A UTI in dogs is extremely common — it's the most common bacterial infection our pets experience. And any pet owner who has experienced a lower urinary tract infection themselves knows that this condition can also be extremely painful.
Your veterinarian can diagnose urinary tract infections in dogs and prescribe treatments for you to start giving your pet the same day. But even if your vet starts treatment immediately, they'll likely want to run more tests or send samples of your dog's urine to a lab for analysis.
These extra tests are important for correctly diagnosing your dog — UTIs can have a few different causes, and several more serious conditions share the same symptoms as a UTI in dogs.
Here's a look at the potential causes of your dog's urinary tract disease, symptoms that indicate a UTI, and the treatment your dog will receive.
What Causes a UTI in Dogs?
Bacterial urinary tract infections, also called bacterial cystitis, typically start when bacteria travels up your dog's urethra and into their bladder. Escherichia coli, or E. coli, is the most common culprit, but other bacteria can also be to blame. Identifying the exact bacterium involved can help your vet prescribe the most effective antibiotic for your dog's condition.
The bacteria that lead to UTIs in dogs are all around us — in the environment and on our dog's skin — and they don't typically cause problems. But, some dogs can be more susceptible to UTIs than others.
Dogs That Are Most Susceptible to Bacterial UTIs
UTIs in dogs are very common, and any dog can develop a UTI. But, the following biological and environmental factors can increase your dog's susceptibility:
- Gender: Female dogs are more susceptible to UTIs than male dogs.
- Age: Dogs that are middle aged and older are more at risk.
- Weakened immune system: A weak immune system caused by a cold or another underlying condition makes dogs more susceptible to all kinds of infections.
- Stress: When dogs experience stress from being moved to a new environment, staying in a kennel, or undergoing another life change, it can weaken their immune system and increase their risk of developing an infection.
- Infrequent bathroom breaks: If your dog has to hold in their urine for long periods of time, it can lead to bladder infections.
Even if your dog has several risk factors for UTIs, chronic UTIs are not normal and can be a sign of a more serious underlying condition.
Underlying Causes of Recurrent UTIs
If there's a more serious underlying cause of your pet's UTI, your vet will need to identify and treat that cause before they can effectively treat the UTI. When diagnosing your dog, your vet may look for the following conditions:
- Diabetes mellitus: This condition occurs when a dog's body doesn't produce enough insulin, resulting in high blood sugar levels. When it goes unchecked, diabetes can lead to chronic UTIs in dogs. There's no cure for diabetes in dogs, but the condition can be managed with help from your veterinarian.
- Kidney infection: Technically a type of UTI, a kidney infection (or pyelonephritis) occurs when a bacterium makes its way further up the urinary tract into the kidneys. If left untreated, a kidney infection can lead to permanent kidney damage and even death.
- Bladder stones: Known by the scientific name urolithiasis, this condition involves small crystals that form in your dog's urinary tract. The inflammation brought on by bladder stones can increase your dog's risk of developing UTIs. Bladder stones can also lead to a blockage in your pet's urinary tract, which is an emergency that typically requires surgery. If your dog is struggling to urinate, go to your vet immediately.
- Kidney stones: Similar to bladder stones, kidney stones occur when crystals form in your dog's kidneys. They also lead to inflammation that can increase the likelihood of your dog developing a UTI. Many dogs may be able to pass kidney stones on their own, but some will need surgery to remove them.
In addition to the conditions that cause recurrent UTIs, there are also more serious conditions that can mimic the symptoms of UTIs.
Serious Conditions That Share Symptoms With UTIs
Enlist your vet's help whenever you suspect a UTI. Not only can they treat the bacterial infections that cause UTIs — they can also rule out one of these more serious conditions:
- Kidney disease: Most common in older dogs, this condition leads to decreased kidney function — the kidneys are not as capable of eliminating waste from your dog's body. Like a UTI, kidney disease can also lead to increased urination and incontinence. There is no cure for kidney disease, but treatment can help improve your pet's life expectancy and quality of life.
- Bladder cancer: This cancer is extremely rare in dogs and only makes up about 2% of all cancer cases. But, because it shares the same symptoms as a UTI, it can be hard to diagnose.
- Hyperadrenocorticism: Also known as Cushing's disease, this condition causes your dog's body to produce too much cortisol, a stress hormone. Higher cortisol levels lead to increased thirst and increased urination — much like a UTI in dogs. Cushing's disease can be treated with surgery or medication.
- Prostate disease: This condition only affects male dogs. The disease causes the prostate to enlarge, pressing against the urethra and leading to similar symptoms as a UTI. Treatment will depend on whether the prostate is enlarged because of cancerous or benign causes.
