Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Does My Dog Need Depends?


Pet Column for the week of August 18, 2003


Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Ann Marie Falk
Information Specialist

Many owners find themselves in a panic when their dogs begin urinating inside the house. No one likes the messy clean up and the lingering scent of urine. Urinary incontinence affects many pets but often goes ignored and untreated.

"Many pet owners ignore inappropriate urination or are embarrassed by it. They don't understand why their dog is suddenly being 'bad.' Push that embarrassment aside and ask your veterinarian for advice!" says Dr. Christine Merle, a veterinarian formerly at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana.

"The first question to answer is 'Is it a behavior issue or is it incontinence or some other medical problem?' The most common presentation is a female, spayed, middle-aged dog that has begun urinating in the house. This is a dog that had been previously housebroken and often exhibits the behavior when the owner is home," explains Dr. Merle.

A puppy most likely does not have a problem with incontinence. It just doesn't understand where you want him to go about his business yet. A male dog urinating on furniture may be "marking his territory," and incontinence is a less likely diagnosis. Male dogs can become incontinent, and if they begin dribbling, the prostate should be examined for problems.

The inappropriate urination often occurs when the animal is sleeping or in an extremely relaxed state. Owners commonly report that nighttime is when most of the problems are seen. When the dog gets up from a nap there is a puddle in that spot or a wet spot on the carpet.

"Dogs with urinary incontinence can release a small or large amount of urine. Owners often notice that their dogs seem to be dripping or dribbling urine. In addition dogs with incontinence may lick or clean their genital area excessively," explains Dr. Merle.

The exact cause of urinary incontinence in dogs remains unknown. At the bottom of the bladder is a urinary sphincter. Muscles around the sphincter are squeezed tight to keep urine in the bladder where it belongs until the signal is given to relax and allow urine to flow out of the body. Urinary incontinence may be the result of urine pooling on the wrong side of the sphincter, outside the bladder, or it may be due to loss of sphincter muscle tone.

"Dogs with incontinence tend to have problems with secondary irritation in the genital area. They lick and clean the area more often, leading to raw skin. Often the skin in the area is stained with the urine and the hair is discolored and matted," comments Dr. Merle.

If your dog is urinating inappropriately in the house, it needs to be examined by a veterinarian. Your veterinarian can determine whether the issue is behavioral or there are underlying physiological or medical causes. The first step in most cases is a urinalysis.

A urinalysis can detect a urinary tract infection, which may be the cause of the problem. Female dogs, due to the anatomy of their urinary tracts, are prone to low-grade urinary tract infections. Inappropriate urination caused by an infection will resolve with antibiotics.

If the urinalysis is normal, the next step may be to do blood work and perhaps other diagnostic tests, such as radiographs (X rays) and ultrasound examinations. These tests will rule out other medical conditions, an important precaution before administering any medications.

"There are several drugs on the market now labeled for use in treating urinary incontinence in dogs. Until a few years ago dogs were treated with off-label use of human medications. Phenylpropalanine (PPA) is the most commonly prescribed drug to treat dogs with incontinence. It works by tightening the urinary sphincter," states Dr. Merle.

The dose is entirely dependant upon the dog and the severity of the problem. Some dogs may need to be treated for life. Other dogs may experience an occasional bout with incontinence. Dogs with incontinence often are more likely to have urinary tract infections, both because of the bacteria from saliva when the dog licks the area and because pooled urine is prime ground for bacterial colonies.

If your pet is urinating inappropriately or you have questions about urinary incontinence, contact your local veterinarian for more information.