- Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are common in dogs — But they can lead to serious medical issues if not treated properly.
- Symptoms can mask themselves as behavioral problems — Keep an eye out for out-of-character potty issues like difficulty going as normal.
- Most UTI cases can be treated with a round of antibiotics — And changes to your pup’s at-home environment can help prevent future UTIs.
What is a urinary tract infection?
First thing’s first: What is a urinary tract infection? Commonly referred to as a UTI, it’s a bacterial infection of the urinary tract. This medical issue isn’t exclusive to dogs — humans and most other animals can contract a UTI — and it’s a pretty common occurrence. In fact, about 14% of dogs get a UTI at some point in their lifetime (about one out of every seven dogs).
UTIs are caused in multiple ways:
- Your pup ingesting something that causes the infection,
- Bacteria present in dental disease spreading through the body and landing in the kidneys, or
- When debris (such as feces) gets into the urethra causing irritation and infection.
Older dogs (seven years and up) are more prone to UTIs, as are female dogs because they have a shorter urethra compared to male dogs. However, that doesn’t mean that male dogs and/or younger dogs can’t contract a urinary tract infection.
Another risk factor is diabetes. Dogs with sugar diabetes (diabetes mellitus) are more prone to UTIs.
Symptoms to look out for
Urinary tract infections are known for being asymptomatic because the signs your pup may have a UTI can be hard to spot. Sometimes, symptoms can also be mistaken for bad behavior or a need for additional housetraining.
Here are the symptoms to look out for:
- Difficulty going potty. This can mean starting and stopping quickly when they do go, whimpering while going, or a refusal to go. This can also manifest itself as incontinence when they try to hold it in so long until they can’t and end up peeing on the floor inside.
- Excessive licking. It’s normal for dogs (and cats) to self-clean, but licking their urinary opening more than usual is a symptom.
- Increased water consumption. Dogs will seem thirsty more often and drink more water than typical.
- Dribbling urine. If you notice small drops in your pup’s walking path, this could be a sign of a UTI.
- More frequent urination. If your dog is having difficulty urinating, they may end up having to potty more often than usual because they aren’t getting it all out of their system at once.
- Fever. This is a more severe symptom that might indicate the infection has spread.
Some of these symptoms overlap with more serious medical conditions such as Cushing’s Disease or kidney failure. However, more serious health issues will likely have other symptoms accompany them: fever, severe hunching (which could be a sign of back pain), blood in your dog’s urine, or hair loss (for Cushing’s Disease).
But because there is a lot of overlap in symptoms, it’s important to take your dog in for a vet checkup when symptoms are present for UTIs just in case. Some UTIs clear up on their own, but they could lead to more serious issues or your pup could actually be exhibiting signs for a different ailment.
Your vet will need a sterile urine sample as a first step to diagnosing a UTI, which is accomplished with a cystocentesis. Basically, the vet will use an ultrasound and a sterile needle to obtain a urine sample directly from the bladder (a free catch urine sample may be contaminated as it passes through the urethra). If bacteria is found, a urine culture to confirm a bladder infection can be ordered.
These tests can get expensive for dog owners (over $150, not including follow-up appointments and treatment medication), but they are a necessary step in diagnosing a UTI.
Untreated UTIs can cause very real harm to your pup
Bacterial urinary tract infections are common in humans, too, but they usually clear up on their own in our case. Our furry friends, however, can have a harder time getting over a UTI without treatment because it’s harder to monitor (they can’t tell you what hurts and when as clearly as humans can).
And when a UTI goes untreated, it can cause serious damage:
- Kidney infection or kidney disease. This can cause vomiting, foul-smelling urine, lack of appetite, and more.
- Kidney stones. Kidney stones are painful on their own, but they can also cause blockages in the urinary tract and become fatal.
- Prostatitis. This is what happens when a UTI spreads to the prostate in male dogs, and it can cause abdominal cavity ruptures, blood in the stool, lethargy, fever, and constipation.
- Bladder cancer. Constant inflammation and body stress from repeated UTIs can cause the development of bladder cancer.
Ultimately, treatment will depend on the severity of the UTI and whether or not the infection has spread. But generally, a run-of-the-mill UTI can be treated with a course of antibiotics prescribed by the vet. Common antibiotics included Amoxicillin, Cefadroxil, Tetracycline, and Gentamicin.
👉 Make sure to administer the full course of meds, even if your dog’s symptoms improve, to ensure to fully eradicate the infection.
Other treatment options include:
- Diet changes. Foods with high water content and fewer preservatives, artificial colors, and additives can help keep your dog hydrated and flush the urinary tract. It’s not a replacement for antibiotics, but it could help in the case of a very mild UTI. Additionally, limiting your dog’s intake of carbs like white potato, rice, soy, corn or wheat will decrease inflammation.
- Supplements. Certain vitamins and supplements can act as an at-home treatment to help with UTIs as an alternative to antibiotics — including probiotics (or even yogurt!). A check with the vet is still recommended, though.
- Surgery. In very severe cases (such as kidney stones and bladder stones that won’t pass), your vet may decide surgery is required.
There are also some changes around the house you can make to work in tandem to a vet’s treatment plan. Eliminating underlying causes can help your dog get over a UTI as well as prevent future UTIs from surfacing.
Make sure to regularly clean all food and water bowls, get rid of stagnant water (both inside and outside), use pet-safe antibacterial wipes after your dog goes potty to clean their urinary opening, and make sure your pup is getting enough potty breaks throughout the day.
UTIs can cause a lot of pain and discomfort for your furry friend, so the best thing is to try your best to avoid them (especially if your dog is predisposed to getting them). Here are a few tips to help prevent UTIs:
- Hydration is key. Clean water regularly helps your pup flush any potential bacteria from the urinary tract before it has time to become an infection. Food with high water content can also help if your dog won’t drink more (wet dog food, canned pumpkin, fresh cantaloupe or watermelon — seedless, and cucumbers are all great foods/snacks).
- Regular checkups. Vet visits may not be your pup’s favorite activity, but regular visits can help identify issues early before they become serious.
- Bathroom breaks. Make sure your dog is able to go to the bathroom regularly (installing a doggy door could help if you work out of the home).