Urinary incontinence is a common issue in older dogs, and there can be many causes. Often, the issue can be resolved by a simple treatment or managed effectively at home. But, sometimes, incontinence in older dogs can signify a more serious, underlying problem.
It is essential to treat any dog that has incontinence with kindness. Accidents are never deliberate, and being scolded for them can distress your dog and ultimately lead to more accidents.
So, what is the right way to deal with incontinence? Here, we have a thorough look at urinary incontinence and how to support a senior dog with urinary incontinence issues.
How to recognise senior dog incontinence
Urine in all mammals is produced in the kidneys and then transported by the ureters to the bladder, where it is stored. When the bladder is full, it contracts and pushes the urine out. This is the process of urination.
Urinary incontinence in dogs is when urine leaks out from the bladder without the animal being conscious of the event.
Along with having health implications, urinary incontinence can be highly distressing for your dog, and early detection is the key to alleviating some of the stress.
Some tell-tale signs may indicate urinary incontinence in older dogs. If you suspect incontinence may be becoming an issue for your dog, we recommend making a note of the symptoms and how often they occur so you can monitor them effectively.
Some signs your dog has senior urinary incontinence are:
- Signs of discomfort or changes in behaviour
- Obvious involuntary urination
- Frequent urinary tract infections
- Wet fur on the lower abdomen or between the legs
- Wet spots in the sleeping area
- Unpleasant odour
What causes senior dog incontinence
There can be several reasons for urinary incontinence in older dogs. Some of the causes we have observed are:
Female dog desexing
When a female dog is desexed, the uterus and ovaries are removed. The ovaries produce the female hormone oestrogen, and as the animal ages, oestrogen deficiency may occur. As a result of this process, the female bladder may weaken, and urine leakage can become a problem.
A dog's anatomical makeup can result in urinary incontinence, where the urethra is shorter than usual or the bladder is in an abnormal position. Occasionally a dog may be born with an ectopic ureter. This is an anatomical defect present at birth when the ureter opens below the bladder. As a result, constant leakage can occur.
An ageing bladder
Sometimes, in both male and female dogs, natural ageing of the bladder can cause an alteration in function and eventually lead to incontinence.
Dogs may occasionally suffer from cystitis — an infection in the bladder or other parts of the urinary tract. This process may contribute to or cause incontinence.
Spinal injury or degeneration
A spinal injury or spinal degeneration may disrupt communication between the nerves in the spinal cord that control bladder function and the brain, leading to urinary incontinence.
Why it is important to reduce the impact of incontinence on your dog
Urinary incontinence can be hard to manage as a pet parent, but it can also negatively impact your dog's overall well-being.
Dogs are extremely smart mammals, and most have an intrinsic desire to please their owners. Trouble controlling urination can be upsetting for dogs and inevitably cause more accidents through stress.
Frequent urination onto your dog's fur and skin can cause scalding of the skin and other skin irritations and infections. Urinary incontinence can also lead to further urinary tract infections and, in severe cases, kidney infections.
How to support a senior dog with urinary incontinence
Pet parents must ensure that dogs experience no excess stress or anxiety regarding urinary incontinence. Treating your pet with patience and being careful not to overreact when accidents occur will alleviate the pressure felt by your dog.
A trip to the vet
Fast diagnosis is the best way to ensure your pup has the direct support it needs. Monitoring your pet's symptoms, taking your dog to see your vet and providing the most detail to them about the issue is vital when dealing with urinary incontinence.
Your vet may perform tests to help diagnose the problem, such as:
- Urinalysis and urine culture
- Blood tests
Depending on the vet's findings, they may need to do further tests, or they may recommend:
- At home management
- Prescribed medications such as hormone replacement or antibiotics
- Corrective surgery
Changes in the home
To support your dog through incontinence at home, you may find some of the following tips helpful:
- Using doggie diapers
- Taking more frequent walks
- Using waterproof pads under bedding
- Maintaining strict hygiene habits to prevent skin and bladder infections
What if your dog needs surgery?
Occasionally, dogs may require surgery to correct anatomical or injury-related issues regarding urinary incontinence — especially when medication alone does not solve the problem. Surgery results vary and depend on the exact procedure performed.
Choosing to have your dog placed under an anaesthetic and have surgery can be very scary. But veterinary surgeons are extremely experienced in these types of operations, and you can be assured that your dog is in the best hands.
Again, seeing your vet as soon as you notice incontinence symptoms is the best way to get your pup the treatment it needs.
Like us and all other living beings, dogs start to have physiological challenges as they age. Luckily, the treatments available for urinary incontinence these days are excellent — and with patience and the advice of a good vet, your senior dog’s incontinence problem can be managed effectively.
Check out our blog for more helpful information and tips for your pet.
*This article has been written in collaboration with a qualified Veterinarian