- A urinary tract infection or UTI is an infection within the urinary system that is typically caused by different types of bacteria.
- Symptoms include urinating small amounts of urine more frequently, straining to urinate, bloody urine, and having accidents in the house.
- Treatment involves a course of antibiotics to kill the bacteria causing the infection.
- Cranberry supplements, not spaying too early, avoiding obesity, and using medicated wipes around the anus and vulva may help decrease the risk of infections.
Pet parents are very in tune with their dogs. They know all about their eating habits, what their poop looks like, and how often they need to be let outside to go to the bathroom. When something goes awry, it can be very distressing to know that our fur babies may be ill or in pain. If your dog all of a sudden starts peeing in the house, needs to pee more frequently, or develops blood-tinged urine, she may have a urinary tract infection or UTI.
Read on for an in-depth look at UTIs, what causes them, the symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and ways to prevent them.
Dog Urinary Tract: Understanding the Anatomy
The urinary tract of dogs consists of the kidneys, ureters, urinary bladder, and the urethra. The kidneys are complex organs that, among many other functions, are responsible for filtering the blood and removing excess waste and water in the form of urine. The urine produced by the kidneys is transported by the ureters, small tubular passages, into the urinary bladder. The bladder is responsible for storing urine. Once the bladder is full, the urine is excreted out of another tube, called the urethra. In male dogs, the urethra passes through the prostate, a reproductive organ, and then terminates at the tip of the penis.
Dog Urinary Tract Infection: What is it?
A urinary tract infection is an infection mostly caused by different types of bacteria that occurs anywhere within the urinary tract, including the bladder, kidneys, and prostate (in male dogs). It is expected that about 14 percent of all dogs will experience a UTI in their lifetime (1). As in humans, it is much more common for female dogs to experience urinary tract infections than male dogs. This is thought to be due to the closer proximity of the female genitalia to the anus, which increases the risk of bacterial contamination from poop. Any breed of dog can get a UTI, however, it tends to be more common in female breeds with excess skin folds around the vulva, such as Pugs, French Bulldogs, or English Bulldogs. Bacteria love to breed in warm, dark, and moist environments, making skin folds an ideal breeding ground.
What Causes UTI in Dogs?
UTIs are generally caused by bacteria coming from the skin or the colon that enter the urethra and travel upward into the bladder. Normally, urine is fairly sterile and your dog’s body has several defense mechanisms that prevent her from developing a UTI. This includes acidic urine, the ability to slough the cells that line the bladder to remove bacteria, compounds and white blood cells that destroy bacteria, and many other defenses. Occasional infections occurring two or fewer times per year are likely not due to an underlying disorder. However, when frequent UTIs occur, there is often an issue with the dog that is making her more likely to develop UTIs.
Besides having excess skin folds around the genitals, dogs with anatomical abnormalities, like ectopic ureters (an inherited abnormality in which the ureters do not enter the bladder at their normal location) or recessed vulvas (small vulvas tucked into the skin), are at increased risk of UTIs. Common symptoms of an ectopic ureter include urinary incontinence (inability to control urination) and frequent UTIs.
Other conditions that can make dogs more prone to frequent UTIs include:
- Lack of conscious bladder control (due to a spinal cord injury resulting in paralysis)
- Chronic kidney disease
- Urinary incontinence
- Cancer of the urinary tract
- Bladder or kidney stones
- Cushing’s Disease (hyperadrenocorticism)
- Diabetes mellitus
- Unneutered male dogs with enlarged prostates
Symptoms of UTI in Dogs
Urinary tract infections are at best uncomfortable and at worst extremely painful for dogs. It is important for pet parents to be able to recognize symptoms of UTIs in their dogs to make sure that they receive prompt veterinary care. Ignoring signs of UTIs in dogs can lead to serious complications, including kidney infections.
The most common signs of UTI in dogs include:
- Urinating small amounts of urine more frequently
- Straining to urinate
- Bloody urine
- Having urinary accidents in the house (if your dog is potty trained)
- Fishy or foul smelling urine
- Increased genital licking
Less frequently, dogs may have a fever, stop wanting to eat or vomit, but this is usually associated with more serious UTIs, such as kidney or prostate infections.
