Senior dogs experience a lot of changes. Some of them are physical and others behavioral. Sadly, some of those changes are considered to be medical issues.
One of the common medical issues old dogs experience is loss of bladder control. The condition is medically termed urinary incontinence and it is characterized by involuntary leaking of urine.
Urine leaking is frustrating for the owner and uncomfortable for the dog. Plus, if occurring frequently, it can cause some complications for the dog.
Luckily, there are different ways of either treating or managing urinary incontinence. Talk to your vet, which option is best for your dog.
Urinary Incontinence in Dogs
Urinary incontinence is a medical condition indicating involuntary urine leaking from the bladder. The accent is put on the word involuntary – which means the dog has no control over the urination process.
Sometimes the dog is aware of the urination and other times it is completely unaware. In both cases, the dog is not in control and cannot stop the urination.
In simple words, urinary incontinence means loss of control over the bladder.
Urinary Incontinence vs Peeing Accidents
Sometimes it can be difficult to differentiate urinary incontinence from peeing accidents. One of the key differences is finding pee stains inside the dog’s bed.
In general, dogs are naturally clean and reluctant to soil their sleeping areas. Therefore, a dog who has received adequate housetraining won't be likely to urinate inside its bed.
On the other hand, a dog with no control over its bladder is capable of urinating just about anywhere.
These are some other signs your dog is urinary incontinent:
- Urinating while sleeping, sitting, or laying down
- Constant urine dripping
- Finding urine spots all over the house
- Frequent licking of the genital area
- Redness of the genital area
- Radiating an unusual urine smell
- Matting of the fur and skin irritation on body areas frequently soiled with urine
Why Do Old Dogs Leak Urine?
In older dogs, urinary incontinence usually develops due to the natural loosening of the bladder, the bladder's neck muscles, or the sphincter. Once the sphincter loses its normal strength, urine leaking is likely to occur.
However, senior dogs can also develop urinary incontinence due to an underlying medical issue. These are the most common causes of urinary incontinence in dogs.
Weak Urethral Sphincter
This is a regular age-related change in dogs. In fact, 80 percent of the incontinence cases are due to this so-called “sphincter mechanisms incontinence”.
In older dogs, the bladder sphincter loosens because the urinary muscles degrade and lose their normal strength and contractility. One of the reasons the urinary muscles degrade is hormonal imbalance.
Namely, estrogen and testosterone are critical for maintaining normal muscle tone and since their levels are significantly lower in older dogs, decreased muscle tone develops.
Urinary Tract Infections
Urinary tract infections are common in all dogs, but elderly dogs are more susceptible because their immune systems have decreased efficacy.
Kidney issues are prevalent in senior dogs. They usually make dogs drink more water and consequently urinate more frequently and in more substantial amounts.
Senior dogs are less likely to handle the pressure from the urine-filled bladder and more likely to urinate inappropriately.
Older dogs often suffer from spinal issues. These spinal issues can trigger nerve damage, and if the nerves regulating the bladder are compromised, the dog becomes incontinent.
One common spinal issue that leads to urinary incontinence in older dogs is intervertebral disc disease. A surgical correction is an option only if the nerve damage is not severe.
Arthritis (joint inflammation) is something all senior dogs have. Arthritis affects the dog’s mobility and causes pain. An old dog with arthritis joints might be unable to stand in the proper urinating position.
In this case, the dog will try to refrain from urination for as long as possible. However, when it is no longer capable of holding, and the pressure is too much, it will urinate anywhere.
Canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (the canine equivalent of Alzheimer’s in people) can make old dogs forgetful about their housetraining.
Dogs with this syndrome are confused, senile, and likely to make peeing mistakes around the house. Depending on the severity of the syndrome, the dog might not even be aware of its urination.
Dogs More Likely to Leak Urine
Basically any dog can develop urinary incontinence as it ages. However, urinary incontinence has a sex and breed predisposition.
