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Urinary Tract Infection in Dogs: A Guide For Dog Owners

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Urinary tract infections (UTIs) in dogs are conditions that affect the urinary system, just like in humans. When untreated, they can cause a wide range of uncomfortable, and potentially dangerous, symptoms.

Here we will have a deep dive into what they are, how to recognize them, and what to do when you think your dog has one. 

Are all UTIs in dogs equal?

They are not. There are several things to look for if you want to better understand the kind of UTI that may be buggy Fido.

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Lower Tract UTI vs. Upper Tract UTI

The main difference between lower vs. higher tract UTIs goes back to your dog’s behavior.

If you notice your dog peeing more often than usual, that may be a lower urinary tract infection (UTI). It generally impacts both the bladder and urethra, and causes that pitiful, frequent squatting with little to no urine coming out.

Now, if your dog’s behavior changes, becomes more sluggish than usual, maybe even a bit feverish with vomit, the problem might be an upper tract UTI. These symptoms are more severe because the bacteria now arrived in the kidney. Kidneys mean that there is a risk of the infection spreading to the bloodstream. 

Antibiotic Sensitive UTI vs. Antibiotic Resistant UTI

Antibiotic resistance is a serious issue in all bacterial infections, not only in UTIs. Yet, for UTIs in dogs, it can make a big difference in how the vet treats your dog.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria don't go down with the usual first-line antibiotics, and need a different approach to combat the infection. Vets often rely on urine cultures to identify the specific bacteria causing the UTI. Thanks to that, they can pick the most effective medication. This approach prevents unnecessary medication switches and further resistance development. 

Complicated vs Uncomplicated UTIs

Uncomplicated UTIs affect healthy dogs that do not have any other underlying health issues. Meanwhile, complicated UTIs occur in dogs that have pre-existing conditions, and these conditions may contribute to the infection.

The distinction between the two types is crucial for treatment and prognosis. Uncomplicated UTIs usually resolve with standard antibiotic treatments within 10–14 days. However, they impact roughly 14% of dogs throughout their lifetime.

Complicated UTIs, on the other hand, are more complicated and can take longer to go away, depending on the dog's response to treatment.

For example, some complicated UTIs involve screening for diabetes, bladder stones, or abnormalities in the urinary tract's structure. Approximately 27% of dogs with complicated UTIs have some form of urinary stones, and diabetic dogs are three times more likely to develop UTIs than non-diabetic dogs. This makes monitoring and managing these conditions essential for preventing recurrent UTIs.

Canine Urinary Tract Anatomy

A dog's urinary tract is not that different from that one of a human. It includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. The kidneys filter waste from the blood to produce urine. Each kidney connects to a ureter, a tube that carries urine to the bladder where it is temporarily stored before being expelled.

  • Kidneys: Shaped like beans, a dog’s kidneys balance electrolytes, regulate blood pressure, and stimulate red blood cell production. They are vital in removing toxins from the bloodstream.
  • Bladder: Acting as a reservoir, the bladder holds the urine until your dog decides it's time to urinate. Muscle control is crucial for bladder function.
  • Urethra: This is the conduit for urine to exit the body from the bladder. It's longer in males than in females, which can affect how urinary conditions present themselves.

If there's a blockage at any point in the system—kidneys, ureters, bladder, or urethra—it can make it really hard for your dog to pee. Stagnant pee can then become infected, and your dog will end up with a UTI.

Structure

Function

Related Conditions

Kidneys

Filter waste, balance electrolytes

Kidney disease, stones

Ureters

Transport urine to the bladder

Blockages, infections

Bladder

Stores urine

Infections, stones, incontinence

Urethra

Excretes urine

Infections, blockages

Keep in mind that any issues with these parts may lead to urinary tract problems. Regular veterinary check-ups can help detect problems early.

Why Do Dogs Get UTIs?  Understanding the Culprits

Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) in dogs can have multiple causes, ranging from bacterial infections to underlying health conditions.

Bacterial Infections

Bacteria are the main cause of canine UTIs. They enter through the urethral opening, potentially causing infection. Your dog might come into contact with bacteria during walks, from licking, or from contaminated water.

