The life of a dog owner is filled with ups and downs, joy and frustration, laughter and heartache. In a way, your dog becomes like your child—just one that can’t speak the common tongue. As a result, when they’re hurting or dealing with an issue, it’s difficult to decipher what the root problem is and thus make a determination as to the proper course of action. To that end, one common problem that almost every dog will face in its lifetime—and that you need to be ready for—is the development of a urinary tract infection.
Now, if you’ve ever had a UTI or bladder infection, you know the uncomfortable feeling—the aching and urgent need to urinate. Fortunately for you, when such a problem arises, you can just call your doctor and get on an antibiotic. But, as mentioned, dogs have difficulty communicating when they’re in discomfort; therefore, it’s up to you as the owner to be vigilant and on the lookout for the signs of a UTI. Thankfully, there are ways to prevent UTIs in the first place such as utilizing bladder supplements for dogs. To that end, we’ll discuss the ins and outs of UTIs and then explain the best ways you can go about treating a dog that develops one.
Read on to find out more!
What are UTIs?
Lower urinary tract infections are incredibly common in dogs. In fact, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual:
Bacterial urinary tract infections (UTIs) typically result from normal skin and GI tract flora ascending the urinary tract and overcoming the normal urinary tract defenses that prevent colonization. Bacterial UTI is the most common infectious disease of dogs, affecting 14% of all dogs during their lifetime… Bacterial UTIs in ruminants are associated with catheterization or parturition in females and as both a cause and consequence of urolithiasis in males.
At its essence, a generic UTI is the result of a bacterial infection of the bladder and urinary tract, which in the vast majority of singular cases, are healthy in both anatomy and function. For diagnostic and remedial purposes, it can be split into one of two categories:
- Uncomplicated UTI – One-time infections, most commonly caused by a local bacterial infection.
- Complicated UTI – Persistent or recurrent infections, most frequently caused by an underlying medical issue or disease. These are not nearly as commonplace and are often asymptomatic, only discovered while investigating a different issue. Relevant comorbidities include:
- Urinary tract conformational abnormalities
- Reproductive tract conformational abnormalities
- Diabetes Mellitus
Typically, if there are 3 or more UTI episodes per year, or if the relevant comorbidities are present, your dog will be diagnosed with a complicated UTI.
The normal cause for an uncomplicated UTI development results from bacteria–generally feces or other debris–entering upwards through the urethral opening. In such cases, E. Coli is the most common culprit. If allowed to worsen and further progress, it can cause a host of debilitating symptoms, some of which could lead to the development of tertiary issues or diseases. Other causes of both uncomplicated and complicated UTIs include:
- Bladder infection
- Bladder inflammation
- Congenital abnormalities
- Incontinence from excessive drinking
- Incontinence from a weak bladder, typically due to age
- Prostate disease
- Spinal cord abnormalities
- Stones, crystals, or other debris building up in the urethra or bladder.
UTIs in Older Dogs
There is an age component to the prevalence of the issue, largely due to natural degeneration that comes with aging. Older females are particularly prone to urinary tract problems. According to a study entitled, Pre-test probability of urinary tract infection in dogs with clinical signs of lower urinary tract disease, researchers found the following:
A total of 1727 microbiology records were screened and 424 samples were included in the analysis. Bacterial cystitis was confirmed in 46% of the cases. Four variables predicted bacterial cystitis: sex/neuter status, age, pollakiuria and hematuria. A score was designated to each variable and a clinical rule was constructed. This rule attained an AUC of 0.75 and had a sensitivity of 83% and specificity of 55% at its optimal cut-off (score ≥2.0). A score cut-off of ≥3.0 had a positive predictive value of 70%.
UTI Symptoms in Dogs
As mentioned, complicated UTIs can be asymptomatic. However, you will have an easier time diagnosing the more benign form of a lower bladder infection. Common signs of an uncomplicated UTI include:
- Frequent Urination – Your average dog will relieve themselves anywhere from 3 to 5 times a day. As their owner, you should already have a good idea as to their normal habits. If they are going more often but producing less urine, that’s a good indicator that there’s something wrong with their lower bladder.
