Dog owners will find that bacterial urinary tract infections (UTIs) are some of the most common infections that affect dogs, and 14% of our canine companions will be affected during their lives. While this condition will often affect older dogs aged 7 and up, UTIs can also develop in younger dogs. In this article, we discuss everything you need to know about dog UTI, how dogs get bladder infections, and how you can provide medical care for your dog if it happens to get one.
What is Bacterial UTI in dogs?
Under normal circumstances, the dog’s bladder is usually a sterile area without any kind of bacteria. However, bacterial cystitis (when outside bacteria enter the body and multiply) can occur when bacteria climb up through the urethra. When bacteria begin to colonize the dog’s urinary tract, it can lead to a urine infection.
While all breeds can get this condition, older female dogs are more susceptible because of their shorter urethras while males have a longer urethra, so it will take the bacteria longer to travel.
Symptoms of a UTI in dogs
Unlike humans when developing a UTI, the symptoms of illness in dogs are more than often asymptomatic. However, when the signs of bladder infections do show themselves, you can look out for the following:
- Excessive drinking
- Cloudy urine
- Licking the genitals
- Lack of appetite
- Small amounts of frequent urination
- Uncomfortable urinating
But in severe cases, you can expect to see other signs of a UTI such as:
- Bloody urine
- Difficulty urinating
- Changes in urination habits
Because the signs of a urinary tract infection are similar to many other conditions, it’s easy to confuse them for something else. However, they could be pointing to underlying health conditions taking place in your dog’s body. If you notice your dog experiencing any of the symptoms above, be sure to give them veterinary care as soon as possible.
How Do Dogs Get Bladder Infections?
The urinary system can be exposed to bacteria from feces, urine, as well as other kinds of debris, and when bacteria are able to travel up the urethra into the urinary bladder, infections can occur. E. coli is the most common cause of UTIs, but there is a wide range of bacteria that can also cause this condition. Should the infection climb up to the kidneys, then more severe issues can occur such as kidney infection, kidney stones, and even kidney failure.
Moreover, dogs with diabetes mellitus or a hormonal disorder like Cushing’s Disease are at a higher risk of getting UTIs. Dogs receiving immunosuppressive drugs or chemotherapy, along with dogs on long-term cortisone kind of medications are at an increased risk for UTIs. When this is the case, your vet may recommend that your dog undergo urine tests regularly to look for indications of bladder infections.
How to Diagnose UTIs in Dogs
To get an accurate diagnosis of your pet, a urine sample will need to be taken and tested; if your dog shows symptoms of an infection, then a urine culture and a urinalysis can be done simultaneously.
Performing a urinalysis on a dog suffering from a urinary tract infection could reveal the following:
- The presence of bacteria
- Excess white blood cells
- Excess protein
If your dog drinks too much water, then its urine may be too diluted for the detection of white blood cells or bacteria. A lot of the time, dogs with UTI won’t show abnormalities in their UA, which is why it’s necessary to carry out urine cultures to find out if it has an infection.
This test will be able to confirm if there’s a UTI present in your dog. To get a urine culture, the dog’s urine is spun through a centrifuge to separate the liquids from the solids. The solid parts are referred to as sediment and are placed inside a container to be incubated for bacterial growth.
Once the presence of bacteria is confirmed, your dog will need further tests, which include whether the bacteria is likely to cause diseases or if it’s harmless. An antibiotic profile will help doctors find out which antibiotics will be effective against this infection. In general, the results of a urine culture will be available in as fast as 3 to 5 days.
Moreover, there are two classifications for urinary tract infections which can be referred to as complicated or uncomplicated.
- Complicated: This refers to a bacterial infection that takes place due to an abnormality in the urinary tract that could make the dog more susceptible to chronic UTIs, recurrent UTIs, or antibiotic resistance. Prostate disease, bladder stones, or chronic kidney disease are just a few examples of complicated bacterial UTIs. To help eliminate UTIs, the underlying causes must be identified and corrected.
- Uncomplicated: Uncomplicated bacterial infections are typically the first time that your dog experiences a UTI, and can be treated easily using antibiotics.
A recurrent UTI refers to infections that happen around three or more times over a 12-month period. Reinfection occurs when the UTI comes back after 6 months of successful treatment; the urinary tract has likely become the host to a different kind of bacteria. Relapses occur when the same type of bacteria as the last infection comes back within 6 months after treatment.
Treatment Options for Dog UTI
Unfortunately, your dog’s bladder infection symptoms will be different from others, and each individual pet will need different ways of treatment depending on the kind of infection it has. When it comes to an uncomplicated UTI, it can usually be treated after a 7 to 14-day course of the right antimicrobial agents. While you may notice improvements in as little as a few days, all medications, including pain medication and anti-inflammatory medications, must be taken as your vet has instructed.
In more severe cases or recurrent urinary tract infections, your vet could recommend re-culturing the dog’s urine before completing its antibiotics and after your pooch finishes its course of antibiotics. Complicated UTIs can also be treated through antimicrobial agents but you can expect the length of treatment to last around 3 to 6 weeks. While this takes place, be sure to increase your dog’s water intake, so give your dog access to clean water at all times to help it flush out the bacteria from its system.
Pet parents familiar with the symptoms of UTI and related medical conditions may try to treat this infection by themselves using at-home or natural remedies. While some of these may help, there’s no scientific evidence to back up their effectiveness. Moreover, it’s not a good idea to use human pain killers to give your dog pain relief.
An untreated UTI can lead to a more serious underlying condition and problems for your dog. As such, it’s essential to get medical advice and consult your vet if you think your dog has a UTI. Additionally, it’s important to remember that symptoms of UTI can have similar symptoms to other more severe health issues.
While UTIs are common in dogs, they won’t always show symptoms, so the moment you first suspect a UTI, be sure to speak to your vet to help protect your pet’s health. Your four-legged friend won’t just thank you for it, but you may also be able to pick up on health problems that your dog might have, along with the best treatment options for them. No matter the dog breed you have, the best thing you can do for it is to err on the side of caution and take your pup for regular checkups.