If your dog is getting along in years, they'll be considered a senior soon if they aren't already. And with older age comes a few health and behavioral changes. While not every dog has the same experience as they age, there are a few things that most older dogs can expect. Urinary and bladder control issues is one of them.
Urinary incontinence is the inability to control the bladder, resulting in involuntary urine leakage. This can be frustrating (and a little heartbreaking) for you as a dog owner, since your precious pet was most likely house-trained before.
Some people will use the term "incontinence" to refer to both involuntary urination and bowel movements but for the purposes of this article, incontinence refers to urinary only.
It's crucial to understand what an old dog bladder control issue is, what causes it, and how you can manage it as your dog ages. That way, you and your beloved canine companion can live in harmony as time goes on, even with something like bladder and UT issues making things a little more complicated.
What Are Bladder Control Issues?
Incontinence is the involuntary leaking of urine from your dog's bladder. "Involuntary" is the key word here — loss of urinary control is….uncontrollable, meaning that your dog isn't likely aware of their own urination or urine leakage. That's why you'll often find urine in a place where your dog typically rests, like their bed.
Other common scenarios for old dog bladder control issues include urination while sleeping, dribbling urine while walking or standing, and finding urine spots on areas of rest, like a piece of furniture. You'll probably be able to see or smell urine on your dog's body, most likely on their underside. It’s also worth noting that dogs with incontinence tend to lick the vulva or penis area frequently.
Urinary incontinence is more common in older female dogs than male dogs, although it can affect dogs of either gender. It also seems that, for unknown reasons, certain breeds are more prone to it than others, including Old English Sheepdogs, Cocker Spaniels, Springer Spaniels, and Doberman Pinschers. That said, any dog breed is susceptible to the problem.
Causes of Urinary Incontinence
There are various health issues that can lead to old dog’s losing control over their bladder. Below are some common causes, but be aware that many medical issues can cause this. As such, it's essential to speak with your veterinarian as soon as you suspect your dog is urinating in a way that isn't normal.
Weak Urethral Sphincter
One of the most common causes in dogs is a weak urethral sphincter, otherwise known as the bladder sphincter. A weak bladder sphincter occurs when muscles in this area degrade, leading to reduced bladder control and urine leakage.
Diminished muscle control stems from a hormonal imbalance (estrogen deficiency in females and testosterone deficiency in males), as these hormones are vital for maintaining muscle tone in the urethral sphincter.
Urinary Tract Infections
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are another leading cause of bladder control issues in our canine friends. This is usually bacterial that occurs in a part of the urinary system - most frequently the urethra itself but possibly in the bladder or kidneys as well.
Kidney Health Concerns
Kidney issues and urinary tract problems are often closely related in older dogs. UTIs that are left untreated can lead to long-term kidney issues as the infection reaches the kidneys. The resulting irritation causes a loss of bladder control. Plus, dogs with kidney issues tend to drink more water. That extra water intake leads to more frequent urination, often inside the home.
Urinary Bladder Stones (Uroliths)
Uroliths, or urinary bladder stones, are another possible cause of incontinence in dogs. These stones are hard mineral deposits that form in some part of the urinary tract — the ureter, kidneys, bladder, or urethra — and interfere with the flow of urine while causing irritation.
Spinal Cord Issues or Damage
It's possible for spinal cord damage — physical trauma or a protruding disc, for instance — to cause bladder control issues in older dogs. Since the nerves that control most of your dog's muscle movements run through the spine, spinal injuries can result in reduced muscle control, including the muscles of the urinary system.
Other Potential Causes
There are plenty of other potential underlying causes of incontinence in dogs. But don't fear the worst right away — most older dogs who develop incontinence don't have these serious health problems. It's usually just a side effect of getting older and losing muscle tone in the urinary sphincter, or it's a UTI that hasn't been treated.
Addressing Urinary and Bladder Control Issues
Treating incontinence in older dogs isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. It depends on the underlying cause of the problem. Some of the most common treatments for old dog bladder control issues include:
- Hormone therapy: Since hormonal imbalances are often at the root of bladder control issues, hormone therapy is a common method to manage the condition. Pets undergoing hormone therapy will usually need blood work performed on a regular basis to make sure the hormones aren't causing any negative side effects.
- Phenylpropanolamine: Also known as PPA, phenylpropanolamine is a medication widely used in veterinary medicine to manage bladder issues . It's well-tolerated by most pets and helps combat poor muscle tone in the urethral sphincter.
- Surgery: In some cases, surgical treatments can treat incontinence. A procedure known as colposuspension involves injecting a bulking agent like collagen into the urethra to help urine flow more smoothly. In the case of spinal injury or a bulging disc, surgical intervention can solve the problem.
- Diet adjustments or supplementation: Some dogs can benefit from dietary modifications that make things like bladder stones and UTIs less likely.
Most dogs respond well to therapy and medication. These steps, coupled with proper management at home and a great senior diet, can help your dog continue to enjoy a good quality of life as they age.
Non-Medical Methods for Managing Old Dog Bladder Control Issues
There are a few things you can do at home to help your incontinent dog stay comfortable.
- Frequent walks: Take your pet outdoors for bathroom breaks or quick walks more frequently, especially after they've had water.
- Pads, towels, or diapers: Place puppy pads or old towels around the house to give your older dog a place to go in an emergency. You might try using doggie diapers or belly bands for dogs with severe or frequent incontinence.
- Keep it clean: Always keep your dog's genital area clean and sanitized, especially if you're using dog diapers. You don't want to leave urine against your dog's skin and fur for long periods of time, as this can lead to odor, irritation, and skin infections. Clean soiled areas frequently with a pet-safe cleaning wipe.
Loss of Bladder Control Doesn’t Have to Ruin Your Dog’s Life
Old dogs losing control of when and where they pee is no fun for the canines who experience it or for the pet parents who have to clean up the mess. But it doesn't have to be something that causes great disruption to your daily life.
From UTIs to bladder stones, there are many potential causes for this common problem. As such, working closely with your veterinarian and developing a treatment plan — usually one that involves medication or therapy combined with adjustments around the home — is the right way to tackle it.