- Peeing accidents – If your dog has been house trained and suddenly begins to pee in the house semi-frequently, then they’re likely dealing with a UTI. Such infections make it hard for your pup to know when it has to use the restroom, which leads to accidents.
- Painful urination – If the urinary tract and urethra are infected or inflamed, it can be incredibly painful for your dog to urinate. As a result, they may exhibit symptoms of pain or distress such as:
- Unquenchable thirst – Dogs always seem thirsty, particularly when the weather is hot; however, it’s important you keep an eye on how they drink and how much. If your dog is gulping down more water than normal and then barely pees when he does go, there’s likely an underlying issue that needs medical attention.
- Licking their genitals – Although it's fairly common for dogs to lick their genitals, a dog with a UTI will do so more frequently. Likely, this is an attempt to soothe the itch, pain, or discomfort, and their way of letting you know that not everything is going right down there.
- Bloody or cloudy urine – Although you won’t be having your pup pee into a cup, it’s a good idea to watch as they pee to see whether the liquid looks normal. Blood in the urine is never a good sign, so if you see it, seek help immediately.
Additional dog UTI symptoms that are more generalized include:
- Back pain
- Dribbling urine
- Loss of appetite
- Strong odor to the urine
- Weight loss
If you witness the signs of a UTI in your dog, it would be wise to take them to the vet as soon as possible. Nipping the problem in the bud is wise since it allows you to:
- Treat the problem should it be an uncomplicated UTI, thus alleviating your dog’s discomfort.
- Identify if there are more serious underlying issues at hand which require immediate attention.
At the vet’s office, the vet will perform a routine review of your dog’s previous health history and ask you about the exhibited UTI symptoms. Upon the completion of this medical review, the vet will likely request a urinalysis. You or the vet will then need to get a urine sample from the dog. Once that has been received, the urine sample will be tested for:
That said, urinalysis only tells a partial story to your dog's urinary tract health, particularly in cases of diagnosing complicated UTIs. A study on the matter had this to say:
Sediment analysis alone is inadequate for diagnosis of UTIs because of problems regarding the variable quality of interpretation, stain contamination, and false-positive results from bacteriuria in the absence of clinical infection. Hematuria and proteinuria are often present with a UTI, but they are nonspecific and may be caused by noninfectious conditions…. Complete urinalysis, including urine-specific gravity, urine glucose level determination, and examination of the sediment for crystalluria is considered a minimum database for evaluation of suspected UTI and may be helpful to investigate underlying causes of infection, if present.
As we discuss treating a dog UTI, it’s helpful to once more split the UTIs into their respective categories.
Treating Uncomplicated UTIs
Dog UTI treatment for uncomplicated UTIs is a far simpler matter than for complicated UTIs. Should the vet diagnose your pup with a general UTI, they will provide you with a round of antibiotics that the pup must take. Typically, you will be given either Amoxicillin or trimethoprim-sulfonamide. Should those fail to work, your vet may prescribe antimicrobial treatments such as:
- Amikacin – Ideal for multidrug-resistant organisms, but not advised to be used routinely.
- Cefovecin – If oral treatment is causing issues or impossible.
- Ceftiofur – Useful for treating UTIs in canines.
- Chloramphenicol – Also used for a multidrug-resistant infection with few remaining options.
If you receive antibiotics, it’s vital that your dog completes the course of medicines, even if they appear to be improving. Failure to do so could result in your dog developing immunity to the antibiotic, which would render it impotent in future cases.
If an uncomplicated UTI goes untreated, it could lead to far more severe medical issues, not to mention serious discomfort for your pup. Left alone, a bladder infection can move to the kidneys, which could be life-threatening. Also, stones that block the urethra could keep your dog from being able to urinate, which would likely result in a ruptured bladder or total kidney failure.
