Urinary incontinence in older dogs
This condition primarily affects middle-aged and older neutered females although males can also be affected. It is the involuntary loss of urine, which tends to happen when the dog is resting. It often has a gradual onset so the first signs may be a small wet patch on the bedding in the mornings. This can progress to a considerable amount of urine leaking out whenever the dog lays down and may even result in urine scalding of the skin where there is constant contact.
Often owners will use the term ‘incontinent’ to describe inappropriate urination e.g. puddles left on the kitchen floor overnight, but unless the dog is completely unaware that the urine is being voided, then it is not actually incontinent.
In around 80% of cases of true incontinence, the problem is due to ‘sphincter mechanism incompetence’, which essentially means that the bladder neck is weakened and cannot retain the urine within the bladder. It is also related to the position of the neck of the bladder in the dog’s pelvis. Changes in internal pressure when the dog lies down mean that the urine can easily flow into the neck of the bladder and then will start to leak out.
What signs should I look out for?
Incontinence can appear suddenly or gradually and in some cases may wax and wane for a while before becoming a persistent problem. Where there is another medical condition present, which affects the urinary tract, the incontinence may be more pronounced. Dogs suffering from the problem will be passing urine normally when out for a walk or in the garden and should not show any sign of pain or discomfort when urinating. Watch out for:
- Wet bedding or wet patches where the dog has been lying
- Damp legs, particularly in the longer haired breeds
- Licking around back end more than normal
- Smell of urine on dog and/or bedding
Fortunately, there are medical treatments available which in the majority of cases are 100% successful in managing the problem. If you are concerned that your old dog may be becoming incontinent, then make an appointment to see your Vet for a check-up and try to collect a urine sample to take with you. Your Vet will want to exclude other conditions which may aggravate the incontinence e.g. infections, kidney disease, diabetes and other illnesses which encourage excessive drinking.
What can I do to help my dog if they are incontinent?
You can help by using bedding which draws moisture away from the skin e.g. vetbed, or incontinence pads and also washing the back legs to reduce the risk of urine scald. Encouraging your dog to go outside and empty their bladder regularly will also help. Reducing the water intake is not advisable as, unless there is another medical condition present, the incontinence is not caused by excessive drinking.
The medical treatment your vet prescribes will often start to work within the first couple of weeks and then will be life-long. In rare cases surgery may be recommended to change the position of the bladder neck, but usually only if medical treatment has been unsuccessful.