Frequent urination could be a sign of a UTI in your dog

Have you ever had a bladder infection? Anyone who has is familiar with the aching, urgent feeling of needing to go right now and then only dribbling out a tiny bit of urine. You call your doctor, describe your symptoms, he prescribes antibiotics, and that’s the end of it.

It’s not so easy with dogs. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) and urinary tract stones are common in dogs. Because these conditions can be painful, it's important to know what to watch for in your dog.

Signs of Urinary Tract Problems

When dogs get UTIs, they may strain or have difficulty urinating, it may be painful for them to urinate, and they may have blood in their urine.

Breaking housetraining is another possible sign of a bladder problem. You might not know that there’s blood in your dog's urine unless you see a pinkish stain on the carpet where he had an accident. Or you may notice that when you’re gone, your normally well-behaved dog is peeing near the door and producing a large volume of urine. It helps to be super observant about your dog’s urination habits so you will notice if he seems to be straining or taking longer than normal to urinate.

Take your dog to the veterinarian if you notice the following signs:

  • Frequent urination
  • Breaking housetraining
  • Blood in the urine
  • Dribbling urine
  • Crying out while urinating
  • Straining to urinate
  • Frequently or obsessively licking the genital area

Determining the Cause

To get a diagnosis, your vet will need to analyze a urine sample for the presence of white blood cells, which signal infection, or crystals, which suggest that the dog may have bladder stones. A urinalysis is a start, but culturing the urine — taking a sample and letting bacteria grow — allows us to know for sure if there’s an infection and identify the bacteria causing it. It usually takes a few days to get the results of a urine culture.

Without a culture, your veterinarian can’t know exactly which antibiotic to prescribe or even if one is necessary. Because of the risk of developing antibiotic-resistant bacteria, we don’t like to prescribe antibiotics unless they are absolutely necessary and we know exactly which bacteria to target.

A culture also tells us other things about what might be causing the problem. For instance, it’s a long, hard slog for bacteria to make it all the way up the male urethra. We don’t see as many bladder infections in males because of that, so when they do have one, we know that something more serious may be going on, such as kidney or prostate infection or stones that are affecting the urinary tract.

Dogs can develop several types of urinary tract stones. We commonly see struvite stones, which often form in conjunction with bladder infections. We also see calcium oxalate stones. Any dog can get these, but small breeds such as Shih Tzus, Lhasa Apsos and Yorkshire Terriers seem to be predisposed to them, as are Miniature Schnauzers and Bichons Frises.

Some breeds are known for a predisposition to certain types of stones. Male Dalmatians are prone to urate stones, and Scottish Deerhounds and some Dachshunds and Bulldogs are likely to develop cystine stones.

If we suspect bladder stones, blood work and radiographs can help us to make a diagnosis. Occasionally, though, stones are difficult to find. Then we use more sophisticated procedures such as radiographs with dye, ultrasound or cystoscopy, which lets us take a look around inside the urethra and bladder.

Making a correct diagnosis is important. We never want to assume that a dog has a garden-variety urinary tract infection and miss the real problem.

Treatment and Prevention

Once we have a diagnosis, we can prescribe a specific antibiotic in the case of an infection or recommend a special diet to dissolve stones. Sometimes both are needed. For instance, struvite stones usually dissolve easily with an appropriate diet, and antibiotics may be needed to treat an accompanying urinary tract infection.

Can you do anything to prevent UTIs or stones in your dog? It’s not a silver bullet, but I always recommend a drinking fountain for pets. Getting more water into your dog is never a bad thing. Many pets are attracted to running water, so a fountain may encourage them to drink more. And for certain types of stones, we definitely want to see the dog drinking plenty of water and urinating frequently, because that’s going to wash the crystals out before they can get together and start turning into stones.

Sometimes nutraceuticals can be helpful adjuncts to UTI treatment. My colleague Mary H. Bowles, DVM, an internal medicine specialist at Oklahoma State University, says that based on successful studies in women, your veterinarian may recommend probiotics to help prevent recurring UTIs. Probiotics are thought to help by displacing the bacteria causing the infection and enhancing the immune system’s response to infection-causing bacteria.

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