The Geriatric Dog: Urinary Incontinence

When I was younger and before I was in the veterinary field my dog Bella, who was roughly nine years old, developed a urinary incontinence. I remember her having accidents around the house. We assumed she was just “old” and it was part of her advanced age. However, it was not quite the case. I will come back to Bella, but first I would like to discuss urinary incontinence in dogs and cats as well as share some important insight.

Many of our older pets develop urinary incontinence as they age. Owners often fear the worst, assuming incontinence implies senility or irreparable change due to age. However, that is usually not the case. In fact, in most cases, we can solve the issue with the assistance of your trusted veterinarian.

The most common reason for urinary incontinence is an infection of the urinary tract, in particular, a bladder infection. This condition is readily treated with the right choice of medication.

The second most common reason is excessive consumption of water. In this case, the dog or cat drinks so much water that their bladder overflow easily. In cases of excessive consumption of water, the underlying cause needs to be investigated. Diseases such as diabetes, Cushing’s syndrome, hyperthyroidism, and kidney disease need to be considered and ruled out with diagnostics.

Another cause of urinary incontinence is a weak bladder sphincter. This condition typically affects older females. Ageing, obesity, reduced sensitivity of neurologic receptors in the sphincter, and possibly other factors all contribute to this condition which is especially common. Although it might be impossible to reverse these changes, with medication, we can minimise and eliminate the symptoms.

There are some other unusual and rare conditions such as spinal disease or ectopic ureters that can lead to incontinence. These conditions are rare and again can be treated.

Now that I have shared some causes of incontinence let us return to my dog, Bella. After taking Bella to our veterinary clinic, the doctor recommended blood work and a urine test. Sequentially, Bella was diagnosed with diabetes. Once her diabetes was under control, her incontinence was resolved. She lived another happy three years after her diagnosis.

Please speak to your veterinarian if your pet is incontinent, remember most of the time the condition can be treated!

Written by Arik Vishnevsky, DVM