Namely, female dogs are more likely to develop urinary incontinence, especially if spayed early in their lives. This form of urinary incontinence is associated with low estrogen levels.
The risk of urinary incontinence is more significant among dogs from certain breeds, including:
- Bearded Collies and Collies
- Cocker spaniels
- Doberman pinschers
- English Springer spaniels
- German Shepherds
- Old English sheepdogs
At the Vet's Office
To determine whether your dog is urinary incontinent, and if it is, what is the underlying cause, your vet will perform a thorough physical examination and take your dog’s history.
Based on the initial findings, the vet will order some additional diagnostic tests and procedures including:
- Blood tests
- Radiography (x-rays)
- Urine culture.
When it comes to urinary incontinence in dogs there is no universal treatment. The exact treatment strategy depends on the underlying problem. Here are some of the more frequently practiced treatment options.
Phenylpropanolamine (PPA) is a medication used in the treatment of bladder problems. Also known as Proin, phenylpropanolamine is popular in veterinary medicine because most dogs tolerate it really well and it is efficient in strengthening the urethral muscles.
In dogs whose incontinence stems from hormonal imbalances, hormonal therapy can be used to restore the normal muscle tone in the urethral muscles. It should be noted that all hormones are associated with significant side effects. Therefore, all dogs receiving hormones need regular blood work and frequent checkups.
This is a rather expensive approach and it is not suited for all cases of urinary incontinence. The surgical procedure performed in dogs with urinary incontinence is called colposuspension.
The procedure includes injecting collagen or some other bulking agent into the urethra to ensure smooth urine flow.
Colposyspension is recommended for dogs whose urinary incontinence stems from spinal issues like bulging discs.
Special Diet and Dietary Supplements
Certain urinary incontinence triggers like urinary tract infections and bladder stones can be managed through simple dietary modifications.
There are also specific supplements that can help manage your dog’s urinary incontinence and ensure good quality of life.
Managing Your Old Dog's Urine Leakage
Sometimes, the underlying issue cannot be determined or treated. In such cases, instead of treatment, you need to look into management options.
These are some useful tips for managing urinary incontinent dogs:
Practice frequent walks – make sure you take your dog on frequent walks especially after drinking water. The more your old dog pees outside, the less likely it is to pee inside the house.
Cover the floors with mats or pads – basically you can cover the floors with anything that is easy to keep clean. If there is an area of the house you cannot cover with pads or towels, restrict your dog’s access to that area.
Use doggy diapers – if you need to be outside for longer and cannot take your dog for frequent walks consider using doggy diapers. There are different doggy diapers types you can choose from.
Take care of your dog’s hygiene – use dog-friendly wet wipes to clean your dog when it makes a mistake. In dogs with long fur, keeping the hair well-trimmed will help maintain better hygiene.
Clean the area properly-When your dog pees inside the house, clean the area with a pet-friendly, enzymatic cleaner that will remove the urine odor completely. If your dog senses its urine odor it may assume that that place is an acceptable toilet area and will keep urinating where it previously made a mistake.
Complications of Urine Leakage in Dogs
Dogs with untreated or unmanaged urinary incontinence are at higher than average risk of developing:
Inflamed genital area. Urine is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. The genital area of an incontinent dog is always soiled with urine and likely to become infected. Redness, heat, swelling, and presence of discharge are all signs of infection.
Skin infections. Once again the urine is perfect for bacteria to multiply. These bacteria will probably make the dog itchy and the itching will only aggravate the situation eventually culminating in skin infections and rashes.
Urinary incontinence is not a life-threatening condition but it is definitely and uncomfortable and frustrating issue.
Dogs, contrary to popular belief are clean animals, and being soiled with urine can make them feel uncomfortable. Owners that have to deal pee puddles around the house will feel frustrated.
However, urinary incontinence is a treatable, or in the worst case scenario, a rather easy to manage condition.
If you work closely with your veterinarian and follow his/her advices and recommendations, your dog can live a happy life despite its urinary incontinence issues.