Urinary incontinence in female dogs

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Urinary incontinence is a relatively common problem seen in female dogs as they age.

What is urinary incontinence?

Urinary incontinence is the involuntary leakage of urine. It can sometimes involve just a few drops of urine, but for many dogs, it may be a larger volume of urine where puddles appear on the floor or their bedding is wet where your pet has been sitting or lying. Urinary incontinence is not under your dog’s control, and therefore, dogs cannot be ‘trained’ out of it.

Canine urinary incontinence is not harmful by itself, but potential side effects include scalding of the skin and skin infections, urinary tract infections and in some cases, serious kidney infections.

Signs of urinary incontinence in dogs:
  • Dribbling of urine or wet patches on the hair around legs
  • Wet bedding or puddles on the floor after lying down
  • Signs of discomfort or behavioural changes
  • Unexplained urinary tract infections
  • Scalding of the skin around the vulva
  • Excessive licking of the wet genital area
  • Unpleasant odour

You should contact your veterinarian if you notice any of these signs in your pet.

What causes urinary incontinence in female dogs?

The condition known as urethral sphincter mechanism incompetence (USMI) is the most common cause of urinary incontinence in adult female dogs.

USMI is a medical term used to describe a weakness in control of the muscles of the lower urinary tract.

Female dogs that have been desexed (speyed) may be more susceptible to the condition due to a lack of circulating oestrogen. The reduced oestrogen levels result in reduced stimulation of the sphincter muscle that surrounds the urethra (the structure that takes urine from the bladder to outside the body).

Female dogs with USMI may respond to treatment with hormone supplementation. Hormone responsive urinary incontinence can occur months to years after surgery.

It is essential to understand that the risk of USMI is not a valid reason to avoid desexing your dog. Female dogs that have not speyed are at a much higher risk of other more life-threatening conditions such as pyometra and mammary cancer.

Other potential causes of urinary incontinence might include neurological disease, dementia, ectopic ureters, bladder stones, tumours or other conditions that cause an increase in the consumption of water such as diabetes or kidney disease.

Diagnosis of USMI is usually made based the history and by the elimination of these other possible diagnoses via blood and urine testing and further imaging (this might include contrast radiology and ultrasonography).

How do you treat urinary incontinence in dogs?

The good news is that there are medications available to help treat USMI. After ruling out other potential causes for urinary incontinence, your veterinarian will be able to discuss the best treatment options for your dog.

You should always ask your veterinarian for advice if you are worried about your pet.