There are a variety of different causes for incontinence in dogs. In this article, we’ll discuss the most common causes, along with potential treatments.
What Are The Causes of Urinary Incontinence?
While incontinence is sometimes just a consequence of aging, it’s more often a symptom of an underlying medical problem.
For this reason, you should always consult a veterinarian if you think your pup is incontinent. He or she will examine your dog to determine the best treatment. The investigation may also involve blood tests, urine tests, ultrasound scans and other types of medical imaging.
Some of the most common causes of urinary incontinence include:
Excessive drinking – If your dog is drinking more water than usual, perhaps due to an infection or other medical condition, the bladder may become too full. This is called overflow incontinence. Some of the most common causes of increased water consumption include kidney disease and diabetes.
Weak bladder sphincter – A weak sphincter is most common in female dogs that have been spayed. It allows a small amount of urine to leak out of the bladder, mainly when it’s full.
Hormonal imbalance – Lower levels of estrogen are linked to incontinence. Like a weak bladder sphincter, this is more common in spayed females.
Inability to fully empty the bladder – Sometimes Fido may be unable to empty their bladder when urinating. An arthritic spine, for example, could stop your canine from crouching.
Nerve compression – Degeneration or inflammation in the spine can cause nerves to become compressed. This can lead to a range of symptoms, including incontinence.
Urinary tract infections – Infection of the urinary tract can cause irritation to the urethra, leading to unconscious leakage. Bladder or prostate inflammation can have a similar effect. This is one of the most common causes of incontinence in younger dogs.
Side effects of medication – Any medication that affects urine production could cause incontinence. Common examples include triamcinolone and prednisone.
Developmental abnormalities – If there are abnormalities in the urinary tract, your pooch may not be able to control the leakage of urine. Developmental abnormalities often cause incontinence in younger pups.
As there are many potential causes of urinary incontinence, the correct diagnosis is essential for planning the right treatment.
To help your vet, make a note of other symptoms or changes in your dog’s behavior. These could include signs of pain, lethargy and changes to eating habits. You should also track when your dog is most likely to suffer from incontinence.
Can Any Dog Develop Incontinence?
Any dog can develop incontinence, regardless of age or breed.
There are some canines that are more susceptible though. Elderly dogs and females that have been spayed, for example, are at higher risk. Certain breeds, such as cocker spaniels and Dobermans, also appear to be more likely to develop incontinence – although scientists aren’t sure why.
It’s worth noting that there isn’t a specific age when a dog becomes middle-aged or elderly. Larger dogs typically age faster than smaller, so big breeds may develop incontinence at a younger age.
What Are The Treatments?
Incontinence can be a frustrating problem for a dog owner. It’s most likely to occur when a dog is relaxed, which means urine leaks onto a bed or living room carpet. Because it’s involuntary, it’s also not possible to fix with behavioral training.
The good news is that urinary incontinence is often treatable. Even when it’s an unavoidable consequence of old age, there are always options for management.
If a vet diagnoses your dog with an underlying condition that’s causing incontinence, treatment will vary depending on the problem. A dog that can’t crouch due to arthritis, for example, may be prescribed pain and anti-inflammatory medication.
Your vet may also make recommendations about medication that might be causing incontinence. If Fido is taking a drug for a chronic condition, this may involve switching to an alternative. For short-term medication, a canine diaper or more frequent walks could be a temporary solution.
There are two drugs commonly prescribed to help with canine incontinence. These are:
Diethylstilbestrol – This is a type of hormone replacement therapy. It mimics estrogen in the dog’s body, which can help prevent incontinence caused by spaying.
Phenylpropanolamine – This is a drug that causes the urinary sphincter to contract more strongly. A stronger contraction can reduce the amount of leakage, particularly when the dog is relaxed.
Medication for incontinence won’t solve the problem, so your dog will probably need to continue taking it in the long-term. These drugs can be highly effective at limiting incontinence though.
There have also been promising results from collagen injections. The idea is to inject collagen into a section of the urethra to provide more resistance and improve continence without long-term medication. This is a newer treatment, however, so you should discuss it with your vet.
Any surgery is invasive and stressful for a dog – particularly if they are elderly or unwell. For this reason, surgery is often the last resort.
There are some situations where it may be an option though. Dogs with a spinal injury, for example, may need surgery to maintain their quality of life. Bladder stones also sometimes require surgery.
While some dogs become fully continent after treatment, others will always have a level of incontinence. Here are some tips for managing the problem with minimal stress for you and your pet:
Canine diapers – Diapers can be a useful management tool for incontinence. They are particularly useful for incontinence caused by short-term medication.
Frequent walks – More frequent walks throughout the day is one of the best ways to manage incontinence caused by excessive drinking or a weak sphincter. Make sure your pet has plenty of opportunity to go to the toilet first thing in the morning and before going to bed. You may also need to get up earlier so your dog doesn’t need to wait as long without going outside.
Waterproof bedding – Some dog beds come with waterproof inner liners. This makes it easy to wash the fabric cover without the foam stuffing becoming stained.
Urine pads – You may be able to train your dog to urinate on a “pee pad” indoors if he can’t wait for a chance to go outside. This can reduce the stress many house-trained dogs feel when forced to urinate indoors.
Dog doors – If you’re not able to give your pup more frequent opportunities to go outside, a dog door could be an alternative. These use RFID tags to let your dog go in and out when he wants, without allowing other animals to enter the home.
You should never limit the amount of water your dog drinks unless you’re specifically told to by your vet. Dehydration is a serious danger to dogs and complications can develop quickly.
It’s also important to make sure the skin around the genitals isn’t irritated by frequent urination. In the worst cases, the skin can become infected due to do Fido repeatedly licking the area.
Keep in mind that incontinence can be distressing for a dog. Most canines have a natural aversion to soiling their “den,” so you should never punish your pet.
Urinary incontinence in dogs is a common problem with many potential causes. While it’s often considered a natural symptom of aging, incontinence is usually a sign of an underlying medical condition.
There are a variety of treatment options. Aside from treating any underlying medical conditions, such as infection or nerve compression, a vet may recommend medication to reduce or eliminate incontinence. Collagen injections and surgery are also sometimes suggested.
About the Author
Richard Cross is the editor of The Dog Clinic. His goal is to help people develop a stronger relationship with their dog, by using positive training methods and a better understanding of canine behavior.