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

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The Reasons Behind the Puddles on Your Floor


Pet Column for the week of August 27, 2007


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

What do you do when Fido starts peeing on your brand new carpet or having accidents in the night while she sleeps? Inappropriate urination problems are not uncommon in dogs and owners should be aware that finding unexpected puddles on the floor may warrant a trip to the veterinarian.

The first step in your dog's diagnosis will be to decide whether Fido's inappropriate urination is caused by a behavioral or medical problem. Your veterinarian will want to know how long your dog has been urinating in the house, how often it occurs, and the situations surrounding the accident.

If your dog or puppy is still being housebroken it is likely that further training and not medical attention will be the solution to the problem. Puppies are unable to hold their urine as long as their adult counterparts so frequent walks at consistent times throughout the day can help with the housebreaking process. However, it is still important to keep an eye on your puppy's bathroom habits and seek advice from your veterinarian if youre concerned.

Once behavioral problems have been ruled out, your veterinarian can then move on to narrowing down the long list of medical problems that can cause your dog's inappropriate urination. According to Dr. Julie Byron, a veterinary specialist at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana, it is important to know whether the animal is actively, or consciously, urinating. This information can help distinguish between urinary incontinence and other medical problems like bladder infections or stones.

Incontinence problems in dogs can be caused by a variety of problems. Dr. Byron says that it is important for owners to recognize that with incontinence the animal has no control over its inappropriate urination and usually does not even know that it is occurring. Incontinence is usually characterized by accidents that happen while the animal is resting or asleep, the owner may simply notice that the dog's bed is damp in the morning and that the dog never moved.

There are several factors that can predispose your dog to incontinence issues such as age, breed, and sex. Incontinence is more common in middle-aged and senior animals, but can occur at any point in the animal's life. Also, female dogs and large breed dogs over 45 pounds--like Dobermans, Old English Sheepdogs, and Weimaraners--tend to be more prone to urinary incontinence.

"I also make a point of asking owners if they have noticed their pet drinking more water than usual," says Dr. Byron. "If this is the case the animal may have an endocrine problem that is causing their increased thirst and subsequent increased need to urinate. Blood work would be needed in order to diagnose such a problem."

Once incontinence and endocrine problems have been removed from the list of likely causes the next question your veterinarian may ask you is whether the inappropriate urination is characterized by an increase in frequency or urgency, straining when urinating, or any other signs of discomfort while urinating.

According to Dr. Byron the next step is diagnostic testing, which usually includes a urinalysis and urine culture to detect signs of infection. Depending on those results further diagnostics such as an ultrasound, radiographs, blood work, or cystoscopy may be needed, and can diagnose anything from bladder stones to tumors in the bladder or urinary tract.

If infection is the cause of your dog's problem, your veterinarian will use the results of your dog's urine culture and sensitivity to prescribe an antibiotic to clear up the offending infection. The results of this test are important since it enables your veterinarian to prescribe the right antibiotic to target your dog's specific infection.

Unfortunately, not every medical condition is so easy to fix and some dogs will hit the unlucky lottery with a diagnosis of bladder stones. Bladder stones can form when the pH of your dogs urine is either too basic or acidic, causing the minerals that are naturally present in the urine to form a hard stone. Breeds that are predisposed to bladder stones of various compositions include the Dalmatian, English Bulldog, Schnauzer, West Highland Terrier, and Bichon Frise.

Dr. Byron explains that your veterinarian will use x-ray and ultrasound images to determine how many stones are present and how large the stones are. If the stones are small enough they can be flushed out of the bladder in a non-surgical procedure known as urinary hydropulsion; however, the more common method of removing bladder stones is a surgical method called a cystotomy. After the bladder stones are removed your veterinarian will work with you to create a plan to help prevent further stones from forming.

Dr. Byron recommends performing x-ray studies every other month after the initial operation to reduce the need for future surgery, since it is possible for bladder stones to reoccur despite preventative measures.

For more information on causes of inappropriate urination or on any of the medical conditions that may cause inappropriate urination, contact your local veterinarian.