A dog with a bladder infection (cystitis) has a painful, inflamed bladder.
The inflammation gives dogs the feeling that they constantly need to empty their bladder, and they repeatedly squat but only pass a few drops of urine each time. The urine often contains blood, but early in the infection it may not be visible to the naked eye and only detected on a dipstick test.
If your dog has a urinary problem, collect a urine sample to take to the vet. The sample gives information to aid treatment, and the vet will be grateful for your forward thinking.
A dog with cystitis has a constant feeling of needing to empty her bladder.
She may nag you to be let out only to pass a few spots of urine. Some dogs spend ages squatting, or cocking their leg, for little reward. The sense of urgency may prompt some to squat in the house and embark on a breakdown in house training. (This usually improves again once the symptoms are treated.)
There is an overlap, however, in symptoms between cystitis and the more serious condition: bladder obstruction. While the former is unpleasant, the latter can be life-threatening. If your pet shows signs of bladder discomfort or problems passing urine, always seek veterinary attention — it takes a professional to distinguish the two conditions.
Most cases of bladder infection are caused when bacteria on the skin or in the vulva or sheath travel up the urethra and into the bladder.
Urine contains natural disinfectant properties and usually keeps bacteria in check, but if for any reason this immunity dips (such as what happens when a dog drinks more and makes urine more dilute) or the level of bacteria rise (such as when fecal soiling of the vulva occurs), then infection can result.
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It is important that your veterinarian checks the dog to be sure it is infection rather than a blockage causing the issue.
In slim dogs it is possible to do this by feeling the dog’s abdomen. A dog with cystitis has a small, tender bladder, whereas for a blockage the bladder is large and hard.
Ultimately, diagnosis of cystitis is made by culturing the urine. If the animal suffers repeated infections, it is necessary to investigate and look for any predisposing factors. This includes microscopy on urine sediment to look for crystals and an ultrasound scan of the bladder to check for stones, polyps or even cancer.
Antibiotics are used to address the bacterial infection, and anti-inflammatories will ease bladder discomfort while the antibiotics take effect.
If the dog has cystitis for the first time, then a broad-spectrum antibiotic is appropriate. However, if the dog has repeated episodes, it becomes necessary to culture the urine to seek out any unusual bacteria that are resistant to standard antibiotics.
Prescription foods designed to promote urinary health help give the urine antiseptic properties. Encouraging your dog to drink plenty of fresh water also helps flush bacterial toxins out of the bladder.
Keep your dog’s coat clean, especially around the rear end, to decrease the bacteria load that may migrate up into the bladder and set up infection.
Prescription diets designed to maximize urinary health can make a real difference in dogs predisposed to cystitis. These work by promoting slightly acidic urine (which bacteria hate) and are low in the minerals that create bladder crystals (these can chafe the bladder lining and cause soreness).
- “Recurrent and persistent urinary tract infections in dogs.” Norris & Williams. JAAHA, 36: 484–492.
- “Canine urinary tract infection: Detection, prevalence and therapeutic consequences of bacteriuria.” Thomsen, Svane & Poulsen. Nord Vet Med, 38(6): 394–402.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed Oct. 13, 2018.