Urinary Incontinence in Dogs

Key Takeaways

Urinary incontinence in dogs is when urination occurs without control or awareness.

• This presents as spotting or dribbling of urine, without the pet actively choosing to do so

• Conditions which interfere with structures controlling urination, such as the spinal cord, brain, and urogenital system can lead to urinary incontinence, such as prostatic diseases, developmental abnormalities, injuries, or bacterial infections

• Symptoms are typically sufficient to identify incontinence

• Diagnostic imaging, bloodwork, neurological tests, and a urinalysis are used to find the underlying cause

• Incontinence is usually treated with medication, although surgery may be required depending on the underlying cause

A Closer Look: What is Urinary Incontinence in Dogs?

Urinary incontinence is separate and distinct from inappropriate urination or house soiling. In cases of incontinence, urine is passed involuntarily without active effort or even awareness of it happening. In cases of inappropriate elimination, the affected dog is actively passing urine in an inappropriate time or place.

Incontinence is easiest to spot when a pet dribbles or spots while performing regular activities, such as resting or walking. Fur may be damp or matted, and typically has an unpleasant odor. 

Some conditions which lead to incontinence can be severe, such as cancers, infections, or injuries. Prompt veterinary intervention is required for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Possible Causes

Any condition affecting structures controlling urination, such as the spinal cord, brain, urogenital system, and related nerves, may lead to incontinence. Common underlying conditions include:

• Urethral Sphincter Mechanism Incompetence (USMI), most common in spayed female dogs.

• Toxicoses, including bromethalin, chocolate, organophosphate, snake envenomation

• Intervertebral disc disease • Acute kidney injury

• Chronic renal insufficiency • Lower urinary tract cancers

• Injuries to the urinary tract or spinal cord • Degenerative myelopathy

• Bacterial urinary tract infections (UTI) • Cognitive dysfunction

Diabetes insipidus • Dysautonomia • Ectopic ureter

• Patent urachus • HeatstrokeAddison’s diseaseMyasthenia gravis

Narcolepsy/cataplexy • Pyometra • Perineal hernia

Risk Factors

Urinary incontinence is common in dogs, particularly large breed, spayed female dogs. Urinary incontinence is rarely a cause for serious concern, and is usually treatable. 

Incontinence is more concerning if accompanied by other emergency symptoms like paralysis, collapse, or excessive urination and thirst.

Urine trapped in the fur may result in skin irritation, including urine scalding on the inside of the rear legs or on the belly.

Incontinence in a younger puppy is more likely to be a congenital defect, such as a patent urachus. Incontinence in adult or senior dogs is more likely related to degenerative problems or chronic diseases.  

Some conditions only affect certain sexes. Males can be affected by prostatitis, benign prostatic hyperplasia, and prostate cancer, whereas females are susceptible to USMI.

Testing and Diagnosis

Diagnostics include

• Physical examination

• Diagnostic imaging, such as X-rays, ultrasound, or CT scan

• Bloodwork

• Urinalysis

• Neurological tests

• Cystoscopy

Incontinence is usually treated with medication, depending on the underlying cause. Some cases, such as incontinence caused by developmental abnormalities, are treated with surgery. Patients that have urinary tract infections associated with incontinence may require antibiotics. 

If incontinence recurs, or is chronic, followup monitoring appointments to adjust treatment or identify additional underlying causes are warranted.

Similar symptoms

A dog peeing from excitement, stress, or due to submissive behavior can be mistaken for incontinence.

Associated Symptoms

• Low volume of urine

• Straining to urinate

Excessive water drinking

Weight loss

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