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If you notice your pup straining to urinate with little success or leaving puddles around the house by accident, he may be dealing with a urinary tract infection. UTIs are a very common medical issue for many dogs and have the potential to cause serious discomfort. Fortunately, most UTIs are easy to treat and can often be prevented with proper knowledge and care.
In this blog post, we will explore the most common causes and symptoms of UTIs in dogs while also providing actionable tips on how best to treat these infections before things get out of hand. We’ll also take the time to answer your most frequently asked questions surrounding the topic. Let’s get into it!
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a common problem that occurs when harmful bacteria enter a dog’s urinary tract, typically through the urethra (a small tube through which urine leaves the bladder). UTIs are one of the single most common medical issues that a dog may develop, affecting up to 27% of all dogs.
Unlike a bladder infection, a UTI can affect any part of the urinary tract or the entire system itself, including the kidneys, bladder, ureter, and urethra. Though not an inherently dangerous condition, UTIs in dogs can cause a variety of frustrating and uncomfortable symptoms and can cause serious damage to the body if left untreated.
Bacterial infections are the most common type of UTI, though it is possible for dogs to develop fungal UTIs as well.
The signs of a urinary tract infection are fairly consistent and do not vary based on age, gender, or breed - meaning that the signs of UTI in female dogs will be the exact same as the UTI symptoms in male dogs.
If your dog has a UTI, he may show one or more of the following symptoms:
There are also some cases in which pets with a urinary infection will be asymptomatic - meaning that they really do have an infection but do not have any symptoms to show for it. In these rare instances, the infection is usually discovered accidentally or in the pursuit of a different diagnosis.
Urinary tract infections are usually caused by the invasion of outside bacteria into the urinary tract. When this happens, the bacteria begin to multiply at such a rapid rate that the body cannot fight it off without assistance. And though the most common type of bacteria at fault in these cases is E-Coli, there are a variety of other potential bacterial strains that can also be problematic.
Bacterial urinary tract infections can be contracted by any dog, regardless of age or gender, though there are some outside factors that will increase a dog’s risk of developing a UTI. Some of those factors may include the following:
In addition to these more “normal” causes of a UTI, there are a variety of other potential causes as well. For many dogs, a UTI can actually be indicative of more serious issues such as systemic illness. Less common causes of a UTI in dogs may include the following:
When diagnosing a potential UTI, your veterinarian may ask many questions about your dog's urinary habits and lifestyle, such as when your dog last urinated, how much was produced, questions about his water intake and diet, and any recent events that could be causing physiological stress.
A complete and accurate medical history is the most important information that an owner can provide, and no detail is too small. This information is essential to helping your veterinarian decide what tests to pursue, which will guide his decision on the best treatment plan for your pet.
There are many ways to test for a UTI in dogs, with two of the most popular options being a Urinalysis and a Urine Culture.
A urinalysis is an important diagnostic tool used by veterinarians to identify issues such as a UTI. This is a simple test that first involves collecting a sample of your pet’s urine, either by “free-catch” (placing a sterile container under your pet while he urinates) or by cystocentesis (placing a sterile needle directly into your pet’s bladder).
Once a sufficient sample has been obtained, it will then be evaluated for the presence of bacteria, blood, ketones, and other such relevant elements. A standard urinalysis can also reveal the specific type of bacteria involved, as well as the concentration - both of which will guide your vet’s treatment recommendations.
According to Dr. Patricia Dowling, “urine culture is the ‘gold standard’ for diagnosis of UTI.” This test, which also involves the use of a sterile urine sample, is often done at a referral laboratory and can be a helpful way for your veterinarian to determine the presence of an infection.
During this test, a few small drops of your pet’s urine will be placed in a sterile petri dish for several days, allowing the bacteria to grow uninterrupted. Then, the samples will be evaluated for bacterial growth and tested against a variety of antibiotic strains. The referral lab will then recommend whichever antibiotic is the strongest or most effective in ridding the body of bacteria for treatment, and your veterinarian will, in turn, prescribe that particular antibiotic to your dog.
Though not an inexpensive testing option, urine cultures are a great way to face your pet’s UTI head-on so that you can get things under control and back to normal in no time.
In addition to a urinalysis or urine culture, your veterinarian may also recommend an abdominal ultrasound (to visualize the bladder itself), a radiograph (or “x-ray” to check for stones), or bloodwork (to rule out systemic issues such as kidney disease). With so many excellent diagnostic options available, your veterinarian will make his selection based primarily on your pet’s physical exam, symptoms, and history.
The leading treatment for a UTI in dogs is a course of antibiotics to rid the body of infection. However, there are also several things that a pet parent can do at home to make their four-legged best friend more comfortable.