Diagnosing Urinary Tract Infections in Dogs
If you suspect your dog may have a UTI, it is important to have her examined by your vet, as there are other conditions that have similar symptoms. Your vet will need to feel your dog’s abdomen to ensure the bladder is not overly distended, which could indicate a life threatening urinary obstruction, and make sure there is no kidney pain, which could signal a kidney infection.
Your vet will also need to perform a urinalysis, a test of the urine that includes checking the urine concentration, checking a urine chemistry dipstick, and examining a urine sample under the microscope. If your dog is otherwise healthy and does not have a history of frequent UTIs, this may be all that is necessary to diagnose a UTI in your dog.
For dogs that are feverish, vomiting, not wanting to eat, or those that have an underlying condition such as chronic kidney disease, your veterinarian will need to run blood work to evaluate the health of the kidneys and other organs.
Ideally, a urine culture should be performed to confirm every case of suspected UTI in dogs, but this may not be financially feasible for all pet parents. However, if your dog has a history of frequent UTIs, urine culture and antibiotic sensitivity testing are necessary. This will indicate the type of bacteria that is causing the infection and determine which antibiotic will be most effective at treating the infection.
For dogs with recurrent UTIs or those that do not improve with treatment, it is a good idea for imaging of the urinary tract, either with X-rays, ultrasound, a CAT scan (CT), or a combination of these, to be performed. These tests look for urinary stones, signs of kidney infections, tumors, or ectopic ureters, which can all lead to UTIs that are difficult to treat.
How to Treat UTI in Dogs
When a UTI is diagnosed by a combination of symptoms and testing, antibiotics are indicated in order to kill the bacteria causing the infection. For cases of UTIs occurring two or fewer times per year, a short three- to five-day course of antibiotics is all that may be needed (2). For recurrent UTIs (those occurring three or more times per year) or kidney infections, longer courses of antibiotics are often necessary.
For recurrent UTIs, it is important to try to address the underlying issue that is making UTIs more likely. For example, in dogs with the most common type of bladder stones, a prescription diet is often used to dissolve the stones. For dogs with ectopic ureters, surgery may be necessary to reposition the ureter to the normal location.
Home Remedies for UTI in Dogs
There are no home remedies useful for the treatment of UTI in dogs. It is thought that cranberry supplements may decrease the frequency of UTI in dogs prone to infections but there is not enough research to routinely recommend this (2).
General Cost to Treat Urinary Tract Infections in Dogs
Pet parents can expect the following approximate costs to diagnose and treat a UTI in their dogs:
- Exam: $45-$65
- Urinalysis (testing and collection): $70-$95
- Urine culture: $170-$200
- Course of antibiotics: $20-$200 (greatly varies depending on the weight of the pet, the antibiotic indicated, and the duration of treatment)
How to Prevent UTI in Dogs
While preventing sporadic UTI in healthy dogs may not be possible or necessary, there are some things pet parents can do to decrease the risk of certain conditions that make UTIs more common.
Even though there is not enough evidence to prove that cranberry supplements are beneficial at preventing UTIs, they are unlikely to be harmful and some studies in humans support their use. Make sure you ask your veterinarian for recommendations on a supplement they trust.
It is thought that spaying some female dogs, especially large and giant breeds, prior to puberty may increase their risk of a recessed vulva (3). Early spay of females, prior to 3 months of age, has also been shown to increase their risk of urinary incontinence as they age (4). For this reason, pet parents should ideally not spay small breeds until about 6 months of age and should delay spaying large or giant breeds until after they have gone through one heat cycle. It is important to note that robust evidence for this recommendation is still lacking and veterinarians are still not in agreement on the optimal age of spay and neuter.
Obesity, especially in dogs that are prone to excess skin folds, should be avoided as this can make skin folds around the anus and vulva deeper, which can promote the growth of bacteria on the skin near the urethra and lead to UTIs.
For dogs with recessed vulvas, those prone to skin infections or those with excess urogenital skin folds, keeping the areas around the vulva and anus clean with medicated wipes containing an antiseptic such as chlorhexidine may be recommended to help prevent ascending infections. Ask your veterinarian for recommended products if you think your dog could benefit from this.
- Pyelonephritis (kidney infection)
- Urolithiasis (urinary tract stones)
- Prostatitis (prostate infection)