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Bladder Infection in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Written and published by Tails 'N' Tummies

Did you know that nearly 14% of dogs will contract a bladder infection during their lifetime? Bladder infections are a common problem for our four-legged friends, and they can be painful and uncomfortable if left to progress. Fortunately, thanks to modern medicine, most bladder infections in dogs are easily treatable if caught early on.

In this blog post, we will discuss what a bladder infection is, how it differs from other common urinary issues, and what signs and symptoms to watch out for. We'll also cover the potential causes and ways to diagnose a canine bladder infection, along with possible treatment options.

What is a Bladder Infection in Dogs?

A bladder infection in dogs is exactly what it sounds like - an infection of the bladder. This is a common issue for many dogs and most often occurs when bacteria enter the bladder through the urethra and begin to multiply.

Though any dog can contract a bladder infection, female dogs are much more prone to this issue than male dogs. Why is this? Because a female dog will posture in a squatting position to urinate and is more easily exposed to the harmful bacteria that lie in wait on the ground. Males, on the other hand, will urinate in a standing position, significantly reducing exposure to bacteria.

Bladder infections in dogs can cause severe discomfort and can even lead to other (more serious) medical issues if left untreated. To prevent further complications, it's crucial to have a thorough understanding of the signs and symptoms of bladder infections in dogs and how to treat them.

What Are the Signs of Bladder Infection in Dogs?

It's important for pet owner's to be aware of the signs and symptoms of a bladder infection so that you can get your pup the help he needs quickly. Doing so will prevent this common health concern from evolving into something more serious.

The signs of a bladder infection in dogs are similar to that of humans and should be easy to spot if you know what to look for. If your pet does have a bladder infection, he may show any combination of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty urinating (straining)
  • Increased frequency or urgency (asking to go out way more often than normal)
  • Having accidents in the house (as if your pup just can't make it outside)
  • Increased thirst or water intake
  • Blood-tinged or "cloudy" urine (as if coated in a thick, clear film)
  • Pain when urinating (crying, whining, shaking, etc.)
  • Excess licking of the genitals
  • Strong or foul-smelling urine

In addition, a pet with a bladder infection will often produce much smaller amounts of urine at a time versus a normal, uninterrupted stream. However, if a pet becomes unable to urinate at any point, he should be taken to the veterinarian immediately.

Often, if a dog is unable to urinate, it is because he has an obstruction in the urethra that will not allow urine to pass through. This is usually caused by a bladder stone or some other form of calcification and can be fatal if not treated with urgency.

While this scenario is much more common for male dogs due to the conformation of their urogenital system, it is entirely possible for female dogs to obstruct as well. This situation constitutes a true medical emergency and should not be taken lightly.

What Causes Bladder Infection in Dogs?

Exposure to bacteria is the single most common cause of bladder infections in dogs. However, there are a slew of other potential causes to consider as well if your pet becomes symptomatic, including (but not limited to) the following.

Poor Hygiene

Urinary issues are common for dogs kept in an unclean environment. If a pet is surrounded by filth and cannot relieve themselves without exposure to harmful bacteria, they are very likely to contract a bladder infection or urinary tract infection (UTI). This is a common occurrence for dogs who reside in puppy mills, "backyard" breeding farms, or any other overcrowded facility that is not regularly cleaned.

Stress

As is the case for many humans, stress can have a significant impact on a dog's health. "But my dog doesn't seem stressed," you might be thinking. The truth is that not all stressors are obvious - a lot of times, they are very subtle things that no one else in the home may notice but your dog.

Physiologic stressors can be thought of as any social or environmental circumstance that challenges a pet's adaptive capabilities. Examples of this may include a stay at the kennel, a trip to the vet, or moving to a new home. All of these scenarios are stressful for dogs who rely heavily on consistency and routine. But how does all of this come into play with a bladder infection?

When a pet becomes stressed, their cortisol levels (the hormone responsible for regulating blood pressure, immune system function, and inflammatory processes within the body) become elevated. When this happens, the immune system becomes weakened, which increases the risk of infection. And as we've learned, bacterial growth is the leading cause of bladder infections in dogs.

Pro Tip: One of the best ways to effectively relieve your pet’s stress or anxiety is the use of a Melatonin supplement. This calming, all-natural substance can help your pet feel more calm, cool, and collected by increasing their serotonin levels.

Body Abnormalities

Another cause of bladder infections in dogs has to do with the conformation of their body, specifically for female dogs. For example, the vaginal structures of those female dogs with hooded or recessed vulvas are more likely to trap bacteria, which can lead straight to a bladder infection. Preventing such bladder issues can be difficult as they are associated with the physical shape of a dog's body rather than anything else.

