UTI in Dogs: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment
Has your pup been uncomfortable while urinating? Do they need to go outside more often, or are they dribbling urine in the house?
Any time a dog is showing urinary symptoms, a UTI or bladder infection could be to blame. Since UTIs are painful and stressful, it’s important to seek care for your pup right away if they are showing symptoms.
Here are some important things to know about recognizing, diagnosing, and treating UTIs in dogs.
What Is a UTI?
UTI stands for “urinary tract infection,” and it means there is an infection somewhere in the urinary tract. They are fairly common in dogs, with up to a third of pups developing a UTI at least once in their lifetime.
Bacterial urinary tract infections are by far the most common. Yeast or fungal infections can also occur, but this is much rarer. The bacteria responsible for UTIs usually come from the skin or the feces.
Both the skin and the intestines naturally house certain types of bacteria. For example, some strains of Escherichia coli (E. coli) are found in the feces and don’t cause any issues within the intestines. However, given the chance to migrate up the urethra (the “tube” between the urinary bladder and the genitals, through which urine exits the body), this bacteria can cause a UTI.
Vets may categorize UTIs as upper or lower. Lower urinary tract infections, affecting the bladder and urethra, are much more common. Upper UTIs involve the kidneys and ureters (tubes between the kidneys and bladder) and can make a dog very ill.
How Did My Dog Get a UTI?
There are many possible causes, so here we’ll cover the most common reasons why a dog might develop a UTI. This includes:
Gender. Similar to human beings, UTIs are more common in female dogs than in male dogs. For females, the urethra is much shorter, versus males whose urethra runs the length of the penis. That means bacteria have less of a challenge reaching the bladder in females. Also, in females, the anus is closer to the genitals—which makes fecal contamination more likely.
Age. UTIs are somewhat more likely with increased age, especially in older female dogs. But a UTI can occur even in puppies.
Holding the urine in for too long. Voiding urine is a natural defense against UTIs. Holding in the urine limits that defense.
Anatomical defects. This could mean an abnormality within the urinary tract, or of the genitals or skin near the genitals. For example, some dogs with skin folds near the vulva are at a higher risk for getting UTIs.
Skin or anal gland problems. If a dog is scooting or excessively licking their hind end or genitals, that could allow bacteria to access the urethra..
Hormonal imbalances. For example, Cushing’s disease, where the body produces too much cortisol, is known to lead to frequent UTIs.
Diabetes mellitus. Diabetic dogs have difficulty regulating their blood sugar levels, and the body disposes of excess blood sugar through the urine. This sugar is an inviting food source for bacteria.
Kidney disease. Chronic kidney disease or decreased kidney function can make a dog more prone to UTIs.
Other urinary tract issues. Bladder stones and other urinary issues can predispose a dog to developing UTIs.
Neurological dysfunction or spinal/nerve damage. Some conditions make it more difficult for a dog to empty their bladder. This means an increased risk for UTIs.
Cancer. Dogs may develop cancers of the bladder or other parts of the urinary tract. It’s important to rule out this condition with recurrent UTIs.
UTI Symptoms in Dogs
The most common signs of a UTI in dogs include:
Frequent urination. Your dog may ask to go outside a lot more than usual, and they may produce just a few drops of urine at a time.
Pain or straining during urination.
Bloody, pink, or cloudy urine.
A strong or unusual urine odor.
Incontinence, dripping, or urinary accidents.
Excessively licking the genital area, which may become red or irritated.
General symptoms of feeling unwell (lethargy, decreased appetite, fever, etc.) or changes in behavior.
Dogs with UTIs won’t necessarily have ALL of these symptoms. They may have just one or a few from this list, or they may show a behavior not listed here.
Is It a UTI or Something Else?
With certain health conditions, a dog’s symptoms can look very similar to a UTI. One example is a diabetic dog, who may urinate frequently and drink a lot of water.
Ingestion of rodent poisoning is another example—one that’s potentially lethal. This can cause bleeding in the urinary tract, which mimics the UTI symptom of blood in the urine.
Another life-threatening possibility is a urinary obstruction—a blockage that prevents a dog from urinating. The bladder expands beyond what it can reasonably hold (it may rupture), and waste products build up inside the body.
This is a medical emergency that requires immediate veterinary attention. Symptoms include straining to produce urine with nothing coming out, as well as general distress and pain.
Fortunately, a urinary obstruction is much less common in dogs than in cats. It’s extremely uncommon in female dogs and large breed males, too. But it is worth knowing about, due to the urgency.