Bladder Stones and Crystals

Bladder stones and crystals can form in your dog's urinary tract, leading to irritation and infection. These stones develop from minerals in the urine that precipitate out and consolidate.

Anatomical Abnormalities

Certain dogs may have anatomical abnormalities like a recessed vulva or ectopic ureters, which could predispose them to UTIs. These irregularities can impede normal urine flow, thereby fostering a suitable environment for bacterial growth.

Underlying Health Conditions

Chronic diseases like diabetes or Cushing's disease can weaken a dog's immune system, making them more susceptible to UTIs. Consistently monitor your dog's health to detect such conditions early on. 

Dog Peeing More Than Usual?  What it Means and When to Worry 

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If you notice your dog peeing more often, especially straining and producing small amounts, these could be signs of a UTI.

Listen closely – you might hear your dog whimpering or expressing discomfort while trying to urinate. Dog UTI symptoms include incontinence or dribbling urine.

You might observe increased licking of the genital area, a behavior indicating irritation or pain. Or if you clean up an accident, there can be a strong, unusual smell to your dog's urine, or even see traces of blood in it.

Beyond problems with urination, UTIs can have broader effects. Be alert to signs of fever, which may suggest an infection is worsening. Some dogs might even experience vomiting.

  • Frequent Urination: Small amounts, many times
  • Straining: Difficulty during urination
  • Blood Presence: In urine or on rest areas
  • Strong Odor: Unusually powerful urine smell
  • Licking Genitals: More than usual, indicating discomfort
  • House Accidents: Even with house-trained dogs
  • Incontinence or Dribbling: Uncontrolled urine leakage
  • Systemic Signs: Fever, lethargy, or vomiting

If you're seeing these signs, it's time to visit the vet for a full assessment and appropriate care. 

Does My Dog Have an UTI?  How Your Vet Finds Out

Diagnosing a urinary tract infection (UTI) in dogs involves specific tests to detect the presence of bacteria and assess the overall health of the urinary system. Uti4

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Urinalysis

Urinalysis plays a crucial role in diagnosing UTIs. In this test, a veterinarian, or a vet tech, will use a catheter or a needle to collect your dog's urine. Then, they will look for such as red and white blood cells, changes in pH, and crystals, as signs of an infection.

A typical range for the pH of urine in dogs is 5.5 to 7.0. A higher pH could indicate a bacterial infection. Additionally, the presence of proteins, white blood cells, or red blood cells can point to bacterial cystitis or other forms of UTI. The urine protein/creatinine ratio helps in assessing the kidney's function.

Urine Culture Test

A urine culture test helps to identify the kind of bacteria causing the infection. This involves culturing the urine sample to see if bacteria grow, thus confirming an infection. Results take a few days to come back, but are crucial for knowing which antibiotics the bacteria are sensitive to so that your veterinarian can pick the correct antibiotic that will be both safe and effective.

Imaging Techniques

Common imaging procedures done to diagnose UTIs in dogs are cystoscopy, x-rays, and ultrasound.

  • Cystoscopy is a procedure in which a vet uses a lighted tube inserted into the bladder through the urethra to view the inside of the urinary tract. Cystoscopy is typically performed under local anesthesia. It is a relatively painless procedure, but some people may experience mild discomfort.
  • X-rays are excellent at visualizing bladder stones, which can cause irritation and predispose a dog to UTIs. Though less common, kidney stones can also lead to UTIs or complicate treatment. X-rays show their size and location. X-rays can also visualize tumors, anatomical abnormalities, or prostate issues that might mimic UTI symptoms.
  • Ultrasounds are used to check the bladder wall since inflammation from a UTI in dogs can thicken it. Ultrasounds can also help check the structure of kidneys or potential foreign objects that your dog ingested.

