Urine Trouble: Tips for Sharing a House With a Pet Who Pees Too Much

Dog in a Diaper
Credit: Kim Campbell Thornton
The author's Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Bella, wears a doggy diaper.

There are many joys to living with an old dog, but there are also certain potential difficulties. Some of those challenges include sharing your home with dogs who have difficulty urinating appropriately. That can include conditions like incontinence, which can actually make pets dribble urine while walking or sleeping, as well as conditions that cause more frequent urination, such as kidney disease or diabetes, or side effects from medications like diuretics, which cause dogs to urinate more frequently.

“Urinary incontinence is defined as the inability to hold urine in the bladder between normal urinations,” Dr. Michael S. Stone, an internal medicine specialist at Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University, says. He also says that this occurs most commonly in adult, spayed female dogs and is noticed when owners find small volumes of urine on the floor or in the bed after the dog wakes up.

Dr. Stone adds that urinary incontinence is not simply a dog having house-training accidents indoors. “Unawareness by the patient of leakage is key to diagnosing urinary incontinence."

Some dogs may not have true incontinence but may experience difficulty controlling where and how often they urinate. Disorders that cause excessive thirst — which causes your pet to drink more water — include diabetes and kidney disease. Pets with urinary tract infections or bladder stones tend to urinate more frequently than normal. In addition, medications that cause excessive thirst, such as diuretics used to treat heart disease, may also be at fault, Dr. Stone says.

If you notice your dog having accidents in the house, it’s important to take him to the veterinarian immediately to get an accurate diagnosis. Without that, manageable medical conditions may go undiscovered.

“Spayed female dogs are frequently affected by urinary incontinence, and the majority respond to oral medications,” Dr. Stone says. “Treatment of an underlying disorder, such as diabetes or urinary tract infection, is key to successful treatment." In some cases, Dr. Stone says, canines who do not respond to conventional treatments will require surgery, but he adds that "the vast majority of dogs will stop being incontinent with appropriate therapy.”

Whatever the cause of your dog's inappropriate urination, the situation isn’t something your dog can help. He may even appear to feel mortified by his accidental loss of house-training. The good news is that you can take steps to manage it, so he will be more comfortable and your home will stay cleaner and odor free.

Environmental Solutions

If your dog tends to hang out in a specific area of your home, the easiest way to deal with inappropriate urination may be to put down puppy pee pads, washable throw rugs or towels. If you have a room with an easy-clean hardwood or tile floor, it may be a good idea to limit your dog to that area. Choose a spot where he doesn’t feel isolated from the rest of the family. (Keep in mind, though, that this approach will not work well for incontinent dogs, who tend to "go" wherever they are — so the dog probably won't make it to the rug or pee pad in time to avoid a mishap.)

When my dogs started to urinate more frequently because of the diuretic they were taking for mitral valve disease (a type of heart disease), they made an effort to urinate in our entryway, presumably because it was as close to “outside” as they could get if we weren’t there to take them out. They didn’t like using pee pads, but we solved the problem by covering the pads with inexpensive washable throw rugs. The dogs would urinate on those, and the pee pad underneath would soak up the urine, protecting the stone floor. When we returned home, we would toss the rugs into the washing machine and the pee pads into the trash.

Some dogs with true incontinence leak urine while they’re asleep. Protect dog beds and furniture with crib mattress covers or washable incontinence pads like those used in hospitals and nursing homes. You can find them at drugstores, medical supply stores and online. Look for one with a nonslip bottom layer to help keep it in place.

For dogs who must urinate frequently because of medication, illness or excessive water intake, you may consider bringing the outdoors in with an artificial grass pet potty. Place it on a balcony or deck or in a bathroom or laundry room — anywhere that is easily accessible for your dog. These potties may be washable with soapy water or have features such as regular grass replacement or washable collection basins. You can purchase one from a number of brick-and-mortar or online outlets or make your own with a wood box and real or artificial turf.

If your small dog was litterbox trained as a pup, he might take to using one again if he develops urinary problems. A number of box and litter options are available at pet supply stores and online outlets.

Dogs who are incontinent because of a spinal injury may benefit from having their bladders expressed at home, a procedure your veterinarian can show you how to perform. Dr. Stone notes, however, that this is rarely necessary.


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