Incontinence is when a dog can't control her bladder and pees inappropriately or leaks urine. She may be unaware that she’s doing this. It's important to distinguish incontinence from submissive or excitement urination. In no case should the dog be scolded or punished—she can’t help it. Incontinence is a medical condition, and once your vet has figured out the cause there are several safe and effective treatments available.
The most common reason for canine urinary incontinence is a urinary tract infection (UTI), usually of the bladder. Hormonal imbalance is another common reason. Estrogen plays a part in keeping the urinary sphincter muscles strong. The common practice of spaying or neutering dogs before maturity upsets the natural hormonal balance, which can result in what is often referred to as spay incontinence--weak sphincter muscles, primarily in female dogs. Less common causes of incontinence include aging, obesity, polyps and any disease that causes excessive thirst and water consumption.
The first step in diagnosing incontinence is ruling out a UTI via urinalysis or culture. If at all possible, a fresh urine sample should be brought to the veterinarian at the first visit, otherwise the vet will have to catheterize the dog for a sample. Elevated levels of bacteria indicate infection, and low specific gravity means the urine is very diluted and the dog is drinking excessively. If this is the case, the veterinarian will do further diagnostics, including a blood test, ultrasound or X-rays to get a specific diagnosis.
Antibiotics will clear up a UTI in one to three weeks. If a hormonal imbalance is suspected, the vet will either prescribe phenylpropanolamine (PPA or Proin), or estrogen. Estrogen may be natural or in a synthetic form called diethylstilbestrol and is given to both male and female dogs. Sometimes male dogs respond better to a course of testosterone injections. In some cases the dog will need to take these medications for life, although often a short course of medication cures the problem.
For more complex causes, such as kidney disease, diabetes, polyps or congenital abnormalities of the urinary tract, a wide range of medications, lifestyle management or surgery may be indicated.
Natural Preventatives or Treatments
Corn silk capsules or tea may be an effective alternate treatment for hormone-related incontinence, according to Mary Straus, writing for the Whole Dog Journal. While cranberry capsules will not cure a UTI, they may be effective in preventing them because they alter the pH or the bladder walls, making it harder for bacteria to adhere and grow. Waiting until six or seven months before spaying and neutering allows the sex hormones to facilitate proper development of the bladder. Finally, a diet low in grains may help prevent recurring UTIs. This can be achieved by feeding a grain-free kibble, home cooking or feeding a raw diet.
If it's not possible to treat the incontinence, use doggie diapers or pads to catch the urine.
Submissive or excitement urination can be confused with medical incontinence, but the situations are different. While medical urinary incontinence can happen at any time, including while the dog is sleeping, behavioral incontinence is usually triggered by scolding, excited greetings or when a young dog meets a new person or dog. It is more common in females than in males, and not uncommon in puppies. In most cases the pup stops doing this as she matures.