Antibiotics are the go-to way to treat a dog’s urinary tract infection. Working to effectively rid the body of harmful bacteria, antibiotics are completely curative for a UTI in most cases. Some of the most common antibiotic options that a vet may prescribe include Cefpodoxime, Amoxicillin, and Cephalexin, though the antibiotic of choice will largely depend on the results of your pet’s urinalysis or urine culture.
In addition, your veterinarian may prescribe a course of NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) for pain management. The most popular NSAID options are Galliprant and Rimadyl. These medications work as a sort of “doggy Ibuprofen” and can greatly help reduce inflammation, pain, and discomfort relating to a UTI.
Note: Over-the-counter human NSAIDs, such as Ibuprofen and Tylenol, are NOT safe to give your dog and can result in extreme illness, organ failure, and even death.
Antibiotic medications are typically prescribed for a short period (usually ten to fourteen days) and should be finished completely, even if your dog’s symptoms improve after just a few days. And following the course of antibiotics, it’s always a smart idea to start your pet on a probiotic. Doing so will help replace the good gut bacteria that have been wiped out by the antibiotic, restoring your pup’s gut flora back to optimal health.
If your pet has recurrent UTIs or if the infection is caused by stones, your veterinarian may recommend treating with diet instead of medication (or a combination of both). There are many prescription foods available, such as Hills C/D and Royal Canin Urinary SO, that are designed to break up sediment within your pet’s urinary tract and restore a healthy PH balance, preventing the formation of stones and reducing the recurrence of chronic UTIs.
Though most UTIs will not clear up without the assistance of an antibiotic, there are several safe and natural remedies that can be used at home to increase your dog’s overall comfort.
For many years, humans have looked to cranberries as an effective way to reduce urinary-related discomfort. But have you ever wondered why cranberries work so well? We’ll let you in on a little secret… It's not the cranberry itself that helps with urinary discomfort, but that of a lesser-known component of the cranberry called D-mannose.
D-mannose is a “non-metabolizable sugar that binds to the bacteria in the bladder and helps remove it from the bladder before it can cause an infection and problems.” D-mannose works especially well on E-coli, which is one of the most common bacteria responsible for causing canine UTIs. D-mannose is believed to be just as effective for urinary-related issues in dogs as it is for humans.
In addition to cranberries, there are also several other natural ways to help relieve the symptoms of a UTI from the comfort of home, including:
Each of these elements can be found in supplement form and is recognized as a safe, all-natural way to combat (and even prevent) UTIs in dogs. However, if your dog’s UTI does not clear up within a few days, it is essential to involve your veterinarian. For dogs, untreated UTIs can quickly develop into more significant problems.
Though both male and female dogs can contract UTIs, there are varying levels of risk for each gender. Lady pups are particularly vulnerable due to the position in which they relieve themselves. By squatting so near to the ground, a female dog’s urethra is exposed more readily to harmful bacteria that may be lurking on the ground, whereas most male dogs urinate in a standing position, far above and away from problematic bacteria.
It is not common for a dog to be able to fight off a UTI without the assistance of antibiotics, but it is possible. To avoid a trip to the vet, many owners will be inclined to attempt at-home treatment first using one of the methods listed above. And for some dogs, this is enough to clear up the infection.
However, if the symptoms worsen or persist despite the use of natural remedies, it is vital that you seek the help of a trusted veterinarian. Leaving a UTI untreated can result in serious consequences, including a spread of infection to other areas of the body, dehydration, and kidney failure.
If left untreated over a long period, urinary tract infections can cause serious kidney damage and lead to more severe complications. Aside from causing pain and discomfort, an unchecked UTI can also limit your dog’s energy levels, make them seem listless, and even adversely affect their behavior.
If there are other existing conditions along with a UTI, the risk of severe complications caused by the infection multiplies further, making it essential to seek immediate medical attention at the first sign of urinary problems in your dog.
No, bacterial urinary tract infections are not contagious to other animals or people.
Though a UTI will sometimes occur despite our best efforts to avoid it, there are several things an owner can do at home to reduce the risk of infection, such as:
A UTI is an all-too-common condition that can cause your pup a whole lot of serious discomfort. But there’s no need to panic - with the right knowledge and care from a loving owner and their trusted veterinarian, UTIs can be treated quickly before they have a chance to turn into a more serious problem.
To prevent further issues, always remember to keep a close eye on your pup’s urinary habits and any potentially stressful life changes (no matter how small). And if you ever have any questions or need advice, don’t hesitate to involve your veterinarian. After all, you all share one common goal: to ensure your pup stays healthy for the long run, from his head down to his paws!