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The essentials

  • Canine UTIs can be hard to spot — Keep an eye out for frequent urination, excessive licking and drinking, and lethargy.
  • Antibiotics are the most common UTI treatment method — Diet changes and supplements are often the first lines of defense in helping your pet to feel better quickly.
  • There are steps you can take to prevent UTIs — While the condition may be unavoidable in some cases, keeping water readily available and scheduling sufficient bathroom breaks can help curb canine UTIs.

Anything with the word “infection” in it can be scary for pet parents to hear, but when it comes to canine urinary tract infections (commonly referred to as UTIs), they’re quite common. In fact, about 14% of dogs today get a UTI at some point in their lifetime, which is about one out of every seven dogs.

This condition isn’t exclusive to dogs, as humans and most other animals can also contract them. That said, UTIs can lead to more serious medical issues if not treated properly, so it’s good for owners to familiarize themselves with the signs and what to do in the event their fur baby comes down with one.

Here’s what you need to know about canine UTIs.

What is a canine UTI?

A urinary tract infection is a bacterial infection of the urinary tract, which includes the bladder, the kidneys, and the ureters. They are most common in female dogs because they have a shorter urethra than male dogs. Age can also be a factor, as older dogs are considered to be prone to the condition.

Some breeds, like shih tzus, Yorkshire terriers, and pugs, can be more likely to develop them than others, but all dogs — male or female, young or old — are capable of contracting UTIs.

Symptoms of UTIs in dogs

The signs of a urinary tract infection can be difficult for dog owners to spot and are often confused for bad behavior (like marking in the house). In some cases, dogs with UTIs exhibit no symptoms of illness or bladder issues at all. “Urinary accidents are the most common symptom,” says veterinarian Dr. Erica Irish. “Sometimes, owners may see blood in their pet’s urine when an infection is present.”

Here are signs owners should look out for if they’re worried their pooch may have contracted a UTI:

  • Frequent urination. Dogs with UTIs may need to relieve themselves more than normal. Pay attention to shifts in their regular frequency, like needing to be let out more.
  • Difficulty peeing. If your dog is straining to pee, dribbling, whimpering, or refusing to go at all, a UTI is the likely culprit.
  • Incontinence. Dogs experiencing discomfort peeing as a result of a UTI may try to hold their urine in for as long as they can until they have an accident inside the home.
  • Excessive licking. While self-grooming is common, dogs licking their genitals more than usual is considered a UTI symptom.
  • Increased thirst. Is your pooch drinking a lot of water? This could be a sign of dehydration or overheating on hot days, or it could be a UTI.
  • Dribbling urine. If you notice small drops of pee in your pup’s walking path, this could be a sign of a UTI.
  • Cloudy urine. In some cases, your dog’s urine itself may show signs of a UTI. Keep an eye out for cloudiness, blood, or a foul smell in their pee.
  • Loss of appetite. Dogs with UTIs may eat less because of the pain or discomfort they are feeling.
  • Lethargy. UTIs can make dogs more sluggish than usual.
  • Fever. A more serious symptom of canine UTIs is a fever, which might indicate the infection has spread. “Thankfully, fevers are very rare,” says Dr. Irish. “They tend to indicate more severe infections, like at the level of the kidneys.”

Causes of UTIs in dogs

You’re probably wondering how exactly your canine pal can contract a urinary tract infection in the first place. There are a wide array of reasons dogs develop this condition, including:

  • Bladder infection. While a dog’s bladder is usually able to break down most common bacteria, some can infiltrate the bladder walls and multiply — leading to an infection. This can be from something toxic your dog ingested, or it could be something that came into contact with their urinary opening.
  • Bladder debris. Debris can enter a dog’s urethra and cause UTIs. Debris, in this case, can include fecal matter from the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Stress. If your dog is experiencing stress, whether it be from being in a new environment or general anxiety, they can release hormones that can affect the urinary tract through more frequent peeing, accidents, or even blockages.
  • Medications. Some meds administered to dogs can result in a UTI.
  • Trauma. Has your dog experienced any trauma from a muscle injury or fall? It may have caused some damage to the urinary tract — which could possibly result in a UTI.

Risk factors of UTIs in dogs

Canine UTIs may be caused by more serious underlying conditions, such as diabetes, Cushing’s disease, or kidney disease (among others). Bladder stones, which are water and mineral formations found in a dog’s urethra, can either cause UTIs or be caused by them. Crystals can also form from high pH concentrations in their urine.

Additionally, anatomy can play a part. Some female dogs may have a recessed vulva that triggers UTIs from moisture buildup after they urinate. For male dogs, diseases and infections in the prostate can trigger UTIs in some cases. Your dog also may have been born with urinary tract problems such as hypospadias , which is abnormal positioning of the urethra that causes UTIs.

How untreated UTIs can harm dogs

Our furry friends can have a hard time getting over a UTI without treatment because, unlike humans, it’s harder to monitor. If a UTI goes unaddressed and the infection spreads to another part of the urinary tract or rest of the body, it can cause serious damage; such as:

  • Kidney stones. Unlike bladder stones that form in the bladder, kidney stones form in the, well, kidney. They can cause blockages in the urinary tract and become fatal if an obstruction occurs.
  • Prostatitis. When a UTI spreads to the prostate in male dogs, it can cause discomfort in their pelvic area and constipation.
  • Infertility. UTIs can lower sperm counts in male dogs if the infection spreads to the sex glands, lowering the chance of reproducing.
  • Bladder cancer. Constant inflammation from repeated UTIs can cause bladder cancer to develop.

