The alarm goes off—it’s the typical morning routine—you stretch, roll out of bed, and by the time you’re in the living room, your furry friend is already scratching at the door to do his or her “morning routine.” You let them out to do their business, and after a while, you notice they’re taking longer than usual. So, you watch. Every time they start to urinate, they suddenly stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. A second alarm goes off, but this one is in your head; your dog might have a UTI.
A urinary tract infection, or UTI, is a common bladder infection in dogs. In fact, according to the Merck Manual, about 1 in 7 dogs will experience one throughout their lifetime. While you may not have heard of many dogs being treated for a UTI, this could be a result of its asymptomatic nature, meaning UTIs can be present without symptoms or with very subtle signs.
This is tough, especially when leaving a UTI untreated can often lead to serious ailments, like lower urinary tract dysfunction or even kidney failure. To give you and your furry friend the best chance at avoiding these, you can familiarize yourself with dog UTI symptoms, should they present themselves and prepare yourself with treatment or preventative options such as bladder supplements for dogs.
Urinary Tract Infection
First things first—A urinary tract infection is a bacterial infection of the (you guessed it) urinary tract. The bacterial infection can occur in one of two ways. The bacteria can be ingested and make their way to the bladder. Or, bacteria from feces or other random debris enter the urethra and bypass the tract’s natural defenses, colonizing and causing irritation and infection.
Most UTIs start and end in the lower urinary tract—the urethra and the bladder—however, some infections continue to spread up the ureters to the kidneys or pass the blood-prostate barrier and infect the prostate gland. This is where the more severe ailments can occur.
Knowing the Symptoms of UTIs in Dogs
Because the signs of a UTI can be subtle, it can often lead dog owners to misunderstand what’s happening with their dog. Here are the most common symptoms associated with UTIs in dogs:
- Difficulty urinating – If you notice your dog start and stop frequently while trying to urinate, this could indicate a UTI. If the pain is what’s causing the difficulty, then your dog might whimper when urinating or refuse to go pee altogether.
- Licking the urinary opening – While it’s common for dogs (and cats) to give themselves a deep clean, licking of the urinary opening more than usual could mean your dog has a UTI. Dogs are intuitive creatures and address their wounds with their tongue. While in this case, licking won’t help them; it could help you determine the issue.
- Urinating in the house – UTIs, especially when pain is one of the symptoms, can cause your dog stress. If your dog suddenly starts having accidents, despite being lawn-trained, it might be due to a UTI.
- Dribbling urine – If you notice small drops of urine in your dog’s walking path, this could have been because they had trouble getting all of it out when they were outside.
- More frequent urination – Another reason for urinating in the house is that they have to go more often than usual. Frequent urination could be because of the difficulty urinating or that they’re drinking more water.
- Fever – Because a UTI is an infection, many of them come with a fever. If your dog is hot to the touch but shivering like they’re cold, this is a good sign of a fever. Note, when the infection is located in the bladder, a fever rarely results. Rather, if a fever presents, the chances are high that the infection has spread to other, dangerous areas, like the kidney or prostate.
If your dog strays from their normal behavior in any of these ways, be sure to watch them closely while they go to the bathroom. As a final, but acute, symptom:
- Bloody or cloudy urine – If you notice blood in the urine or that the urine appears cloudy, it’s time to take your dog to the vet immediately. Bloody or cloudy urine could mean the infection has spread beyond the lower urinary tract and needs antibiotics to clear the bacteria.
Misbehaving Dog or UTI: Understanding the Subtlety of a UTI
This section is slightly heartbreaking but valuable to know.
So far, you might be thinking, “Great, these symptoms are easy to spot.” But many dog owners are late to identify their dog’s behavior as a UTI. Think about it, your dog can’t explain that it hurts to pee and that’s why they’re constantly asking to go back outside or peeing a little in the house. Instead, you might think that your dog is acting out.
People have detailed horror stories online of going through housebreaking all over again, even bringing in a trainer when the dog wouldn’t comply. Another tried taking away the dog’s water bowl at night to stop the frequent urination. All this while their poor pooches were suffering every day, just wishing to be understood.
This is why UTIs can be considered asymptomatic. The symptoms listed above can all be chalked up to “My dog is acting weird,” or even more disheartening, “My dog has been misbehaving lately.” Thus, the purpose of this article: a warning sign, a cautionary flag, a push for patience when it comes to strange bathroom behavior of a previously well-trained dog.
If these words resonate with your situation, then the next step is to confirm your suspicions. Time to get diagnosed.
Diagnosing The UTI
Your local veterinarian will be able to confirm a UTI using a urine sample from your dog. Urine culture work can range in price from $25-$100, in addition to the cost of the full checkup. This is money well spent; if prescription medication is necessary, you want to be sure to use the correct antibiotic, and that depends on determining the right bacteria.
Depending on the severity of the UTI, there are a number of different dog UTI treatment options available. To run the gamut, here are the treatment options and when they’re best utilized:
- Antibiotics – There are many different forms of bacteria that can cause a urinary tract infection. Antimicrobial therapy is best done with cultures in a lab to determine which pathogen it is and which antibiotic will be most effective. Some common antibiotics include Amoxicillin, Cefadroxil, Tetracycline, and Gentamicin. While effective, these prescriptions can have negative side effects from rashes to diarrhea and vomiting.
- Dietary Changes – For a gentler treatment option, you can try switching their dietary intake. Foods with high water content can help keep your dog hydrated and flush the urinary tract. Also including foods without harmful preservatives, artificial colors, and additives in your dog’s diet can do wonders for your dog’s his gut and urinary tract health.
