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Urinary Incontinence in dogs

Urinary incontinence in dogs is the involuntary leakage of urine – whereby the dog is completely unaware that they are passing urine.  They do not position themselves in their usual stance for urination when leakage occurs.  It usually affects middle-aged and older neutered females, but can be seen in males and entire females. Bay Vets tells us more. 

Effects on the family

As incontinence usually starts in older pets, it is easy to mistakenly associate it with the pet’s natural age-related decline.  However, if you can keep your dog clean and dry the incontinence itself has no effect on the dog’s well-being.  The problem usually affects the family more due to the lingering odour of stale urine and the inconvenience of cleaning up every morning when everyone is in a rush to start their day.  Therefore, before the arguments start, make an early visit to your vet to get things checked out and the appropriate medication or treatments prescribed. 

Reasons for incontinence

Dogs can be incontinent for lots of reasons and, in many cases, it’s an easy problem to resolve.  Reasons range from bladder infections to urinary tract abnormalities.  Left untreated, incontinence usually gets worse with time.  Often, the first sign is a small wet patch on the bedding at night, which can progress to a considerable amount of urine leaking out whenever the dog lies down.  Incontinence can also result in painful urine scalding of the skin; particularly down the back legs in females or lower abdomen in males where skin/fur is regularly left wet with urine.  Secondary bacterial skin infections can develop.

In around 80% of cases of true incontinence, the problem is due to ‘sphincter mechanism incompetence’, which essentially means the bladder neck is weakened and cannot retain 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.

Many of the diseases that can cause incontinence are more common in elderly dogs, but not exclusively.  Older pets can also develop senility and be unaware they’re passing urine.  Different breeds become middle-aged at different times – very large dogs are considered middle-aged when they reach around five years of age whilst small terriers are still considered young at this age. 

What to do if I suspect urinary incontinence in my dog

Solving an incontinence problem starts with identifying the underlying cause. This may be: Problems in the bladder, Problems in the urethra, Spinal and neurological abnormalities, Reaction to medication, Hormone levels, Infections and illnesses, Extreme stress and anxiety.


Make an appointment to see your vet for a check-up and bring a freshly collected urine sample with you in a clean, dry container, preferably the first urine passed in the morning.  Your vet will want to exclude other conditions which may aggravate the incontinence such as infections, kidney disease, diabetes and other illnesses which cause excessive drinking and therefore urination. Some medical treatments aim to increase the closure pressure of the urethra (the tube from the bladder that allows urine out) which often stops the leakage or reduces the leakage amount.  These treatments can start to work within a couple of weeks and then will be life-long.  Symptoms will resume if medication is stopped.  In rare cases, surgery may be recommended to change the position of the bladder neck, but usually only if medical treatment has been unsuccessful.


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