Endocrine Disease

Endocrine diseases such as Diabetes and Cushing's Disease can often be the culprit behind bladder infections in dogs. When the hormones produced by the endocrine system, specifically cortisol and insulin, are thrown out of whack due to one of these diseases, it can weaken a pet's immune system. This makes the bladder more vulnerable to bacterial infections.

Additionally, certain medications used to treat these endocrine conditions can also increase your dog's risk for bladder infections.

Use of Immunosuppressive Drugs

Secondary reactions to immunosuppressant drugs can also cause canine bladder infections. Medications that suppress your pet's immune system, such as steroids or chemotherapy drugs, can cause a decrease in the dog's overall immunity. This weakened immune response can cause already present bacteria to bloom suddenly and lead to infection, increasing the risk of further illness.

Bladder Stones or Obstruction

Bladder stones are another common cause of bladder infections in dogs. These stones are created by minerals and salts in dietary ingredients that become concentrated in the urine when excessive amounts are consumed or there isn't enough water intake. Similarly, blockages can happen if a foreign item, such as sticks, rocks, plastic, and other items, gets stuck in the urethra.

Symptoms of a bladder infection caused by these stones include frequent urination, painful urination, bloody urine, and straining. It is important to seek veterinary care if any of these symptoms present themselves since this particular scenario can progress rapidly and become serious.

Prostate Disease or Cancer

Bladder infections in male dogs can often be caused by prostate disease or cancer, as the prostate can create an obstruction that blocks the flow of urine from the bladder. This then leads to inflammation and can lead to a greater risk for urinary tract infections and bladder infections. Prostate disease or cancer should thus be taken very seriously in dogs, and any signs of blood in the urine should be addressed with a vet and investigated further to understand the issue at hand fully.

Regular veterinary assessments, complete physical examinations, blood tests, and clinical diagnostics like x-rays should be performed routinely on elderly male dogs to ensure this type of condition is not present. Taking proactive measures will mitigate health risks for bladder infections for your older male pet.

Bladder Infection vs. UTI in Dogs

A bladder infection is a term used to describe an infection of the bladder alone, while a urinary tract infection (UTI) will affect the entirety of the urinary tract (including the kidneys, ureter, bladder, and urethra). Bladder infections are much more common than UTIs, though they do have the potential to evolve into the latter if left untreated.

In the words of Dr. Marty Greer, Director of Veterinarian Services at Revival Animal Health, "a urinary tract infection can be thought of as a sort of extension of a bladder infection."

Both bladder infections and UTIs share common symptoms, including frequent urination, increased thirst, and blood in the urine. UTIs may also cause significant pain while urinating.

How to Treat Bladder Infections in Dogs

In most cases, the treatment of a bladder infection in dogs involves the use of antibiotics as well as addressing any underlying causes. Though oftentimes, pet parents may also need to consider making slight diet or lifestyle changes for their pet to help reduce future occurrences.

With careful monitoring and diligent execution of treatment recommendations from your vet, bladder infections are easily diagnosed, treated, and prevented.

Veterinary Treatments for Bladder Infections in Dogs

When you bring your pet into your local veterinary clinic for symptoms of a bladder infection, the very first thing your vet may do is collect a urine sample. This can be done in a few different ways; via "free catch" (which involves placing a clean, sterile container underneath your pet while they urinate), with a urinary catheter, or via ultrasound-guided cystocentesis. This latter method involves sticking a sterile needle directly into your pet's bladder with the guidance of an ultrasound probe.

Once a urine sample is obtained, your vet will likely use it to perform a urinalysis. A urinalysis is a type of diagnostic test that can help your veterinarian confirm their diagnosis and determine the severity of a present infection- both of which will help determine their recommended treatment plan.

If your pet's urine sample is loaded with bacteria (as is the case for most dogs presenting with symptoms of a bladder infection), your veterinarian will likely recommend treatment with antibiotics. Antibiotics will kill all of the bacteria in your pet's bladder, which will rid the body of infection.

It is important to note here that antibiotics do not have the ability to differentiate between good and bad bacteria within your pet's body. While these medications are great for ridding your pup's body of infection, it's always a good idea to start your pet on a probiotic afterward to help replace the good bacteria that the body needs.

Your veterinarian may also recommend a short course of NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) during this time to relieve any pain or discomfort your pet may be feeling.