Treating Complicated UTIs
Treating persistent UTIs can be quite tricky since there may be several tertiary issues that are causing the problem to occur. In addition, the lack of symptoms complicates the matter. Typically, the treatment will be determined by the culture and susceptibility testing, but will begin with a round of amoxicillin or trimethoprim-sulfonamide.
Generally, the vet will conduct a rigorous set of additional tests to see if there are underlying factors causing UTI recurrence or relapse. This could include:
- Complete blood cell count
- Serum biochemical profile
- Endocrine testing
- Rectal palpation
- Vulva examination
Before treatment can be initiated the vet will also perform a susceptibility test. Per Weese et al.:
The susceptibility test will typically use the S/I/R classification (Susceptible, Intermediate, and Resistant). If resistant, treatment is likely to fail and the drug should not be prescribed. If susceptible, there is a greater likelihood of clinical success (resolution of clinical signs of UTI) using normal treatment regimens; however factors such as drug absorption, drug excretion, drug inactivation, biofilm, necrotic debris, the presence of foreign materials, development of drug resistance during treatment, inducible resistance, laboratory error, and various comorbidities can impact on the success of an individual treatment. The use of drugs reported as intermediate is appropriate in situations where the drug is physiologically concentrated at the target site or if the dosage can be increased.
If multiple bacterial species or drug-resistant bacteria are found, the matters and treatment will be further complicated. Also, if the UTI is simply the result of an underlying medical issue such as cancer, then that fundamental problem must be treated with the hopes that the UTI will follow suit.
Although it’s impossible to altogether prevent your dog from developing a UTI, there are, in fact, steps you can take to make it a less likely or frequent occurrence. Such actions include:
- Leave fresh water – It’s essential that you change out your dog’s water frequently. Doing so will help prevent the buildup and ingestion of bacteria. By giving them plenty of clean water, you help them clean out their systems by frequently urinating.
- Let them urinate regularly – Although sometimes unavoidable, it’s wise to let your dog out to urinate as regularly as possible. Forcing them to hold in their urine can cause urinary problems to develop, especially if it becomes a pattern.
- Give them probiotics – Good and healthy bacteria provided by probiotics will help boost their immune system and fight off nasty bacteria. You can easily provide this in your dog’s diet with probiotic supplements for dogs.
- Use antibacterial wipes – Antibacterial wipes can be used to clear and clean your dog’s urinary opening of any debris or lingering bacteria. Although unpleasant, such preventative action can help immensely.
Treating Canine UTIs
You should expect that your dog will have to deal with a UTI during their lifetime. If they manifest the symptoms discussed above, take them to the vet as soon as possible. Doing so will allow the doctor to perform tests and provide a proper course of action.
Fortunately, the vast majority of UTI cases are treatable and can be remedied with a simple antibiotic course. So, keep in mind these symptoms of UTI in dogs and you’ll forever be ready to act and treat it should your dog develop one. By being proactive and arming yourself with this knowledge, you will have the tools you need to ensure that your dog's health is at its best!
Dowling, P. Merck Veterinary Manual. Bacterial Urinary Tract Infections. https://www.merckvetmanual.com/pharmacology/systemic-pharmacotherapeutics-of-the-urinary-system/bacterial-urinary-tract-infections
Noordlund, M. NCBI. Pre-test probability of urinary tract infection in dogs with clinical signs of lower urinary tract disease. (2019). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30971354
Weese, J. NCBI. Antimicrobial Use Guidelines for Treatment of Urinary Tract Disease in Dogs and Cats: Antimicrobial Guidelines Working Group of the International Society for Companion Animal Infectious Diseases. (2011). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3134992/
School of Veterinary Science, The University of Queensland. Canine bacterial urinary tract infections: new developments in old pathogens. (2011). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21239193
Schramble, M. American Kennel Club. Urinary Tract Infections in Dogs. (2016). https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/urinary-tract-infections-uti-in-dogs/
PetMD. Urinary Tract Infection, Lower (Bacterial) in Dogs. https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/urinary/c_dg_lower_urinary_tract_infection_bacterial