Diagnosing UTIs in dogs

If you suspect your dog has contracted a urinary tract infection, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible. Although some UTIs clear up on their own, your vet will be able to 1) diagnose the UTI, 2) determine what caused the UTI, 3) advise you on how to best treat the UTI, and 4) rule out any underlying condition that may be present.

To diagnose the UTI, your vet will typically conduct a urinalysis. To do this, they’ll need a sterile urine sample as a first step to diagnosing a UTI. This can be done with a sample your vet collects directly from the bladder via a cystocentesis. Your vet may also be able to use a free-catch sample you bring in, though it typically is less sterile.

If bacteria is found, a urine culture can be ordered to confirm a bladder infection. This test can typically cost $150-$300 (not including follow-up appointments and treatment medication) but should be covered by pet insurance plans with illness coverage.

Treating UTIs in dogs

Ultimately, treating bacterial urinary tract infections depends on the severity of the condition and whether or not the infection has spread to other areas like the kidneys. But generally, a run-of-the-mill urinary tract infection can be treated with a course of antibiotics prescribed by your veterinarian.

Here are other ways your vet may recommend you address your dog’s UTI:

  • Diet changes. Safe foods with high water content can keep your dog hydrated and flush the urinary tract.
  • Supplements. Certain vitamins and supplements made specifically for dogs can help with your pup’s UTI.
  • Pain medication. UTIs can be very uncomfortable for our canine companions. Your vet may prescribe anti-inflammatories to help manage any pain that comes with the infection.
  • Environmental changes. There are also changes you make around the house to work in tandem with a vet’s treatment plan for UTIs. For example, regularly clean all food and water bowls and use pet-safe antibacterial wipes to clean your dog’s urinary area after they relieve themselves.
  • Surgery. In very severe cases (such as kidney stones that won’t pass), your vet may decide surgery is required.

👉 As with all antibiotics, to ensure you fully eradicate the infection, make sure to administer the full course of meds even if your dog’s symptoms seem to improve.

Preventing UTIs in dogs

Unfortunately, UTIs are unavoidable in some cases, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t steps you can take to prevent an infection for your best friend. Even if UTIs are considered “normal,” they still cause a lot of pain and discomfort for your furry friend, so it’s best to try to avoid them at all costs.

Here are tips on how to help prevent canine UTIs:

  • Hydration. Making sure clean water is readily available to your pup helps dilute their urine so it’s harder for bacteria to set up shop in the bladder.
  • Diet. As mentioned earlier, foods with high water content can also help keep your dog hydrated. Look to wet dog foods, canned pumpkin, fresh cantaloupe, seedless watermelon, and cucumbers if your dog isn’t particularly water-motivated. “There are also prescription diets that improve drinking, normalize pH, and keep certain nutrients to a minimum,” says Dr. Irish.
  • Regular checkups. Vet visits may not be your pup’s favorite activity, but regular checkups can help you get ahead of issues early before they become serious.
  • Bathroom breaks. Your dog needs to be able to relieve themself every time they have to go. Make sure to schedule regular bathroom breaks for your pooch.
    • Work a lot? Installing a doggy door could help during those hours while you’re away.
  • Routine grooming. Be sure to frequently groom your dog around their urinary area, as the excess hair can lead to infections. Regular baths will also keep them clean from bacteria.
  • Diapers. Senior or special needs dogs may require diapers for uncontrollable bladders. In this case, it’s imperative that you change out their diapers regularly to prevent infections or the bladder or urinary tract.

As dog owners, we all want to ensure our pups are always comfortable — and unfortunately, UTIs can be as unpleasant for canines as they can be for humans. Just stay vigilant when it comes to spotting symptoms and be ready to consult your vet if the signs are there to avoid further difficulties for your pet’s health. Your fur-ever friend will be feeling better in no time!

Frequently asked questions

How can I tell if my dog has a UTI?

Common symptoms of a canine urinary tract infection include frequent urination, excess licking of the genital area, cloudy urine, and lethargy.

What can I give my dog for a urinary tract infection?

If you suspect your dog has a UTI, your vet will most likely prescribe an antibiotic. Other treatments that can be done in tandem with antibiotics include working water-rich foods into their diet and administering supplements.

Is a dog UTI an emergency?

While in most cases a UTI is common and not an emergency, you should still consult your vet for medical advice as soon as possible to understand the underlying cause of the UTI and rule out any other health conditions like bladder stones or Cushing’s disease.

Can UTIs be prevented in dogs?

While in some cases canine UTIs are unavoidable, steps can be taken to prevent them like keeping your dog regularly groomed in their urinary area, making sure they’re hydrated, and scheduling a sufficient amount of bathroom breaks.

What happens if a dog’s UTI goes untreated?

Untreated canine UTIs can result in more severe medical conditions like kidney stones, prostatitis, and even bladder cancer down the line.