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Is Ectopic Ureter in Dogs Genetic?

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Whether ectopic ureter in dogs is genetic or not is something dog breeders may be wondering about. Being aware of traits that can be genetically passed from mother to offspring is fundamental for anybody planning to breed. Ectopic ureters may not be as serious as some other more serious, life-threatening conditions, but it can be certainly problematic enough to pose a negative impact on the affected dog. Veterinarian Dr. Ivana Crnec discusses ectopic ureters in dogs and whether they can be genetic.

Picture of posterior view of possible location of ectopic ureter insertion (red dots) in a female.

Picture of posterior view of possible location of ectopic ureter insertion (red dots) in a female.

Ectopic Ureter in Dogs

Ureters are the tubes responsible for carrying urine from the kidneys to bladder. The term ectopic ureter is a complicated medical word that in more everyday words indicates a displaced ureter.

Simply put, instead of being attached to the bladder, the ureters bypass this structure and attach themselves elsewhere. In males they usually attach directly to the urethra, while in females, they tend to attach to the uterus or vagina. Since none of these organs are designed for storing urine, leakage or urinary incontinence is most likely to occur.

The condition is congenital which means it is present at birth. Pups can be born with one or two ectopic ureters.

Fortunately, ectopic ureter is a rare problem in dogs. Plus, it is not a life-threatening medical issue. However, it is unpleasant for both you and your dog.

What are the causes of ectopic ureters in dogs? The reason why this condition occurs is not exactly determined. The only thing certain is that it occurs as a result of malformation during the fetal development.

There are different types of ectopic ureters in dogs. The condition can therefore be categorized as: unilateral – if only one ureter is displaced, and bilateral – if both ureters are displaced.

Based on where the ureters attach, there are two different types of ectopic ureters in dogs:

Intramural where the ureters start entering the bladder at the same spots where they normally should, but do not fully penetrate the wall. Intramural ectopic ureters account for as much as 95 percent of all diagnosed cases.

Extramural where the ureters bypass the bladder completely and attach elsewhere. This abnormality is particularly rare and requires different managing approach.

Is Ectopic Ureter in Dogs Genetic?

Pregnant females with ectopic ureters do not necessarily pass the condition on the offspring. Namely, some pups may inherit the abnormality but others may not. In other cases, all pups can be normal regardless of the mother’s anomaly.

It is postulated that certain vitamin deficiencies during pregnancy are a good predisposing factor to passing the condition on the offspring.

Ectopic ureters occur more frequently among certain dog breeds such as:

  • Bulldogs
  • Fox Terriers
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Miniature Poodles
  • Toy Poodles
  • Siberian Huskies
  • White Highland Terriers
  • Sky Terriers.

Ectopic ureters are also much more common in female dogs than in males. Even if a male dog is born with this issue, the diagnosis will be set much later in life. This is because males have stronger urinary sphincters and can compensate for the condition better and longer.

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Signs and Symptoms of Ectopic Ureters in Dogs 

The signs and symptoms that indicate ectopic ureters are often confused with difficulties during the potty training phase. That is why the condition, although present since birth, is diagnosed later on in life.

The most frequently observed signs and symptoms include:

  • Urinary incontinence
  • Frequent urination
  • Blood in the urine
  • Constant licking of the genitals
  • Redness and inflammation in the genital area
  • Frequent bladder infections.

The diagnostic procedure starts with a through physical examination that includes urinalysis and blood work. The blood work should inevitably involve a complete blood count and a full biochemistry panel. The goal of these tests is to evaluate how the internal organs work. Generally speaking, unless the dog has kidney or bladder inflammation, the results of the above listed tests should be normal.

The next step towards setting proper diagnosis is ultrasound of the urinary system. If the vet is skilled in this type of visual imaging and if the ultrasound machine is of good quality, this would be enough to diagnose ectopic ureters.

Alternatively, a CT scan will definitely confirm the presence of the abnormality. The condition may also be confirmed via uretroscopy – a procedure that involves placing a tube with camera inside the ureter. This technique helps determining whether the ureters are additionally affected. For example, if there are perforations or other issues. However, these types of diagnostic procedures are much more expensive and require special equipment that is not readily available in most vet clinics.

Treatment of Ectopic Ureters in Dogs

When dealing with ectopic ureters, there are several possible treatments:

  • Surgery – there are several different surgeries that can be used to correct the condition. Neoureterostomy – this is suitable only for intramural ectopic ureters. Sadly, the procedure is quite invasive and more often than not the incontinence remains. Neoureterocystostomy – includes removing the displaced ureters and placing them where they belong. Nephroureterectomy – it involves complete removal of both the kidney and ureter. This is the most radical option and it is used only if the kidney is damaged beyond repair.
  • Cystoscopy-assisted laser ablation – this minimally invasive procedure can only be used in cases of intramural ectopic ureters. The laser is used to make an opening and connect the ureters with the bladder. Since the procedure is minimally invasive, patients are usually released from the vet clinic within 12 to 24 hours of the procedure.

Treating ectopic ureters in dogs costs between $2000 and $10.000 based on the type of procedure.

The prognosis depends on the type of the ectopic ureter, the procedure used to correct the treatment and the sex of the patient.

The prognosis is excellent for males with intramural ectopic ureters because in 80 percent of the cases they become urinary continent. For females with the same type of abnormality, the prognosis is guarded to good. This is because in 40% of the cases they would need additional treatments to become fully continent.

In cases of extramural ectopic ureters the prognosis is guarded to poor because the incontinence cannot be fully managed. Sadly, most patients will experience some level of incontinence throughout their lives. Even if the incontinence is managed, the urination frequency will remain higher than normal.

Photo Credits:

Wikipedia: Ectopic ureter by Aphelpsmd - Own work CC BY-SA 4.0

About the Author

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Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.

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