When bacteria from the skin or rectum make their way into the urinary tract, they can grow and multiply, leading to a urinary tract infection (UTI). Since dogs can develop many of the same bacterial infections as people, you might be wondering, can dogs get UTIs?
A common sign of a UTI is frequent urination or a painful sensation while urinating. As uncomfortable as this sounds, imagine what it’s like for a dog who can’t tell you what’s wrong. If you notice your dog urinating more than usual or whimpering while relieving themselves, it’s important to seek veterinary attention.
This condition should be treated once symptoms are observed for a faster recovery. Here’s what you need to know about UTIs in dogs, including causes, UTI symptoms, prevention, and treatment.
What Is a Urinary Tract Infection?
Like people, dogs have a tube connected to the bladder called the urethra through which urine leaves the body. Bacteria from feces or debris can enter the urethral opening and travel upwards into the bladder. “A urinary tract infection in a dog occurs when there is growth of bacteria in the bladder,” says Dr. Jamie Whittenburg, DVM.
Urinary tract infections are fairly common in dogs, affecting 14% of dogs, and UTIs tend to be more frequent in senior dogs, particularly those aged 7 and older. A UTI in dogs can be an isolated infection or a recurring condition among dogs with underlying health problems.
“The most common cause of a UTI in dogs is E. coli, but many other bacteria can cause an infection,” she says. If a dog has a weakened immune system due to illness or a lack of proper nutrition, bacteria are more likely to reproduce and cause infection. In more severe, but less common cases, causes include cancer, bladder disease, kidney disease and stones, diabetes, bladder inflammation or infection, spinal cord abnormalities, and prostate disease.
Which Dogs Are Most at Risk?
Compared to male dogs, female dogs are more susceptible to UTIs. The shorter length of a female’s urethra can allow bacteria to ascend into their bladder more easily, Dr. Whittenburg says. In contrast, male dogs have a longer urethra, meaning bacteria need to travel a greater distance to infect the urinary tract.
“Male dogs exhibiting signs of a UTI are more likely to be suffering from another condition, though UTIs are possible,” she adds. Conditions including chronic kidney disease, neurologic disease, and hormonal diseases can predispose male dogs to UTI.
Any dog breed can develop a UTI. However, individual dog anatomy can play a role, placing some dogs at higher risk for developing this condition. “Dogs with redundant or excess vulvar tissue may have trapped bacteria near the urethra that can travel upwards and cause an infection,” Dr. Whittenburg says, an example of higher-risk anatomy.
Breeds such as the Shih Tzu, Bichon Frise, and Yorkshire Terrier are predisposed to urinary stones, which are made of minerals that develop in the bladder. These stones can be detected using X-rays or ultrasound and vary in size from a grain of sand to a piece of gravel. For dogs prone to urinary stones, this condition can be complicated by having a urinary tract infection.
What Are the Symptoms of UTIs in Dogs?
If your dog has a UTI, you might notice that they seem uncomfortable trying to relieve themselves or that their urine has a strong smell. “Typically, dogs with a UTI will posture to urinate multiple times, with little to no urine passing,” Dr. Whittenburg says. Other signs of a UTI in dogs are:
- Bloody or cloudy urine
- Straining or whimpering during urination
- Accidents in the house
- Wanting to be let outside more frequently
- Dribbling urine
- Licking around the urinary opening
How Are UTIs Diagnosed and Treated?
Given the pain and discomfort associated with this condition, it’s important to be aware of how to treat a UTI in dogs. The veterinarian will begin by reviewing your dog’s health history and symptoms. Often, they’ll conduct a urine culture test and urinalysis , which allows them to detect microorganisms that are causing infection. A urinalysis requires that the dog owner or veterinarian obtain a urine sample from the dog for further examination.
Your vet will test the pH and glucose level of the urine if they suspect any health issues like diabetes. Next, the sample will be spun in a centrifuge to separate the liquid from the solid components to look for bacteria, blood cells, mineral crystals, and protein. “The urinalysis will identify bacteria, as well as white and red blood cells, which will aid in the diagnosis,” Dr. Whittenburg says.
Based on the urine culture results, your vet will have a better idea of which bacteria are causing the infection. “This will ensure proper antibiotic use and a cure for the UTI,” she says. “Uncomplicated UTIs typically receive a three to five-day course of antibiotics.”
If the dog’s condition is more serious, the vet may prescribe a round of antibiotics for seven to 10 days. For dog UTI treatment, make sure your dog finishes the antibiotics to prevent the infection from recurring unless otherwise instructed by your veterinarian. It’s recommended that you also increase your dog’s water intake to flush out bacteria during urination. You may need to bring your dog back for a second visit, so your veterinarian can conduct a second urinalysis to determine if the infection has cleared.
Can UTIs in Dogs be Prevented?
“Though there is no surefire way to prevent a UTI in a dog, there are things that can help,” Dr. Whittenburg says. She recommends having the vet examine your dog’s genitals if you suspect there’s an anatomical issue that predisposes them to a UTI. In some cases, your dog may require surgery to correct the issue.
It’s important to encourage your dog to drink lots of water. Be sure your dog always has access to fresh, clean water, and remember to change their water bowl whenever there’s drool or food residue. If possible, let your dog outside more often, so they’re not holding their bladder for hours and hours. This can also help prevent accidental soiling on your floors and furniture.
Make sure your dog isn’t licking their genital area and keep the area around your dog’s urinary opening clean of any debris. Many pet stores sell antibacterial wipes which can be used to clean this area.
If your dog suffers from allergies, managing this condition can also help with decreasing licking of the genitals and the likelihood of developing a UTI, Dr. Whittenburg says. You can also consult with your vet about prescription urinary diets and dog probiotic supplements to encourage the growth of healthy bacteria.
My Dog’s Symptoms Return Repeatedly. Can It Be Something Else?
“If the dog does not have a UTI, urinary symptoms can point to bladder or kidney cancer,” Dr. Whittenburg says. Especially if a dog has recurring symptoms of a UTI like urinating frequently or having accidents at home, which could point to a more serious condition like cancer. These dogs may also have bloody or cloudy urine, weight loss, vomiting, and UTIs that are resistant to treatment.
Sometimes, a positive diagnosis of bladder cancer is found after rounds of antibiotics to treat UTI symptoms that don’t fully resolve themselves. The dog may then be evaluated for the presence of a tumor, usually via urine cytology, which involves testing the urine to look for abnormal or cancerous cells. Because this test alone isn’t sufficient to make a diagnosis, the vet may recommend a procedure called a cystoscopy.
A cystoscopy involves inserting an instrument inside the urethra to examine the bladder and look for signs of bleeding or abnormal blockages. This procedure requires anesthesia and must be performed by a specially trained veterinarian. “Advanced imaging, such as ultrasound or a CT scan, may be needed to confirm the diagnosis,” she explains.
Keep in mind that these diagnostic procedures take additional time, which could allow the mass to continue to grow and spread within the bladder and surrounding areas. Moreover, these procedures are expensive and invasive. In most cases, treatment involves chemotherapy or radiation or sometimes surgery if the tumor is localized, meaning it hasn’t spread to other body parts.
The prognosis for dogs with cancer depends on how well your dog responds to treatment. Close monitoring of your dog’s health and regular consultations with your vet are essential to promoting a good quality of life.