It wouldn’t be possible to cover all the medical conditions that can mimic (or lead to development of) a UTI here. So, just remember the most important thing—seeking veterinary care so your pup can get an appropriate diagnosis and treatment.
UTIs Can Progress to More Serious Conditions
The discomfort of a urinary tract infection should be enough to prompt an urgent vet visit. Another good reason is the possibility of a UTI worsening if left untreated.
With an untreated UTI, bacteria may spread up the urinary tract to cause infection and damage in the kidneys.
Also, certain infections alter the pH of the urine and promote the growth of bladder stones.
Diagnosing a UTI in Dogs
The first step is usually a urine analysis—or urinalysis for short. This test involves measuring urine concentration and pH, as well as looking for the presence of bacteria, inflammatory cells, crystals, sugar, and other indicators of urinary tract health or abnormalities.
Based on a dog’s symptoms and the results of the urinalysis, a vet may recommend a urine culture and sensitivity. This is done for two reasons…
UTIs cause dogs to drink more. It’s the body’s way of trying to “flush out” the infection. As a result, the urine may be so dilute that bacteria aren’t seen on the urinalysis, leading to a “false negative.” A bacterial culture of the urine can help uncover the UTI.
Not all bacteria are susceptible to the same types of antibiotics. A culture and sensitivity test helps determine the best medication to use—for more successful treatment and less risk of developing an antibiotic-resistant infection.
The next thing to consider is what caused the urinary tract infection in the first place. If an underlying medical condition is left unaddressed, the infection will come right back.
If a pup is in otherwise good health with no other symptoms—and assuming it’s their first UTI—a veterinarian may start with a simple UTI treatment.
However, if a dog has recurrent UTIs or has severe or concerning symptoms, a vet will likely recommend additional diagnostics. This may include blood work, x-rays, an ultrasound, or other testing as indicated.
How Is Urine Collected from a Dog?
There are three possible ways to obtain a sample…
A cystocentesis involves obtaining a sample directly from the urinary bladder using a needle. While this may sound a little scary, it’s a quick procedure that most dogs do extremely well with. This method avoids bacterial contamination from the skin and outer parts of the genitals, so the results are often most accurate with this method.
Another possible collection method at the vet’s office is catheterization of the urethra. While less common, this method can also avoid some of the bacterial contamination from the skin.
The third method is called “free catch,” which involves collecting urine in a container while a dog is urinating. While this can mean some bacterial contamination, often it’s the only method available. Many dogs have empty bladders during their vet visit, due to the constant need to “go.” So, your vet may send a container with you for home collection.
Tips for Collecting a Urine Sample from Your Dog
Here are some tips for collecting urine a dog’s urine at home…
Unless instructed otherwise, catch the morning’s first urine sample. This provides the most accurate information on your dog’s ability or inability to concentrate their urine.
If possible, you may place the urine collection cup directly into the urine stream. However, for some pups (especially small dogs and those that squat very low to the ground while urinating), this is challenging. An alternative, such as a soup ladle, may be easier to use. Then, transfer the urine from the ladle to the urine cup right away.
Some dogs get nervous if they see their pet parent rushing toward their backside while they are urinating. They don’t understand why that is happening, and their genital area is already sensitive from the UTI. If that’s the case with your pup, move slowly and gently. Speak soothingly. Try to remain calm yourself, since dogs can pick up on our emotions. After collecting the sample, reward your pooch with praise or a special treat.
Bring the sample to your vet immediately. The longer urine is left out, the less accurate the results of testing will be. Fresh urine is best.
If you can’t bring the urine to your vet immediately, ask the vet team how they prefer you to store the urine (for example, by refrigerating it) and what is the maximum time it can be stored before the sample is no longer usable.
UTI Treatment for Dogs
The mainstays of UTI treatments in dogs include…
Antibiotics. As discussed above, this means testing the urine to choose the best, most effective antibiotic for the infection.
However, since a urine culture and sensitivity takes a few days, a vet will likely start a common antibiotic in the meantime rather than withholding treatment until all test results are available. Since a UTI is uncomfortable, pups need some relief in the meantime. Then, if a different antibiotic is needed, your vet will inform you.
It’s crucial to give the entire course of antibiotics. Don’t stop early because your dog is feeling better. Otherwise, the infection could come right back!
Pain medications or anti-inflammatories. A UTI can be very painful. It can also cause significant stress, due to the constant urge to “go” even when the bladder is empty. These medications provide relief and help the bladder calm down so it can heal.
Adequate water intake. A dog’s body will try to flush the bacteria and inflammatory matter out of the bladder via frequent urination. For that reason, dogs usually drink more than usual. This allows the body to dilute the urine while avoiding dehydration. So, be sure to keep plenty of fresh, clean water available to your pup at all times.
