Your Guide to Urinary Incontinence in Dogs
Has your dog lost control of their bladder?
Just as people go through many changes as they age, so do our four-legged companions. And, if your once perfectly potty-trained pooch can’t seem to control their bladder anymore, there’s a chance that they may be suffering from urinary incontinence. While some incontinent dogs will have occasional accidents, others may lose their ability to control their bladders altogether.
Incontinence can be emotionally challenging for your dog.
Before we get into what causes urinary incontinence in dogs, there’s one very important thing that every dog owner needs to know — incontinence can be hard on your dog. Yes, it’s frustrating and gross when you have to clean up yet another accident, but you should never punish your dog due to incontinence.
Dogs live to please. If you’ve ever seen a dog’s entire body language transform after calling them a “good boy” or “good girl,” you know how badly they want to make us happy. On the other hand, dogs are well aware when they’re owners are upset or angry, and when you express frustration after they’ve had an accident, imagine what that does to a dog emotionally. A dog that has been trained to go outside all of their life is not just going to suddenly feel okay about going inside, even if they couldn’t help it. So, no matter what, make sure you practice patience and compassion with your incontinent dog.
Is it really and truly incontinence?
There are many different things that can cause incontinence in dogs, but before you do anything else, you’ll want to make sure that your dog is actually incontinent. Incontinence is a common sign of many different health concerns, and some others can affect how often your dog needs to go or their ability to hold it.
Anxiety is an incredibly common reason why some dogs experience incontinence, and to make matters worse, many dogs will become even more anxious after they have an accident. Look for some of the other signs of anxiety in your dog, which could include tucking their tail, hiding, withdrawing and being less active. If you think your dog may be suffering from anxiety, talk to your veterinarian about it, and make sure you create a safe, comfortable, calm space for your dog.
Diabetes is incredibly common in dogs, and just like in people, it affects your dog’s ability to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. One of the most common symptoms of diabetes is an increase in thirst, which leads to more frequent urination and, sometimes, accidents. Other signs of diabetes to watch out for include lethargy, dehydration, weight loss, and a change in appetite.
In some cases, incontinence can be explained away by a behavioral issue. Some dogs simply weren’t fully or properly potty trained, in which case, training can help to correct the problem. For other dogs, excitement or stress can trigger an accident.
Improper Hormone Levels
A loss of bladder control is common in female dogs who don’t produce enough estrogen, as well as in male dogs who don’t produce enough testosterone. This is most often seen in dogs who have been altered or “fixed.” However, it can occur in dogs who are still intact as well. In most cases, hormone-related incontinence can be treated with hormone-replacement therapies or medication.
Bladder or Kidney Stones
Stones can develop in your dog’s bladder or urinary tract, making them feel like they need to urinate, even if their bladder isn’t full. Although bladder or kidney stones don’t actually cause incontinence, they can make your dog feel like they need to go more, which could lead to accidents. If you notice that there is blood in your dog’s urine, they have a tight, bloated abdomen or urination is accompanied by crying or other vocalizations, it should be treated as an emergency.
Spinal Cord Injury
The spinal cord is what connects your dog’s brain to the rest of their body, and if your dog has suffered from a spinal cord injury, it can make it impossible for their brain to properly communicate with their urethral sphincter. This often leads to accidents. As you can see, if your dog is having trouble holding it, the problem may not be incontinence at all, but something much more serious. That’s why, any time you see a change in your dog, the first thing you should always do is take them to the veterinarian.
For many older dogs, muscular decline is to blame for incontinence
Incontinence, or what looks like incontinence, is a common symptom of many health concerns, but what causes incontinence in an otherwise healthy dog? Just as an aging person can experience muscular decline, so can an aging dog. Over time, the muscles that once helped your dog hold their bladder can weaken, reducing or eliminating their ability to hold it.
Incontinence can lead to other problems as well.The emotional toll that incontinence can take on your dog is difficult enough to deal with, but did you know that, left untreated, incontinence can lead to other problems for your dog? Here are a couple of the secondary problems associated with incontinence:
- Bladder Infections - Dogs who are incontinent often experience bladder infections at a higher rate than dogs who are continent. In dogs with incontinence, the muscles located at the base of the bladder aren’t tight or strong enough, making it easier for bacteria to make its way up the urethra to the bladder.
- Skin Irritation - Urine can be harsh on the skin, especially if it remains in contact for a long period of time. Dogs who are incontinent often suffer from urine scalding, which should be topically treated.
How is incontinence treated? The ideal treatment option for your dog will depend on the cause of their incontinence. So, your first step should always be to take your dog to the veterinarian any time you notice any significant changes in their behavior. Barring any serious, underlying cause, in many cases, medication can be used to prevent accidents and properly manage incontinence. Hormone therapy and surgery are also options when medication is not enough.