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A Guide To Urinary Incontinence in Dogs

Aimee Labbate
  • Aimee Labbate

  • RCVS: 700039


Urinary incontinence is characterised by the loss of voluntary control over urination, resulting in leakage, particularly when the dog is lying down. It is more common in middle-aged to older, female neutered dogs.

What causes urinary incontinence in dogs?

There are a number of possible causes for urinary incontinence in dogs, including:

  • USMI (urethral sphincter mechanism incompetence) – this is the most common cause of urinary incontinence in older dogs, especially larger breeds. It results from a weakening of the muscles at the neck of the bladder that should prevent urine leakage. They tend to urinate normally but leak urine particularly then lying down.
  • Urinary tract infections – your vet will want to rule out a UTI before they recommend starting treatment for true urinary incontinence.
  • Bladder stones – these can sometimes cause problems with urinary incontinence.
  • Increased urine production (polyuria) – this can occur for many reasons, including kidney disease, diabetes and various hormonal disturbances. If your dog is producing much larger volumes of urine than they should be, then this often results in a degree of urinary incontinence.
  • Neurological causes – sometimes there can be a problem with the nerves that control the bladder and urethra, resulting in incontinence. Possible causes include brain or spinal cord disease.
  • Ectopic ureters – this is a congenital abnormality that affects some puppies. It is where the tubes connecting the kidneys and bladder (the ureters) connect onto the bladder wall at the incorrect position, too close to the neck of the bladder. The results in persistent urine leakage that the puppy has no control over.

What are the symptoms of urinary incontinence in dogs?

The symptoms normally include:

  • Urination in the house or bed
  • Dribbling urine
  • Licking at the vulva/penis
  • Urine staining around the vulva/penis
  • Sore skin around the back end
  • Smell of urine

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How is urinary incontinence in dogs diagnosed?

Your vet will first want to rule out underlying conditions such as a urinary tract infection or polyuria before diagnosing true urinary incontinence. They are likely to suggest running blood and urine tests and possibly imaging such as an ultrasound scan and/or x-rays.

How is urinary incontinence in dogs treated?

The treatment will depend on the specific diagnosis and underlying cause of the urinary incontinence. For instance, a urinary tract infection would need antibiotics and ectopic ureters are likely to need surgery.

The most common cause of urinary incontinence in older female dogs, USMI, can normally be well managed with medication that increases the tone of the muscles within the urethra, although it does need to be continued life-long.

Does spaying dogs cause incontinence?

There is a suggestion that early spaying may slightly increase the risk of USMI developing, particularly in breeds that are more at risk of this condition, such as Dobermanns, Old English Sheep Dogs and Springer Spaniels.

For this reason, some vets advise spaying these breeds after the first or second season, to help reduce the risk of USMI. However, there is limited evidence to support this, and later neutering increases the risk of an unwanted litter and the development of mammary tumours.

Please speak to your vet if you are concerned.

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