Urine is stored in the bladder. When a dog releases himself, the muscles in the bladder wall contract, sneezing the urine out through the urethra (the narrow tube that carries the urine outside the body).
A ring of muscle called a sphincter surrounds the urethra near the bladder, closing off the urine flow until it is time for the dog to release himself.
Urinary incontinence is involuntary or uncontrollable leaking of urine from the bladder.
Canine urinary continence is a symptom of some underlying health issues, and should not be confused with house training problem or submissive urination (which usually happens in young puppies).
Because urinary incontinence in dogs is unrelated to house training, it is important NOT to punish the dog for having accidents in the house. It won’t solve the problem and it’s unfair to the dog.
An incontinent dog usually wets his bed, or has “accidents” in inappropriate places in the house. Sometimes, he may dribble urine and may need to urinate more frequently than normal.
There are several types of urinary incontinence in dogs caused by various underlying health issues. Each requires different treatment.
It is therefore important to get the incontinent dog to a vet for a check-up so the vet can properly diagnose and treat the underlying cause.
Types and Causes of Canine Urinary Incontinence
As you can imagine, there are quite a few health issues that may cause a dog to become incontinent. Here are the common ones:
This type of canine urinary incontinence is the result of hormonal deficiency. Middle-aged to older spayed female dogs, and sometimes older neutered male dogs, are prone to this type of incontinence.
Hormone-responsive incontinence is caused by a deficiency in estrogen in females and testosterone in males.
Both of these two reproductive hormones are responsible for maintaining the bladder’s smooth muscle groups and the muscle tone of the sphincter. The common complaint regarding this form of incontinence is leaking of urine while the dog is resting or sleeping (similar to bed-wetting).
This type of incontinence is caused by neurological disorders as a result of spinal cord injuries, brain tumors, infections, etc.
Neurological disorders such as brain tumors or spinal cord injuries can interfere with the nerves that control the bladder.
Depending on the seriousness of the nerve damage, the dog may dribble urine intermittently or constantly. Dogs with this type of urinary incontinence may also show other signs related to neurological problems, such as a loss of coordination, fainting, and seizures.
Kidney and Bladder Problems
Problems with the bladder and kidneys (such as kidney failure, bladder stones, bladder infections, bladder tumors) can also lead to canine urinary incontinence.
One common symptom of these health problems is frequent urination. If a dog with one of these problems is not allowed to go outside to urinate, he may urinate in inappropriate places inside the house.
If you have an older dog and he suddenly starts having accidents in the house, he may be suffering from what’s known as canine cognitive dysfunction. It’s similar to Alzheimer’s disease in people, and the dog may be confused or even forget as to where to release himself.
Ectopic ureter is a congenital problem. Instead of opening in the bladder, one or both of the ureters open in the urethra, vagina, or uterus. This results in constant dribbling of urine.
Females are eight times more likely to have this problem than males.
As well, certain breeds, such as the Siberian Huskies, Toy Poodles, Labrador Retrievers, Collie, Welsh Corgi, and some breeds of terrier are predisposed to this birth defect.
Other Possible Causes
Other diseases that may cause urinary incontinence in dogs include:
- Diabetes: One hallmark symptom of diabetes in dogs is the dog drinking a lot of water. With so much water intake, it is understandable that the dog needs to go to the “bathroom” more frequently. If the dog doesn’t have the chance to do that, he may have accidents in the house.
- Cushing’s Disease: Similar to diabetes, one symptom of canine Cushing’s disease is excessive thirst. Again, if the dog cannot use the bathroom as needed, accidents happen in the house.
- Arthritis: Sometimes, arthritis and hip dysplasia in dogs may cause nerve damage, which can then affect the muscle tone around the urinary tract. This can result in urinary incontinence in dogs.
- Liver Problems: One early sign of canine liver problems is drinking water excessively. Again, this may lead to accidents in the house.
Treatment of Canine Urinary Incontinence
Treatment of urinary incontinence in dogs depends on the underlying health problem. Very often, identifying and treating the underlying cause can solve the problem of incontinence.
For hormone-responsive incontinence, drugs (e.g. phenylpropanolamine) that increase the muscle tone of the sphincter are usually prescribed.
Ectopic ureter can be corrected by surgery.
If you have an old dog and the vet has ruled out that an underlying health problem is causing the dog’s incontinence, he may prescribe a drug called Proin®. This drug works to strengthen the sphincter muscles surrounding the urethra to minimize urine leakage.
But note that this drug comes with some possible side effects. Proin® may cause a dog to lose his appetite, and his heart rate to increase. Moreover, it may cause behavioral issues, such as increased irritability, aggression, and so on.
In one dog forum, a few dog owners commented that Proin® “sapped the life out of their dogs”, so a diminished quality of life may be a side effect.
More seriously, some dogs may develop a full-blown allergic reaction to the drug. They may show typical allergy symptoms such as hives, swelling of the lips and tongue, and breathing difficulty.
Naturally, these are just possible side effects and they will not affect all dogs. Just be aware that there is a possibility for your dog to react adversely to the drug.
How to Help an Incontinent Dog
If your dog has unfortunately become incontinent, there are ways to help him (and you) to cope. For example:
- Get your dog some doggie diapers.
- Get your dog some “Pee Pads” or some other form of indoor toilet so he can have access to the bathroom 24/7.
- Wipe your dog regularly and in particular after an “accident” to prevent bacterial infections.
- Get your dog an elevated bed.