A common issue with older dogs, especially females, urinary incontinence can cause your dog to leak urine. She may not know when it happens and it's likely that she cannot control it, so it is important to avoid scolding her. This is a medical issue, not a behavioral problem.
The lack of bladder control in any dog—young and old, male and female—can be a concern. If your dog is urinating in an unusual manner, a trip to the vet for an exam is a good idea. They may be able to rule out serious conditions and provide a viable treatment.
There are a number of reasons why older dogs may not have full control of their urine. For instance, senility in senior dogs may cause them to forget their housetraining or they may have developed a disease that is affecting their bladder or urinary tract. In some dogs, congenital abnormalities may not manifest problems until they grow older.
One of the more common reasons for urinary incontinence occurs in older female dogs, often in medium and large breeds. It may be both age-related and something requiring medical attention.
In females, the urethra and vagina open in a common area called the vestibule. This area then opens to the exterior, called the vulva. As the dog ages, her muscles and sphincters aren't as toned as they once were, and urine leaks a bit into the common vestibule area. The urine may pool there, causing a "dilated" appearance. As the dog gets up or lays down, a small pool of urine may be released.
This stalled urine can also lead to localized infections. It may even ascend up into the bladder, causing a urinary tract infection.
In spayed females, this can 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.
If your dog is leaking urine, this may be what you are seeing. However, an examination by your veterinarian is still in order to confirm it because a concurrent urinary tract infection or other diseases are also possible.
In addition to a loss of tone in the urogenital system, diseases such as diabetes or kidney disease often lead to increased thirst and, as a result, urination. This exacerbates the urine pooling and the potential for a urinary tract infection.
Bladder infections, tumors and stones, and cancer may also cause incontinence in male as well as female dogs. In some cases, the urine problems may even lead to a diagnosis of spinal cord disease.
Making a geriatric exam appointment with your vet for a physical exam is recommended. She will check the urine and blood work to make sure there aren't any other issues or additional diseases to deal with. Your veterinarian may order additional screening or diagnostic tests as well.
The good news is that a dog who is leaking urine uncontrollably can usually get better with the proper treatment. What that strategy entails will depend on the cause of the incontinence. It is not an emergency in most cases, but if your dog is showing signs of illness, contact your veterinarian right away.
If the vet finds that your dog does have a "simple" incontinence problem, it's possible to manage it with medication. Phenylpropanolamine (PPA) is a common option and it can help tone the muscles, improving your dog's ability to control her urine again.
Another option is to provide hormonal support with a medication like Incurin. This increases her estrogen levels, which naturally increases her muscle tone in the urinary tract while she's resting.
For other causes of incontinence, your vet will likely begin treating the primary disease or medical condition. This may help clear up the urine issue as well.
One thing that you can do at home is to let your dog outside often to urinate. You can also train her to sleep and lay down only on easy to clean surfaces in the house or provide puppy training pads in her favorite spots.
Most importantly, don't punish her. Keep in mind that it is not her fault and that it is simply a part of growing old for many dogs. It may be inconvenient for you at times, but it is one of the things pet owners know we may have to deal with when we let furry friends into our lives.
Dowling PM. Urinary Incontinence. Merck Veterinary Manual. 2018.