Test/Technique

Purpose

What It Detects

Urinalysis

Initial screening for UTI

pH changes, blood cells, protein, crystals

Urine Culture

Identify specific bacteria

Presence of bacterial growth, antibiotic sensitivity

Cystoscopy

Visual examination

Bladder inflammation, stones, tumors

X-ray

Imaging

Bladder/kidney stones, tumors, anatomical issues

Ultrasound

Imaging

Bladder wall thickening, kidney structure, foreign objects

Physical Examination

This is quite straightforward and does not require using any machinery, imaging, or taking any samples. During the physical exam, your vet checks the dog's abdomen to check for bladder distension or pain that can signal a UTI. 

Monitoring Urine pH with Pee Pads

At times, especially if you suspect that your dog may have urinary problems, an easy way to check at home what’s going on is to use color-changing pee pads. They are a simple, and cheap, alternative to other more expensive tests.

With these pads, a color-change indicates the pH level of your dog’s urine, enabling you to catch potential issues early. Some of them are pretty cool, and one of these companies, Genius Litter, even received an investment from Shark Tank

Why Monitor pH Levels?

Urine pH can reveal important information about your dog's health.

Normally, a dog's urine pH should be between 6 and 7.5. A pH outside this range might signal dehydration or a urinary tract problem that could require veterinary attention. 

How Do pH-Indicating Pee Pads Work?

These pads contain a special layer that reacts to the pH in your dog's urine by changing color. Here's a simple guide on how to interpret the color change:

  • Yellow to Green: Potentially normal pH
  • Green to Blue: Possibly high pH
  • Orange: May indicate low pH

If there is a shift in the color indicator, you should bring your dog to the vet, especially if the change persists.

Treating Your Dog's UTI

Treatment for UTIs typically involves antibiotics, but it can still depend on whether the infection is uncomplicated or complicated. Lately, the veterinary community has adopted more refined definitions and treatment protocols similar to those used in human medicine.

Antibiotics

In the context of infections that can be treated with antibiotics, E. coli stands out as the main bacteria causing UTIs in dogs, although Staphylococcus and Proteus can also play the villain. They sneak into the urinary tract, causing an infection. For UTIs caused by E. coli or other common bacteria, vets typically prescribe antibiotics like amoxicillin or cephalexin for about 7 to 14 days.

In the case of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the treatment plan may include fluoroquinolones or other second-line antibiotics based on culture and sensitivity results. Besides antibiotics, vets may tell you to give a lot of water to your dog. That will help your dog pee as often as possible so that he can flush out bacteria from the urinary tract.

NSAID and Painkillers

Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) are a practical option to help ameliorate the signs of lower urinary tract inflammation. They help with both pain and inflammation. That is contrary to pure pain medications that help with pain, but do not address the inflammatory component.

Yet, either can be useful during recovery, and can sometime ease the daily discomfort that comes with UTIs. 

Surgery for Severe Cases

In severe UTI cases, especially when stones are present or structural abnormalities contribute to recurrent infection, surgery becomes necessary. This procedure removes blockages or corrects defects, typically resolving chronic infections. 

Diet and Supplements

What your dog eats and drinks is as important as taking medicine. Veterinarians might recommend a prescription diet that alters urine acidity, making the environment less favorable for bacteria and stones. Supplements like cranberry extract may also help prevent bacteria from adhering to the bladder wall.

Probiotic supplements can also help to upkeep the good bacteria in the gut, which can be disrupted by antibiotic treatment.

Prevention and Management

Proper prevention and management of urinary tract infections (UTIs) in dogs involves hygiene practices, nutritional care, and consistent veterinary oversight. By addressing these areas, you can reduce the risk of UTIs and manage them effectively when they occur.

Hygiene and Care

Maintaining your dog’s hygiene plays a pivotal role in preventing UTIs. Regularly clean your dog's living area and where they sleep to minimize bacterial exposure.

Utilize antibacterial wipes to clean your dog's genital area, especially after they go outside or use the bathroom. This is particularly valuable for female dogs, who are more prone to UTIs due to their anatomy.

Regular Veterinary Check-ups

Lastly, regular check-ups with your veterinarian can help prevent UTIs from becoming a recurrent problem.

Although there are no specific vaccines for UTIs, a vet can provide valuable advice tailored to your dog’s health and environment. They may recommend strategies for prevention based on your dog's history and risk factors.

