Leaky Pets: Urinary Incontinence in Dogs and Cats

I have seen many people live happily with an incontinent dog or cat, but it requires work and dedication.

Not on the bed! Both dogs and cats can suffer from urinary incontinence, for a variety of reasons. By: Snipergirl

Pets who leak urine can test your patience. Your own housekeeping headaches aside, the leaking pet is not too happy with the situation either. And you feel upset for leaky Lucy or dribbling Duke.

Nobody likes to wet the bed and, despite the happy people in the Depends commercials, adult diapers are never a fashion statement. They are a pain-in-the-butt necessity!

Urinary incontinence in dogs and cats is a frustrating condition — but in many instances, your pet can be helped. Don’t delay in seeking veterinary advice if your pet is losing bladder control. Even if the incontinence cannot be eradicated, the condition can often be improved.

Accidents vs. Incontinence

The most important thing to establish with your vet is that your dog or cat is truly having an incontinence problem, meaning she or he is urinating without knowing it.

Incontinence is NOT a behavioral or a housetraining problem. True incontinence means your pet has an involuntary loss of bladder control. It is not their fault.

Incontinence is much more common in dogs, but cats can be affected too.

Questions to Ask Yourself

  1. Where are you finding the urine? Most pets don’t like to urinate where they sleep. If you are finding a wet spot on your pet’s bedding, or if your pet sleeps on your bed or furniture and you find urine-soaked spots, it is very unlikely your dog or cat did this on purpose. It is probably an incontinence issue.
  2. When you see your dog urinating on a walk or watch your cat in the litter box, does it seem normal? Does the pet urinate a normal amount and without pain? If urination appears normal during the day, and you are finding wet spots on areas where the pet sleeps, partial incontinence is likely.
  3. Have you seen your pet urinate inappropriately in the house? If your pet is actively squatting or leg lifting to urinate, this is NOT incontinence. Your pet may be suffering from a urinary tract infection, be drinking an inordinate amount of water, getting senile, or exhibiting a loss of housetraining. If it is clear that Duke knows he is actively urinating, then Duke is not incontinent.
  4. Do you see your pet dribbling urine as she walks? Is she unaware of this? If so, she is incontinent.
  5. Is your pet spending a lot of time licking “down there”? There may be evidence of skin irritation by the vulva or penis as well as an attempt on the pet’s part to keep cleaning the area. This may be incontinence.
  6. Finally, is your pet’s fur urine-soaked? Is there an odor? Pets who are incontinent usually have urine staining and odor by their privates. This is a telltale sign of incontinence.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your vet is going to ask you to bring in your pet, a urine sample, and have a talk.

Your careful summary of what you have been observing at home and your pet’s personal history help to differentiate incontinence from other urinary tract problems.

Beyond a history and a urinalysis, bloodwork, radiographs and, in difficult cases, advanced imaging techniques, all help diagnose the cause of the incontinence.

Many medications can help improve urinary incontinence. In other circumstances, surgery can help pets suffering from incontinence because of disc disease, prostate disorders, bladder stones or congenital anomalies such as an ectopic ureter.

Female Spayed Dogs

These are our number 1 culprits. Spayed dogs of any age can leak urine because of an incompetent sphincter. We have no idea which dogs will be affected or when the incontinence will occur.

These leaky ladies can be helped with medication. They may not have to take medication for the rest of their lives. The type of medication and dosing is tailored to each individual case.

Dr. Deb Pet Peeve: There is a lot of information on the internet that the 2 medications used most frequently to treat this type of incontinence — phenylpropanolamine andor estrogen (DES) — are dangerous. These claims are grossly exaggerated, not just in my view, but in study after study, and in the view of veterinary specialists in urology. Don’t believe everything you read. Bring your concerns to your vet and discuss them openly.

Doggie diapers can be a saving grace — if used properly. By: istolethetv

Puppy Sprinkles

The overly excited puppy who meets you at the door trying to lick your face and spray urine on your shoes at the same time is not exactly an incontinence issue. This is usually referred to as submissive urination. This usually gets much better with age and some behavior modification.

It’s difficult to ignore the cutest puppy in the world as you walk in the door — but try. Ask visitors not to immediately scream in their cartoon voice, “Oh puppy wuppy, I wuv youuuu!” This will ensure that your guest won’t have wet boots or knee caps.

Other Causes of Incontinence

What If Nothing Helps?

I have seen many people live happily with an incontinent dog or cat, but this requires work and dedication.

Here are some tips:

  1. Take your dog for frequent walks including first thing in the morning, right after naps or when you’ve been gone for several hours.
  2. Learn to express bladders that have lost some function. This is possible in both the dog and the cat. Your veterinary staff should be more than willing to help you.
  3. Encourage your pet to sleep on clean blankets or towels and use waterproof pads. When you’re living with an incontinent pet, laundry becomes a second occupation.
  4. Doggie diapers, human products like Depends and homemade diaper contraptions help the tolerant patient, but you must be extra vigilant about urine scalding underneath the diaper. Diapers can be a saving grace but, if not used and changed properly, they can lead to urine scalding, or doggie diaper rash.
  5. Barrier ointments and creams such as A&D, Desitin and Vaseline may be helpful. Beware of Desitin. If your pet can lick and ingest it, it is toxic. Cavilon barrier products are recommended by some veterinary dermatologists.
  6. Hygiene must be meticulous. Be careful, particularly when using any barrier product, that you keep the pet clean daily. Do not put layer over layer of Vaseline or ointment on a pet without cleaning the area properly. Just like taking care of a baby, you need to cleanse the skin, pat it dry and then apply a barrier product. I have seen serious skin infections develop in incontinent pets.
  7. Limiting water may help at bedtime, but this might also be dangerous to your pet’s health! Consult with your veterinarian before taking up the water dish for even limited times. If the pet is drinking a lot of water because of a metabolic condition such as kidney failure or Cushing’s disease, withholding water can put the pet in danger of dehydration.
  8. Keep your vet in the loop. Urinary or skin infections can develop or worsen. Topical or systemic medications may need to be tweaked or changed.

Dealing with incontinence can test the human–animal bond, but I have seen many pets and their humans cope with varying degrees of this problem with great success.

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This pet health content was written by a veterinarian.

Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD

View posts by Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD
Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD, is a small animal and exotics veterinarian who has split her time between a veterinary practice in Pelham, Massachusetts, and her studio in New York City. Dr. Lichtenberg is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine with 30 years of experience. Her special interests are soft tissue surgery and oncology.

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