- Supplements – Both cranberry and probiotics are two dietary supplements that are known to help with UTIs. As a safe, natural alternative to antibiotics, PetHonesty offers cranberry supplements for dogs as well as probiotic dog treats.
- Herbal Remedies – Owners have had self-reported success with certain herbal remedies for their dog with UTI symptoms. Some of these herbal remedies include Uva Ursi, Berberine, and Goldenrod Horsetail.
- Surgery – In cases where the UTI spreads and causes more serious conditions (think kidney and bladder stones), surgery might be necessary to correct the situation.
Treating the Underlying Cause
Regardless of which treatment option you choose for your pup, it’s only half of the equation. If you offer a dietary supplement for their urinary tract and put it in the same bowl where a strain of Escherichia coli (E. coli) has been living, then the problem will continue. Not only that but if you use antibiotics, you can promote the emergence of resistant bacteria, which will be even more difficult to treat.
Try your best to identify the underlying cause and take precautionary measures:
- Stagnant water – Search through the yard for any stagnant water. A leaky hose, for example, could be riddled with UTI-promoting bacteria.
- Clean all food and water bowls – Hit the reset button on their bowls. Disinfect everything and only offer them fresh food and water each time (avoid leaving it out overnight).
- Antibacterial wipes – After your dog urinates you can help keep their urinary opening clean with pet-safe antibacterial wipes.
- Cancer screening – Although scary to think about, there are some cancers that promote UTIs. If these infections keep returning, talk to your vet about a cancer screening.
If your dog has suffered from a UTI, you are aware of how awful of an experience it can be. To avoid repeated infections, try instilling these preventative techniques:
- Keep your dog hydrated – The more clean water your dog drinks, the more they will urinate. This keeps the urinary tract flush from the build-up of bacteria. Because dogs won’t drink unless they’re thirsty, you can try including food with high water content in their diet to keep them extra hydrated. Canned pumpkin, for example, has around 90% water content.
- Regular vet checkups – Much like regularly going to the dentist for your teeth, a vet checkup should be an annual or twice-annual visit.
- Positive gut health – A healthy gut is helpful for the promotion of good bacteria in the digestive tract, and it deters the emergence of harmful bacteria that can lead to infection. PetHonesty’s probiotic dog treats can keep the gut flora thriving and healthy.
- Install a doggy door – Allowing your dog to urinate as they need will help them keep a regular flow through their urinary tract.
UTI Left Untreated
A common question from pet owners is whether or not the UTI will clear up on its own. With humans, it’s true that about a third of uncomplicated UTIs suddenly resolve on their own without intervention by antibiotics. But this hasn’t been proven in the same way with dogs.
When it comes to humans, we can communicate that the painful symptoms have alleviated and that the UTI must have cleared. Dogs don’t have that luxury—they need testing to confirm whether or not the infection passed.
The risk associated with leaving a UTI untreated is that the infection can spread and cause severe urinary issues or further complications.
Complications From an Untreated UTI
Bacteria can survive in almost any condition—which makes sense, they were some of the first organisms to exist in the hostile conditions when the Earth was still forming. Not much has changed with bacteria since then, and when they colonize an area—such as in your dog’s urinary tract—they thrive. It’s warm; it’s moist; it’s bacteria heaven.
Left to their own devices, these bacteria cultures will continue to grow and spread away from the lower urinary tract and cause complications in your dog, including:
- Kidney Infection – If the lower urinary tract infection is not dealt with, it can cause the infection to spread to the kidney. This will have much more serious side effects, including:
- Pungent or odorous urine
- Lack of appetite
- Hunching over
- Pain in the abdomen
- Excessive thirst and urination
- Blood in the urine
Left untreated, kidney infection can lead to kidney failure, which is a fatal condition if not spotted quickly enough.
Kidney Stones – UTIs can cause a dog to hold in their urine much longer than they should. As the urine becomes “supersaturated,” small crystals and stones can start to form. This creates a snowball effect where the stones cause urine to pool, which causes the stones to grow. Left untreated these stones can create blockages in the urinary tract and become fatal.
- Prostatitis – Prostatitis occurs when the urinary tract infection spreads through the blood into the prostate. This condition worsens from the acute phase to the chronic phase. Acute prostatitis can cause abscesses to rupture in the abdominal cavity. Chronic prostatitis can cause blood in the stool, lethargic behavior, fever, and constipation.
- Bladder cancer – Repeated UTIs that are left untreated for long periods of time can slowly cause the development of bladder cancer. The constant inflammation and stress on the body can cause a tumor, and if the tumor metastasizes, cancer can form.
Proper Preparation For UTI
Urinary tract infections are tough to spot and can cause continual discomfort for your dog until treated. Knowing the symptoms beforehand and keeping an eye on your dog’s bathroom patterns will help to catch UTIs as soon as they arise. If you’re unsure whether or not your dog has a UTI, a quick visit to the local vet can help ease your mind and keep your dog's health in check.
Merck Manual. Bacterial Urinary Tract Infections. https://www.merckvetmanual.com/pharmacology/systemic-pharmacotherapeutics-of-the-urinary-system/bacterial-urinary-tract-infections
Pets Web MD. Lower Urinary Tract Problems and Infections in Dogs. https://pets.webmd.com/dogs/guide/lower-urinary-tract-problems-infections-dogs#1
NCBI. Non-surgical management of recurrent urinary tract infections in women. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5522788/
Purdue. Canine Bladder Cancer. https://www.purdue.edu/vet/pcop/files/docs/CanineUrinaryBladderCancer.pdf