- Spinal cord injuries: Dogs can get spinal cord injuries from major and minor traumas — it's possible for your dog to suffer an injury that affects their spine without you realizing it. These injuries can lead to incontinence, making it look like your dog has a UTI. Some spinal cord injuries cause permanent damage, but others can be treated with physical therapy or surgery.
Like a UTI, all of these conditions require veterinary diagnosis and treatment.
Dog UTI Symptoms
If you see any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your vet immediately. They can be signs of a UTI or a more serious condition.
- Dribbling or peeing in the house from a pet who is otherwise reliably housebroken
- Frequent urination, including asking to go outside more often or peeing multiple times during each bathroom break
- Difficulty urinating, including squatting or lifting the leg to pee but not producing any urine or producing only a thin stream
- Whining or crying during urination
- Producing cloudy urine, urine with blood in it, or urine with a strong, foul odor
- Licking the groin area frequently and continuously
Dog UTI Diagnosis
If your dog shows signs of a UTI, a veterinarian may want to perform several tests. First and foremost, your veterinarian will collect a urine sample, typically through a process known as cystocentesis, which involves placing a needle through your pet's abdomen and into their bladder.
The vet will then perform a urinalysis by looking at the urine sample under a microscope. If they see any abnormalities, like bacteria or white blood cells, they may want to send the sample to a lab.
A lab can put the urine sample into a centrifuge to separate the bacteria from the rest of the sample. They'll then perform a urine culture, growing the bacteria so they can identify it. Knowing the type of bacteria can help your vet prescribe more effective antibiotics — some bacteria may be easier to eliminate with amoxicillin while others may respond better to enrofloxacin, for example.
Your DVM may also want to run additional tests to rule out other issues. An ultrasound or radiograph can detect bladder and kidney stones, X-rays can detect spinal cord injuries, and blood tests can help identify kidney disease.
Dog UTI Treatment
While there are steps you can take at home to make your dog's treatment go more smoothly, there are no at-home remedies for a UTI in dogs. And left untreated, the cause of your pet's urinary tract infection will only get worse. Your dog needs to be treated by a certified doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM) as soon as possible.
If the cause of your dog's symptoms is a bacterial UTI, your vet will prescribe antibiotics and potentially a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug to help with the pain. Never give your pet medication or supplements designed for humans without your vet's prescription. Some human medications can be toxic to dogs while others have dramatically different dosing recommendations.
Note: Give your dog the entire course of antibiotics even if they seem better partway through. If you stop the antibiotics early, it can lead to reinfection and make the remaining bacteria resistant to the prescribed antibiotic — making it hard to cure the infection.
Many pet parents believe cranberries or cranberry juice can treat a urinary tract infection. However, this natural remedy is much more effective at preventing UTIs. An analysis of multiple studies showed that cranberry effectively slows down E. coli bacteria and reduces the recurrence of UTIs. But, it wasn't effective at a treatment — especially in more advanced cases.
Think of cranberry as a supportive therapy to prevent UTIs in dogs rather than a treatment in and of itself. Add a cranberry bladder supplement to support the efficacy of your dog's antibiotics and to help prevent recurrent UTIs. Unlike cranberry juice, all-natural dog supplements won't contain added sugar or other sweeteners that can be harmful to your dog.
You can also support your dog's treatment plan with probiotics. Emerging research into probiotics and urinary tract infections has demonstrated their potential to prevent recurrent UTIs. Again, probiotics won't treat an existing UTI, but they can be a helpful preventative supplement.
Probiotics can also help with the side effects of antibiotics. Antibiotics kill the good bacteria in your dog's system as well as the bad and can potentially cause side effects like diarrhea and yeast infections. Human studies show that probiotics effectively prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea. Probiotics can help restore the good bacteria in your pet's gut and reduce these side effects.
Add a probiotic supplement designed for dogs to your pet's diet. It can support their UTI treatment and serve as a preventative therapy.
Help Your Best Friend Recover From a UTI
UTIs are common and painful for dogs. Plus, the symptoms of UTIs in dogs can indicate several more serious conditions, so it's important to take your dog to the vet for diagnosis and treatment.
Your DVM will take a urine sample and may perform other tests, including blood work and X-rays. If your dog has a bacterial UTI, your vet will prescribe antibiotics.
There are no at-home treatments for a UTI in dogs, but you can help prevent recurrent UTIs and stave off some unpleasant side effects of antibiotics with a cranberry bladder supplement and probiotics for dogs.
To learn more about your dog's health and wellness, visit the Native Pet blog.