You and your dog might not agree about how many biscuits he should get a day, but you can certainly agree that urinary tract infections (UTIs) are overrated. (???) Urinary tract infections are uncomfortable, to say the least, and downright dangerous at the worst.
In most cases, these infections resolve with treatment and do not cause any lasting damage. In other cases, a dog's supposed UTI symptoms could actually be symptoms of a more serious condition, such as poisoning or cancer.
What Is a UTI?
As the name suggests, urinary tract infections in dogs are an infection of the urinary tract. The most common causes of UTIs in dogs are bacterial. It is so common, in fact, that bacterial urinary tract infection is the most common infectious disease in dogs, period. Bacterial UTIs affect 14 percent of all dogs over the course of their lifetime, which means the odds are comparatively high that your dog could experience a UTI at some point in her life.
Most dogs get UTIs when normal skin and gastrointestinal (GI) tract flora get past the urinary tract’s defenses. These bacteria then colonize the urinary tract, leading to an infection. E. coli is the most common bacterial cause of UTIs, but quite a few bacteria and even some fungi can cause infections.
There are some factors that could increase your dog's risk of getting a UTI. Female dogs are more likely to get UTIs than males, but male dogs can still get them. UTIs also have in increased rate of occurrence in dogs with other health problems, such as chronic kidney disease and Cushing’s disease.
Symptoms of UTI in Dogs
Before we get into other possible causes of UTI symptoms, we need to talk about what those UTI symptoms are in dogs.
Here are some of the common symptoms:
- Bloody and/or cloudy urine
- Straining or whimpering during urination
- Accidents in the house
- Wanting to be let outside more frequently
- Licking around the urinary opening
Sometimes, however, dogs don’t show any symptoms of a UTI at all, and your veterinarian might discover the infection while doing other testing.
For dogs that are symptomatic, these signs point toward a possible UTI, but there are some more serious conditions that your veterinarian will want to rule out first.
When a UTI Is Something More
Urinary tract infections are serious enough on their own. If left untreated, they can lead to dysfunction of the lower urinary tract, kidney or bladder stones, inflammation of the prostate gland, infertility, blood poisoning (septicemia), and even kidney infection and kidney failure.
However, some of these symptoms could be a sign of something far more serious than even a UTI. Let’s go through them symptom by symptom.
One of the most alarming symptoms of a UTI is blood. If you think there is blood in your dog’s urine, contact your veterinarian immediately. While this could be a sign of a UTI, it also could be a sign of the following conditions.
- Poison, especially rodenticides
- Kidney disease
- Stones in the urinary tract
Certain types of rodent poison can lead to platelet breakdown, which can be fatal. The faster your dog is seen, the better her prognosis. You can also check your dog for other symptoms of anemia, such as pale gums or dark, tarry stools.
Bloody urine could also be a sign of trauma. Car accidents, dogfights, or even accidents (like stepping on a small dog) don't always leave obvious signs, but there could be internal damage to your dog's organs.
Stones in the kidney, bladder, or elsewhere in the urinary tract are painful for your dog and can lead to scarring and even obstruction of your dog's urethra, which is a veterinary emergency.
Difficulty urinating, or an inability to urinate, is a medical emergency. It can lead to a rupture in your dog’s bladder, and if left untreated can be fatal, so make sure you call your veterinarian immediately if you notice this symptom.
There are a number of possible causes of difficult urination, including the following.
- Urinary tract infection
- Scar tissue in the urinary tract
- Spinal cord injuries or disease
- Prostate disease
Your veterinarian is the person best equipped to deal with this dangerous situation. As with bloody urine, trauma and obstructions can be fatal if not treated, and scar tissue in the urinary tract could be the result of chronic urinary tract infections or other diseases.
Spinal cord injuries or conditions can affect the nerves that control your dog's bladder, and trauma or degenerative diseases may require immediate treatment to keep your dog comfortable. Certain breeds of dogs, such as German Shepherd Dogs, are at an increased risk for these diseases.
Prostate disease affects male dogs, especially intact males, and can be the result of infection, abscesses, trauma, or cancer.
Changes in Urination Habits
Like it or not, most of us are attuned to our dog's elimination habits. Many of us have been caught in the act of examining our dog's poop by non-dog owners, and the same goes for urination. This attention to detail is more than just excessive caring — it can help your veterinarian diagnose a medical condition before it gets out of hand.
Changes in your dog’s urination habits always necessitate a visit to your veterinarian. While accidents in the house could be a behavioral issue, they could also be a sign of a serious medical condition. Accidents or increased frequency in urination may be symptoms of diabetes, hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, cancer, trauma, or urinary tract infections, just to name a few possible conditions.
Nothing is as alarming to a dog owner as the possibility of cancer. Luckily, bladder cancer is rare in dogs, but owners should still be aware of the symptoms of bladder cancer, especially if they own a breed that is predisposed to the condition, for example Scottish Terriers, Shetland Sheepdogs, West Highland White Terriers, Beagles, and Wire Fox Terriers.
Recurrent urinary tract infections, or urinary tract symptoms, can be a sign of bladder cancer. The most common kind of bladder cancer is a cancer called transitional cell carcinoma (TCC). These cancers are very invasive and have a high incidence of metastasis, which means catching the disease early on will improve your dog’s prognosis.
Bladder cancer can cause both UTIs and UTI symptoms, which can make them tricky to diagnose. Tumors can obstruct the flow of urine, leading to difficulty urinating, and cancer can also cause blood in the urine. Combined with the likelihood of a UTI on top of this, diagnosing a dog with bladder cancer can be tricky. Veterinarians look for other risk factors, such as age and breed, and may perform additional diagnostic tests, for example, radiographs and ultrasounds, to look for blockages, tumors, or other causes for your dog's symptoms.
The best course of treatment for cancers of the urinary tract is tumor removal. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy can also be beneficial, and your veterinarian will help manage recurrent bacterial yeast infections.
If you're concerned about your dog potentially having bladder cancer, diagnosis is now easier with the free-catch urine analysis test: CADET℠ BRAF Mutation Detection Assay. The CADET℠ BRAF Mutation Detection Assay is a non-invasive, free-catch urine analysis test that can detect canine bladder cancer (TCC/UC) months before symptoms present, allowing for the earliest therapeutic intervention.
UTI Symptoms? Call Your Veterinarian
Regardless of whether your dog's UTI symptoms are just a UTI or something more, one thing is certain: if your dog has UTI symptoms, you need to call your veterinarian.