Urinary incontinence in dogs

Urinary incontinence, or the involuntary passing of urine, is a fairly common problem in dogs. It is usually caused by a medical condition, and your dog likely is not aware it’s happening.

Although it can happen at any age, it is more common in middle- to senior-aged dogs and females. Severity can range from small leaks to the voiding of a large amount of urine.

What causes urinary incontinence in dogs?

Pets can be incontinent for many reasons, including abnormalities in parts of the brain and spinal cord that control bladder function, birth defects, and disease. As pets age, they may become incontinent because muscles that hold urine in the bladder weaken.

Incontinence in young animals is often caused by a birth defect known as ectopic ureter(s). The ureters carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder, and if one or both ureters bypass the bladder and connect to an abnormal location, such as the urethra or vagina, the puppy may drip urine.

Hormone-responsive incontinence occurs in neutered dogs of both sexes but most commonly in female dogs. The pet can urinate normally, but they leak urine while resting. Hormone-responsive incontinence can occur months to years after a pet is neutered.

Dogs with brain or spinal cord disease may either dribble urine or be unable to pass urine. Most often they will have other signs of nervous system disease, such as muscle weakness or paralysis.

Vulvovaginal stenosis, a condition in which the vagina at the level where the urethra ends is narrowed, is a less common cause of incontinence in female dogs. Occasionally when the pet urinates, some urine will get trapped in the vagina in front of this narrowed area. Then when they rise after lying down the urine pours out.

Older pets can also develop senility and simply be unaware they are dribbling urine.

How is urinary incontinence diagnosed in dogs?

Incontinence can be confused with diseases and infections that cause a pet to urinate frequently. The tests performed to evaluate a pet with incontinence depend upon the age of the pet and clinical signs.

A dye study of the bladder is usually performed, and it is common to collect a urine sample for bacterial culture and to see if the urine is dilute or shows evidence of an infection that could be the cause of incontinence.

Blood tests can detect evidence of kidney damage from infection or for the presence of diseases that might lead to increased urine production.

X-rays or ultrasounds may be used to look at the parts of the urinary tract.

Is urinary incontinence different than a bladder infection?

A bladder infection can cause a strong urge to urinate, but the animal is usually not truly incontinent since they know they are urinating. It is common to evaluate incontinent pets for the presence of a bladder infection.

How is urinary incontinence in dogs treated?

Urinary incontinence in dogs can often be successfully treated or managed with surgery and medications.

Specific treatment of an underlying disease or condition with surgery or medications may resolve incontinence. When no specific cause can be identified for the incontinence, drugs may be given that increase the tone of the muscles that hold urine in the bladder. Drug therapy for incontinence may be based on a trial of different drugs in various doses until an effective combination is identified.

What should I do if my dog is showing signs of urinary incontinence?

If your dog is exhibiting any signs of urinary incontinence, you should call your veterinary clinic or schedule an appointment with one of the internal medicine veterinarians at the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital by calling 509-335-0711.

This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care. Always follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian.