Urinary incontinence is a loss of voluntary control of urination. It is much more common in dogs than cats and usually affects older desexed female dogs although males can also be affected. Incontinence tends to occur when the dog is asleep, barking, sitting down of getting up. In some cases the dog can walk and dribble urine. Medium to large breeds seem to be more affected.

What are the symptoms?

Most incontinent pets dribble urine when asleep but it can happen even when awake. The area around the vulva is soiled with urine and a pungent urine smell is noticeable. Some pets will develop sores due to urine scalding and it usually makes dog lick frequently – making the wounds even worse. Bedding is often wet, has distinctive urine smell and yellow staining.

What is the cause of incontinence?

There can be quite a few reasons for incontinence. Neurological problems, bladder problems, problems with the urethra and a lack of oestrogen are the most common ones. Neurological problems usually arise from spinal deformities, spinal cord disease or pressure on the spinal nerves. Bladder problems are usually due to infection, an overactive bladder or weak bladder neck muscle. Structural deformities in the vagina may also look like incontinence and sometimes more testing is needed to determine the cause of the problem. However, most of the cases of incontinence occur in desexed older female dogs and seem to be associated with the lack of oestrogen that decreases the tone of the bladder neck muscle.

How can we help your pet?

The treatment depends on the cause of the problem. Neurological problems sometimes can be hard to correct while other issues such as infection can be managed successfully. Some cases require surgery such as vaginal or urethral deformations but the majority of cases can be managed with medications. Lack of oestrogen in the body can be treated by either supplementation of the hormone or targeting the muscle in the neck of the bladder by medication.

Stilboestrol is medication that works like a hormone and makes the urethral sphincter function more correctly. The tablets are given daily for a week then weekly, they are cheap and effective but in some cases side effects can be significant and affect bone marrow. This is why it is crucial to start monitoring your pet prior to the treatment and after a month of taking medications. If there is no problem detected, the tablets can be continued with six monthly monitoring.

Other medications which are not hormones such as Propalin syrup achieve the same but with less severe side effects. Although not a hormone, this medication increases the tone of the muscle at the opening of the bladder. When using this drug no blood tests are needed which decrease the cost of the treatment. Most dogs get back to normal after two to three days of treatment but they will relapse once medications are discontinued so lifelong treatment is needed.

If you have any questions, please contact your local Vets4Pets practice.

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