some of the less common causes include:

  • Spinal damage, usually in the lower lumbar region
  • An infection located high in the urinary tract, usually of the kidneys or ureter
  • An ectopic ureter is an abnormally placed ending of the ureter. Instead of ending in the bladder, it drains into the urethra, the vagina, or the uterus, and the dog constantly dribbles urine. A vet can easily correct it with surgery.

Surgical Treatment For Urinary Incontinence In Dogs

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Treatment for urinary incontinence in dogs often depends on the underlying causes. Most cases can be handled with medication, lifestyle changes, or simple treatments that strengthen the bladder or correct issues that are causing incontinence.

Sometimes, however, these treatments fail to address the problem, and surgical options are necessary. Your veterinarian can answer any questions you may have about the best treatment for your dog.

Do not try to medicate your dog with consulting your veterinarian.

Here are a few other treatments your vet may use to treat urinary incontinence in your dog:

Colposuspension

Colposuspension is a surgical procedure that repositions the bladder neck of female dogs in the intra-abdominal cavity so that pressure from the wall muscles act simultaneously on both the bladder and the urethra. Thus, increased pressure on the bladder meets with increasing resistance from the urethra, enabling the dog to control herself.

There have been various studies of this surgery over the years, and most have shown a cure rate of approximately 45 to 50 percent and a marked improvement in roughly 75 percent of the remaining dogs.

This surgery is not a cure-all and many dogs will still need to take some form of medication for the rest of their lives.

Cystourethropexy

Cystourethropexy is the equivalent of the female surgery colposuspension, but it is for male dogs.

In this treatment, the surgeon tacks down the ductus deferens to compress the urethra, helping to hold in the urine. The surgeon may also tack down fibers from the urethral muscles in either male or female patients.

These two surgeries improve the conditions of approximately 50 percent of patients, but there is a high incidence of relapse with the passing of time, and medications are also necessary.

Doctors have recently been exploring the use of laparoscopic surgery, but to date, no studies have been carried out.

Has your vet ever treated your dog for urinary incontinence? Was the treatment effective? Let us know in the comments below!

Source: Adapted from the Veterinary Information Network, Inc.

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