Urinary incontinence (leaking pee) is a common issue with older dogs, especially females. The dog may not know when it happens and probably can't control the leakage, so don't scold your dog. This is a medical issue, not a behavioral problem.
The lack of bladder control in any dog, young or old, male or female, is a concern. If there's anything unusual about your dog's urination habits, for example, if it's started peeing in the house, a trip to the vet is a good idea. Your vet may be able to rule out some of the more serious conditions and provide a viable treatment.
Why Do Dogs Leak Urine?
Urine leaking may be a symptom of a disease process or the consequence of aging. An examination by your veterinarian is in order to check for a urinary tract infection and other health conditions that might be causing the leakage.
There are a number of reasons that older dogs may not have full control of their bladders. For instance, the muscles that hold in urine may be weak, or the dog may have developed a disease that affects the bladder or urinary tract. In some dogs, congenital abnormalities may not reveal themselves until they grow older.
Older Female Dogs
One of the more common reasons for urinary incontinence occurs in older female dogs, often in medium and large breeds. It may be a function of both age and an underlying health condition that requires veterinary attention.
In females, the urethra and vagina open in a common area called the vestibule. This area opens to the exterior, called the vulva. As the dog ages, her muscles and bladder sphincter aren't as toned as they once were and urine may leak a bit into the common vestibule area.
As the dog gets up or lies down, a small amount of urine may be released. This urine can lead to localized infections or ascend into the bladder, causing a urinary tract infection which can exacerbate the symptoms further.
In spayed females, this may also be caused by a lack of the hormone estrogen. Your vet may refer to it as spay or estrogen-responsive incontinence. A lack of testosterone may cause this in males as well.
In addition to the loss of muscle tone in the urogenital system, diseases such as diabetes or kidney disease often lead to increased thirst and urination. This exacerbates urine pooling and the potential for a urinary tract infection.
It is common to evaluate incontinent pets for the presence of a bladder infection. Tumors, stones, and cancer may also cause incontinence in male as well as female dogs by causing a sudden, uncontrollable urge to urinate. In some cases, urinary problems may even lead to a diagnosis of spinal cord disease as the nerve impulses to the bladder can be affected. Many of these diseases will have additional symptoms besides bladder leakage (and may be present without the symptom of bladder leakage). Only a vet can determine the cause.
Make an appointment with your vet for a physical exam, no matter what you think could be the cause of the leaking urine. Your veterinarian will check your dog's urine and blood work to make sure there aren't any other issues or diseases to deal with. Additional screening or diagnostic tests may be ordered.
The good news is that a dog that's leaking urine uncontrollably usually gets better with the proper treatment. What this strategy entails depends on the cause of the incontinence. It's not an emergency in most cases, but if your dog is showing signs of illness, contact your veterinarian right away.
Simple Incontinence Treatment
If the vet finds that your dog has a "simple" incontinence problem, it is possible to manage it with medication. For example, a urinary tract infection or bladder infection will likely be treated with antibiotics which will eliminate both the infection and leakage. Phenylpropanolamine is a common option for hormone responsive incontinence, and it can help increase muscle tone, improving your dog's ability to control its urine again. Collagen injections are also becoming a more popular option to help prevent leakage.
Another option is to provide hormonal support to female dogs with a medication like Incurin. This increases her estrogen levels, which naturally increases her muscle tone in the urinary tract while she's resting.
Treating More Complicated Causes
For other causes of incontinence, your vet will likely begin treating the primary disease or medical condition. If the cause is bladder stones or a anatomical abnormality, surgery may be recommended. For other conditions like diabetes, the disease will likely be treated with medications and this may help clear up the urine issue as well.
How to Prevent Urinary Leakage
While incontinence may not be entirely preventable, there are steps you can take to help your dog avoid or manage it.
- Let your dog outside often to urinate. An empty bladder is much less likely to leak.
- Train your dog to sleep and lie down only on easy-to-clean surfaces in the house or provide waterproof puppy training pads in the dog's favorite spots.
- Consider having your dog wear doggie diapers, especially at times when you are out of the house.
- Properly clean your dog to prevent any infection.
- Most importantly, don't punish your dog. Keep in mind that it's not the dog's fault and is simply a part of growing old for many dogs.
It may be inconvenient for you at times, but it's one of the things you know you may have to deal with when you let your furry friend into your life.