Rest and recovery. A pup may need some extra rest to allow their body to heal. Give them some TLC and let them relax if they prefer not to play or go on long walks for a few days.
Rechecking the urine. Rechecking the urine tests helps ensure the infection is truly gone. Some pups need antibiotics for a longer time than others do, especially with underlying health conditions or recurrent UTIs. Depending on your pet’s needs, your vet will let you know when retesting is recommended.
Treating any underlying health conditions. If your pet has a medical condition—such as one of the conditions listed in this article—that led to a UTI, they will need specific treatment for that condition. Your vet team will instruct you on the next steps.
Your veterinarian may have different or additional recommendations based on your pup’s individual needs. Always refer to the instructions from your vet team.
Also, never give medications without checking with your vet first. Some medications for humans are toxic to dogs!
What About Home Remedies for Dog UTIs?
Based on an online search or discussion with other dog owners, it’s easy for a pet parent to learn about home remedies like probiotics, apple cider vinegar, cranberry juice, and other methods.
However, these remedies frequently don’t help with a true UTI. In some cases, they could even make matters worse. Plus, they could prolong a dog’s suffering by delaying more appropriate medical treatment.
Some home remedies, along with supplements designed for dogs, may be a good fit for long-term urinary health rather than a UTI episode. However, they’re not a one-size-fits-all. And some medications (such as human pain relievers) are extremely dangerous for pets.
Prior to giving your pup any medication, supplement, or home remedy, talk to your vet to ensure the plan is not only effective, but safe for your dog.
What’s the Prognosis for a UTI in Dogs?
Just like humans, dogs (especially female dogs) sometimes get a simple UTI that has no future ramifications. It can be painful and inconvenient at the time, but symptoms clear up pretty quickly with medications—often as quickly as 1-2 days.
With a severe UTI, it may take several days to see a significant improvement. But the prognosis for recovery is still good. The exception is if the UTI is so severe or prolonged that complications (such as a kidney infection) develop.
What About Dogs With Recurrent UTIs?
Recurrent UTIs are more challenging than a simple UTI that resolves (and doesn’t return) with treatment. They can be frustrating for pet owners and veterinarians alike, and uncomfortable for pups.
If a urinary tract infection keeps coming back, that is an indication for further investigation and diagnostic tests. Usually, there is an underlying issue that makes a dog more prone to developing UTIs.
Underlying conditions could include some of the health problems listed above as causes of UTIs in dogs—for example, diabetes mellitus, Cushing’s disease, kidney problems, prostate disease, or bladder cancer. An anatomical defect, such as a recessed vulva, could also be to blame.
Unfortunately, an underlying health condition could cause a dog to develop many UTIs in their lifetime. There might not be a “cure” available—just strategies for long-term management.
Routine monitoring of the urine—even when a dog isn’t showing symptoms—can help keep UTIs under control. With some types of anatomical abnormalities, surgery may help a lot.
Dogs with recurrent UTIs will likely need a longer course of antibiotics than a dog who has a simple, one-time UTI.
Preventing Future UTIs
Prevention of UTIs depends on exactly what caused the UTI in the first place. So, always refer to your vet’s specific instructions. But some general tips that could help include…
Manage any health conditions that could lead to UTIs.
Help your dog with hygiene if needed. Pet wipes and other cleaning products designed for dogs may help if a pup has difficulty cleaning themselves or if they have skin folds near their genitals that tend to become dirty.
Always keep fresh water available. Just like humans, drinking enough water can help prevent UTIs.
Allow your dog to urinate as often as they need to. If you can’t be home to let them outside, set up potty pads or an alternative such as a dog walker so your furry friend isn’t trying to “hold it in” all day.
For pups with certain types of chronic urinary issues, prescription diets may help regulate urinary tract health and pH balance of the urine.
If your dog does develop a UTI, give the medications exactly as prescribed. Don’t stop antibiotics early, or the infection could come back and be more difficult to treat.
When to See the Vet
A vet visit is necessary anytime a dog shows urinary symptoms.
That’s because a UTI is painful and can lead to worse complications if not treated promptly. Additionally, symptoms of a UTI can indicate an underlying medical condition that needs to be addressed.
If a dog shows symptoms of a urinary blockage (distress with constant straining and nothing coming out) or illness, a pet parent should call a vet or take their dog to an emergency vet immediately.
Prompt treatment will help prevent complications. Not to mention, it will help a pup get some much needed relief and get back to feeling good as quickly as possible.
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