If your pet's urine sample consists of sediment, however, your vet may instead recommend a dietary-based treatment. Sediment in the urine, especially in high volumes, can indicate the presence of bladder stones which are typically treated with a prescription diet. The most popular veterinary prescription diets for bladder stones are:

  • Hills C/D (Urinary Care)
  • Royal Canin Urinary SO
  • Purina ProPlan U/R

Each of these prescription diets is designed to dissolve sediment within the bladder, ridding your pet's body of stones. However, it is important to mention that certain types of bladder stones do not respond to food and may require surgical removal (especially if they are causing an obstruction and inhibiting your pet's ability to urinate).

Home Remedies for Bladder Infection in Dogs

While the use of antibiotics is widely thought of as the most effective treatment for canine bladder infections, there are several home remedies you can try as additional support for your pet.

Cranberries

For humans, cranberries have long been known to help with urinary-related discomfort. The same is true with dogs! When fed in moderation, these powerful antioxidants can be a safe and natural way to help ease your pup's discomfort when he has a bladder infection.

Dogs can safely consume cranberries in their natural, dry form or when they are juiced - just be sure that there is no artificial sugar added and that you are feeding cranberries only, not a berry mix. Such mixes often contain grapes or raisins, which can be toxic to dogs.

Dr. Marty Greer, Director of Veterinarian Services at Revival Animal Health, will often recommend using cranberries for urinary discomfort, but not in the traditional form.

Instead, Dr. Greer recommends using Doc Roy's Potassium Citrate and Cranberry OR Doc Roy's Cranberry Extra for canine bladder infections. Not only do these supplements help to relieve discomfort, but they also help to restore the PH balance of your pet's urine.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C has become a widely used supplement for dogs to help with bladder infections. Research shows that it can be beneficial in decreasing bacteria levels, as well as increasing urine acidity in affected animals. In addition, some sources state that Vitamin C can help to reduce inflammation within the body and can also help to prevent the recurrence of infection.

In addition to these popular home remedies, it's important to ensure that your dog has plenty of fresh, clean water available at all times to flush away bacteria and keep them hydrated. It is also vital, especially while treating a bladder infection, to implement good hygiene practices.

FAQs About Bladder Infection in Dogs

"Can a dog's bladder infection go away on its own?"

Though a dog's bladder infection can resolve on its own, it is not very common, and the time it takes to recover fully from this type of illness is directly related to the underlying cause.

To prevent the infection from recurring or worsening, it is important to identify and address the underlying cause of the bladder infection. This may require the assistance of your veterinarian to diagnose whether there is an obstruction, bacterial growth, or other environmental factors contributing to your pup's symptoms.

The healing time and type of intervention required for a bladder infection will ultimately depend on the individual dog.

"Can a dog get over a bladder infection without antibiotics?"

It is possible for a dog to overcome a bladder infection without antibiotics, though it depends on the severity of the infection itself. Should you choose to attempt at-home treatment first, it is important to keep your pup well hydrated, maintain good hygiene, and consider cranberry-based supplements or Vitamin C to reduce discomfort.

However, if symptoms persist or worsen despite your at-home treatment, then antibiotics may become a necessity. When an infection is not appropriately addressed, it can quickly spread to other areas of the body and become more serious.

"How does a vet tell if a dog has a bladder infection?"

The most common diagnostic test for determining whether or not a dog has a bladder infection is a urinalysis. This type of test will show your veterinarian the contents of your pet's urine in detail, from bacteria growth to blood cell counts and more! This is a test that can often be done same-day during the time of your appointment.

In addition to a urinalysis, your veterinarian may also recommend performing a urine culture. This type of test is usually done in a referral lab, where technicians will intentionally stimulate the growth of the bacteria existing in your pet's urine sample. They will then measure the response of this growth to various antibiotics, giving your veterinarian a general guide as to which available medication will be the most effective.

If your pet does not have an infection, your veterinarian will likely recommend radiographs (x-rays) or an ultrasound of the bladder as a secondary diagnostic measure. Using these tools, your vet will examine the body for any masses or tumors, stones, and other abnormalities, which can help guide effective treatment.

"How long is the recovery time for a canine bladder infection?"

Generally speaking, the recovery time for a canine bladder infection can be anywhere from a few days to two weeks. That being said, every dog is different, and the first attempt at treatment may not always be one-hundred percent effective. If your pet is still showing symptoms of an infection after finishing a round of antibiotics or other treatment, it's best to reach out to your veterinarian immediately.

Conclusion

Though a common occurrence, bladder infections in dogs have the potential to cause significant pain and discomfort. And if left untreated, they can quickly evolve into something more serious like a urinary tract infection. Fortunately, most canine bladder infections can be treated with ease so that you can get your four-legged friend feeling better in no time!

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