Navigating dog UTIs: symptoms, treatment, and prevention

December 8, 2023 - 5 min read
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s care, treatment, or medical conditions.
Puppy peeing on the floor

Whoops, your usually potty-trained pup had a little accident indoors! This unusual mishap may have been behavioral (due to a change in environment), but if these accidents happen more often, it’s worth a trip to the vet. 

When nature calls, our canine companions usually have a pretty straightforward routine. But just like humans, dogs can fall victim to the dreaded UTI, and it's up to us to spot them.

Urinary tract infections in dogs aren't just a nuisance; they can cause discomfort and even more serious health issues if left unchecked. So let's dive into the world of doggie UTIs, learn what causes them, and explore how we can help our pooches stay happy, healthy, and infection-free.

How do dogs get UTIs?

Most commonly, urinary tract infections develop when normal bacteria from the skin or the gut enter the urethra, the organ that expels urine from the bladder. When these bacteria work their way back up, they make themselves right at home in the bladder, causing symptoms such as discomfort, frequent urination, blood in the urine, or pain during urination. UTIs can also cause excessive thirst or lethargy. UTIs can affect dogs of any breed, age, or gender.

Closely monitoring your pup, and knowing what signs and symptoms to look for, can help you determine if a UTI is present.

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Which dogs are most commonly affected by UTIs?

UTIs are quite common in dogs, with around 14% experiencing one at some point in their lives.

In a study of more than one thousand canine UTI-sufferers:

  • 5.2% were less than a year old

  • 30.4% were between 1 and 7 years old

  • 64.3% were over 7 years old

Of the sample, 74% were females. Females are more susceptible to UTIs because their urethras are shorter and wider, making it easier for bacteria to sneak backwards into their bladders.

Meanwhile, males who aren't neutered are at risk of prostatitis, inflammation of the prostate gland. This inflammation is often due to bacterial infection, which can originate from the urethra. Prostatitis can causea secondary UTI.

But the MOST common cause of severe UTIs in dogs? According to research, it's E. coli.

Certain anatomical structures and existing conditions can also make dogs more susceptible to UTIs. For instance, female dogs with a recessed vulva are likely to trap bacteria in the skin folds, leading to a UTI. Recessed vulvas can be genetic, but they're also seen in dogs who are overweight.

On top of all this, dogs who have been diagnosed with kidney disease, bladder cancer, Cushing’s disease, and diabetes are at higher risk of developing UTIs.

Signs your dog has a UTI

To start, be sure to keep an eye out for any unusual changes in your pup's potty routine.

Common signs and symptoms of a UTI include:

  • Small, frequent amounts of urination

  • Excessive water intake

  • Licking genitals

  • Foul-smelling urine

  • Straining to urinate

  • Discoloration or blood in urine

And if your dog is suffering from a UTI, there's a strong chance they'll exhibit signs of pain and discomfort.

Loss of appetite and vomiting are common as well. These symptoms are particularly concerning: They may signal that the infection has worked its way to the kidneys. This type of serious infection requires urgent veterinary care.

How vets diagnose UTIs

To diagnose a UTI, your veterinarian will collect a urine sample and perform a urinalysis. They might also perform blood testing on a case-by-case basis. A culture of the urine sample can be used to pinpoint the exact bacteria causing the issue; however, it will take a couple of days for bacteria to grow and be analyzed.

Recurrent UTIs may be a sign that your pup has bladder stones (or other chronic diseases). It's worth noting that not all bladder stones cause UTIs, nor are they always the result of a UTI. Certain breeds are more prone to specific types of bladder stones. To confirm their presence, your vet might suggest imaging techniques like an ultrasound or radiograph. 

How are UTIs treated in dogs?

If your vet diagnoses a UTI, they'll likely prescribe antibiotics, accompanied by an oral pain medication to ease any discomfort.

For non-complicated first-time UTIs, the antibiotic course typically lasts about 7 days. A follow-up visit is recommended to ensure the infection has resolved.

Treatment of chronic UTIs varies by situation. Antibiotic therapy is often required for several weeks. And dogs who experience UTIs due to a recessed vulva may require surgery. A vulvoplasty can be performed to remove the excess skin around the vulva and decrease the areas where local bacteria can be trapped.

If bladder stones have been confirmed, a prescription diet may be recommended. Here's what veterinarian Dr. Kirsten, DVM, MRCVS, has to say:

Using a urinary prescription diet will be a case-by-case decision. For example, in a case where a female dog had small stones and no blockages, we might try the prescription diet to dissolve them rather than surgical removal. This requires the owner to be diligent in monitoring urine output. However, if the patient is painful, the stones are large or at risk of causing an obstruction, etc., then a cystotomy surgery to remove the stones is often our first choice. In many cases post-operatively, we will recommend a prescription urinary diet to decrease the likelihood of recurrence of crystals and stones.

In many cases post-operatively, we will recommend a prescription urinary diet to decrease the likelihood of recurrence of crystals and stones.

How to prevent UTIs in your dog

A long-term change in diet is necessary for dogs who have experienced recurring bladder stones. Prescription urinary diets are specially formulated to prevent mineral buildup and maintain a neutral pH value. Working closely with your veterinarian will ensure the best care for your furry friend.

Easy access to clean, fresh water is crucial to the health of your pup’s urinary tract. Proper water intake can dilute urine and decrease mineral concentrations, helping to prevent the formation of bladder stones. Regular urination also expels external bacteria. A dog’s water intake can fluctuate; knowing your dog's behavior and educating yourself on environmental influences can help you determine if your dog is drinking enough.

You may also be aware of the numerous cranberry suppelments designed to support a dog’s urinary tract. Specifically, these supplements have been suggested to prevent UTI infections from E. coli by decreasing adherence to the bladder wall. Unfortunately, studies have been unable to show a statistically significant improvement in live patients.

Before incorporating any supplements your dog's routine, it's very important to consult with your veterinarian.

The bottom line

Urinary tract infections in dogs are not uncommon, and while some may resolve with antibiotics, others might signal issues like bladder stones or other underlying diseases. Staying attuned to your pup’s bathroom habits can help you be on the lookout for a possible UTI.

The expenses involved in diagnosing and treating a UTI in your dog can add up. Consider insuring your dog as a way to offset these costs and ensure your furry friend receives comprehensive care. Explore the benefits of dog insurance.

Leanne Swajger
Leanne has a background in animal husbandry and veterinary medicine. Her passion for animals and their owners has led her to pursue a career in pet insurance. In her spare time, she enjoys walking her dog and being outdoors.

Claims coordinator with background in vet medicine