Incontinence in dogs

Dr Sandra Karlsen
Lead Veterinarian
March 27, 2024

Discovering unexpected puddles in your dog's favourite spots can be both perplexing and disheartening for pet owners. Initially brushed off as a one-time incident, these accidents may hint at a deeper issue: urinary incontinence. Recognizing the signs and promptly seeking veterinary attention for a proper diagnosis is crucial. In this article, we'll explore the details of urinary incontinence in dogs, its causes, symptoms, and management strategies, offering essential guidance for concerned pet parents.

What is incontinence in dogs?

Urinary incontinence is when your dog involuntarily loses control of their bladder, a condition that differs from behavioural problems related to urination and stems from a medical issue. Regardless of breed, gender, or age, any dog can be susceptible to this condition but senior dogs are more likely to be affected.

What are the causes of incontinence in dogs?

If you've noticed your furry friend leaking urine involuntarily, it's important to understand that this could be due to more than just behavioural issues like stress or fear. Here are some common health issues that could be causing your dog's urinary incontinence:

  • Nerve issues: Spinal injuries can affect bladder control nerves, leading to leaks.
  • Urinary tract problems: Infections or injuries in the urinary tract can cause leaks.
  • Birth defects: Some dogs are born with bladder function abnormalities, causing leaks from a young age.
  • Hormonal imbalances: Changes in hormone levels can disrupt bladder control.
  • Weak bladder muscles: Weakness in these muscles can lead to difficulty holding urine.
  • Health conditions: Diseases like diabetes or kidney problems can increase water intake, resulting in more frequent urination and potential leaks.
  • Tumours: Growths near the bladder can interfere with its function, causing leaks.

Monitor your dog's urination behaviour to help your vet diagnose the issue accurately.

Symptoms of urinary incontinence in dogs

Staying attentive and identifying the signs early on can greatly assist in quick diagnosis and treatment of incontinence in dogs. Here are some key things to watch for:

  • Dripping urine: One of the most noticeable signs of urinary incontinence is the presence of urine dribbling, which can lead to skin irritation and redness.
  • Excessive genital licking: If you observe your dog licking their genital area more often than usual, it might be a subtle indication of urinary incontinence.
  • Increased thirst and urination: Monitor any changes in your dog's water intake and urination frequency. An increase in these behaviours could suggest underlying problems.
  • House soiling: Accidents indoors, especially if they become frequent, should not be ignored. Multiple instances of urination inside the house warrant a trip to the vet.
  • Additional symptoms: Be alert for any other abnormal behaviours or signs like blood in the urine, limping, or difficulty moving, as these may be linked to urinary incontinence or its complications.

When talking to the vet about your dog's condition, it's important to provide detailed information for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Be ready to share details such as when and where accidents occur, any changes in water consumption, and any signs of discomfort during urination.

Detecting and addressing the issue early is crucial in effectively managing urinary incontinence and reducing the chances of secondary complications like bladder or kidney infections.

Treatments for urinary incontinence in dogs

When addressing urinary incontinence in dogs, the treatment approach differs based on the root cause. Your vet will perform a comprehensive examination and may suggest tests like urinalysis, blood tests, ultrasound, urine culture, and radiography to pinpoint the underlying issue.

If a bacterial infection is detected, antibiotics will be given. Hormone therapy, which may involve oestrogen supplementation or testosterone for male dogs, could be advised for hormonal imbalances that contribute to incontinence. Medications like phenylpropanolamine are utilised to improve urethral sphincter tone.

Surgical procedures may be needed for issues like bladder stones or congenital abnormalities. Bladder stones can sometimes be managed with diet and medication, but severe cases may need surgery for removal. Likewise, congenital issues such as ectopic ureters often require surgical correction.

How is incontinence managed in dogs?  

Managing urinary incontinence in dogs requires a combination of medical treatment and practical measures at home. Along with medication, incorporating simple strategies can reduce the effects of incontinence on your dog's daily routine. Using dog diapers can help contain leaks, and increasing the frequency of outdoor walks allows your dog more chances to relieve themselves comfortably. Placing waterproof pads under bedding not only safeguards furniture and floors but also makes cleaning up easier. Regular hygiene care is also essential for preventing skin infections. Making sure your home has surfaces that are easy to clean can help you handle accidents more easily.

It's important to be supportive and understanding with your dog, instead of scolding them, as this can increase their stress levels. By incorporating medication along with these simple changes, you can improve your dog's comfort and overall health while dealing with urinary incontinence.

In a crisis:

If your dog shows any signs of urinary incontinence, like having accidents indoors often, dribbling urine, or struggling to urinate, make sure to contact your vet right away. It's crucial to seek prompt veterinary care to determine the root cause and start the necessary treatment. Waiting too long to seek assistance could worsen the situation and impact your dog's comfort and health.

It is vital to begin end-of-life care discussions before your dog‘s condition becomes unmanageable, or they begin losing their quality of life. 

Don’t wait until the very end. It’s important to consider your pet’s end-of-life journey early, so that you, your family and your pet are all supported through the process.

When the time comes, we’re here for you. Goodbye Good Boy provides a range of end-of-life services to make the difficult process of saying goodbye a little easier. 

We offer quality of life assessments from qualified vets, specialist grief counselling, at home euthanasia from dedicated end of life veterinarians, as well as cremation services and memorial options to help remember your pet for their unique character.

We are with you at every step of the journey.

To find out more, you can call our team of passionate pet lovers on 1800 953 619.