If your dog has a history of UTIs, a vet might also suggest tests to rule out underlying issues that could be contributing to the infections.

Special Considerations for UTIs in Dogs

As we mentioned above, not all UTIs are equal in dogs. There are differences in the type of UTI that they can get. Moreover, there are other important differences that are important to know. 

Gender-Specific Issue

Male dogs exhibit a lower incidence of UTIs but aren't exempt from them. In female dogs, anatomical differences due to their shorter urethra can make them more susceptible to infections.

Breed-Specific Concerns

Breeds like the Bichon Frise, Yorkshire Terrier, and Shih Tzu can have a higher predisposition for developing UTIs. These small breeds often face breed-specific challenges that could impact urinary health.

Age-Related Factors

Older dogs, regardless of their gender or breed, tend to experience UTIs more frequently than their younger counterparts. You should pay close attention to your aging dog's urinary habits. Early detection can prevent complications and ensure more straightforward treatment of UTIs.

Outlook and Prognosis for Dogs with UTIs

If your dog has a UTI, the prognosis is generally excellent. Antibiotics are effective in managing most infections, provided they target the specific bacteria involved. Timing, however, is key. The sooner an UTI is identified, the lower the risk of complications.

Recovery time depends on the severity of infection and presence of underlying conditions. A previously healthy dog may recover in a few days. However, UTIs in dogs with health issues like diabetes or kidney problems may require more time and management.

  • Recurrence of UTIs is possible, especially in female dogs.
  • The outcome hinges on adherence to treatment and follow-up.
  • It’s crucial to complete the full course of antibiotics even if symptoms subside.

Conclusions

Urinary Tract Infection in Dogs are quite common. Just like in humans, there are multiple ways to treat them effectively thanks to antibiotics and non-antibiotic medicines. Your vet is the best person to talk to, and he will be able to pick the treatment that is the most suitable for your dog.

Your homework is to keep an eye on your best friend, and to check for early signs of urinary discomfort. Should you see any, call the vet and set up an appointment as soon as you get the chance!

Remember, just like in humans, the sooner you treat your dog, the better it is…for the both of you!

FAQ - UTIs in Dogs

My dog drinks plenty of water but still seems to strain when urinating. Could this be a UTI?

Answer: Yes, even with adequate water intake, UTIs can cause discomfort and difficulty urinating. Other bladder problems or blockages can cause similar symptoms, so a vet visit is crucial for proper diagnosis.

Can male dogs get UTIs, or is it primarily a female dog issue?

Answer: While UTIs are more common in female dogs due to their shorter urethra, male dogs can definitely develop them as well. Conditions like prostate issues or bladder stones increase the risk in males.

My senior dog has recurring UTIs. Is there anything I can do to prevent them?

Answer: Discuss with your vet about long-term preventative strategies tailored to your dog. This might include a specialized diet, supplements to support urinary health, or more frequent urinalysis monitoring to catch infections early.

I've heard about cranberry juice for human UTIs. Does it work for dogs too?

Answer: The benefits of cranberry juice for dogs with UTIs are debatable. While it may help prevent bacteria from sticking to the bladder wall, it won't treat an active infection. Always consult your vet before giving any supplements.

Can a dog's UTI spread to me or other pets in the house?

Answer: Fortunately, the bacteria that typically cause UTIs in dogs aren't contagious to humans or other pets. However, maintaining good hygiene practices is always wise, especially when handling a dog's urine.

My dog has blood in his urine, but otherwise acts normal. Is this urgent?

Answer: Yes, blood in the urine is always a cause for concern, even if your dog seems fine otherwise. It could indicate a serious UTI, bladder stones, or other issues requiring prompt veterinary attention. Don't delay.

Are there home remedies for dog UTIs?

Answer: While it's understandable to want to help your dog at home, it's crucial to consult your veterinarian before trying any home remedies. UTIs require proper diagnosis to determine the correct course of treatment, which often includes antibiotics. Attempting to treat a UTI without veterinary guidance could worsen the condition or mask an underlying problem.

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