Incontinence in dogs: causes and treatment

Dogs present with incontinence for a number of different reasons. These include hormonal problems, kidney disease, diabetes mellitus, Cushing’s disease, bladder stones and bladder infections. A consultation with a veterinarian is essential to find the underlying cause, and to find the appropriate treatment. The veterinarian will take a full history and do a clinical examination. A urine test is essential and the vet may run other tests to rule out other conditions.

Who is at higher risk?

Middle-aged to senior, sterilised, female dogs may be at higher risk for incontinence due to lower oestrogen levels. These dogs may otherwise appear healthy but they will leave a wet patch on their bedding or on the floor after they have slept. It is important to have incontinence thoroughly investigated as it may the the first sign of another disease.

Underlying causes

History taking is an essential part of making a diagnosis and any information you can offer your vet regarding the nature of your pet’s incontinence will be helpful. The following information will be particularly helpful:

  1. Are they leaving puddles when they lie down?
  2. Do they leak urine as they move?
  3. Do they leak urine when they are excited?
  4. Do they urinate small amounts frequently?

Try and assess your pet’s water intake, particularly if you think they are drinking more water than normal.

It’s essential to alert your vet to any medication your pet may be taking. Cortisone (prednisone) or diuretics (furosemide or spironolactone) will cause your pet to drink and urinate more. In these cases, changing the medication may reduce or eliminate the incontinence.

Some patients present with faecal incontinence. This affects large breed, overweight dogs the most and is most commonly caused by lumbar spinal disease. Often adding pain medication and losing weight will reduce the faecal incontinence.

Treatment and correction

If all the other potential causes of incontinence have been ruled out then your pet is most likely incontinent due to low oestrogen levels. They will then either be treated with a tablet called Incurin which increases the oestrogen levels, or with a drug called phenylephrine which increases the bladder sphincter tone to prevent leakage. Generally, this is medication for life.

In some cases, dogs with incontinence can benefit from surgery, particularly if medication does not have an effect.

How to manage an incontinent dog

  1. Most dogs will respond to medication prescribed for incontinence, if they do not have another underlying medical condition.
  2. Walk your dog frequently (particularly before sleeping) to give them a chance to empty their bladder. This may help you to manage the incontinence at home.
  3. Ensure your pet’s bedding is washable and be sure to check around the vulva and inner thighs often to make sure they don’t have an infection from the urine. In some cases, nappies made specifically for dogs may be helpful.
  4. Be sure not to punish your dog for messing in the house. The incontinence is not under their control and they probably feel bad for making a mess in the first place. Remember, that help is just a vet visit away.