Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, in dogs occur when bacteria enter the bladder through the urethra. In healthy dogs, the body’s defense system will destroy these bacteria and other organisms that try to enter the urinary tract, keeping the bladder a sterile environment. When these systems break down, bacteria can be introduced and infection can ensue. Typically the bacteria and infection will remain in the bladder, but it can travel farther up to the kidneys or the ureters (tubes that allow urine to flow from the kidney to the bladder). When the bacteria remain in the bladder, the condition is also known as “bacterial cystitis.”
In rare cases, fungi and viruses can also be the cause of urinary tract infections. Whatever the cause, urinary tract infections in dogs are very common, with it being estimated that approximately 14% of dogs will experience at least one at some point during their lives.
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Risk Factors of Urinary Tract Infections in Dogs
Although dogs of any age or breed can experience urinary tract infections, older dogs seem to experience UTIs more often than younger dogs, and females also run a higher risk of infection. In addition to these risk factors, other diseases can often predispose a dog to UTIs.
The most common of these are:
- Cushing’s disease
- Diabetes mellitus
- Kidney failure
- Bladder cancer
- Swelling of the vulva, or other conditions that change the normal anatomy of the genital area
- Bladder stones (can also put a dog at risk for recurring UTIs)
- Medication such as corticosteroids and prednisone, especially when used long-term
Urinary tract infections are fairly easy for a vet to diagnose. They will go through a full history of your dog’s health, focusing on any past UTIs and the symptoms currently present. They will then perform a full physical exam, a biochemistry profile, a complete blood count (CBC), and a urinalysis, taken from a urine sample.
Urine samples are typically taken from a syringe inserted into the bladder. While the biochemistry profile and CBC may provide some information, these results typically come back as normal, with the infection being most present in the urine, usually in the form of pus, blood, or proteins. Once the sample has been taken, it will then be cultured, which will grow the bacteria causing the infection, and allow for sensitivity training.
Although not typical, if the vet suspects the presence of stones or other abnormal lesions, they may also use x-rays and ultrasounds to diagnose the infection, as well as the cause of it.
Treating UTI in Dogs
Bacterial UTIs among dogs are very common, and uncomplicated UTIs are very easy to treat. Typically a vet will prescribe a broad spectrum antibiotic, even before the urinalysis results have come in. These will start attacking the infection right away, and may even clear it up completely. Once the vet has the test results back, they will be able to analyze which actual microorganism is causing the infection, and may prescribe different antibiotics that are more specific to that type of bacteria. When any antibiotic is prescribed by a vet, it’s very important to make sure your pet takes the entire course, even if their symptoms clear up and they seem to get better.
If the bacterial UTI isn’t treated with the first round of antibiotics, or if it clears up and then returns, the vet will take another urinalysis and perform further diagnostic testing to determine better treatment options. If there are underlying conditions present, such as bladder or kidney stones, these conditions will need to be treated before treatment for UTI is effective.
Fungal infections in the urinary tract are much more rare, but also much more difficult to treat. The treatment for fungal UTIs will depend greatly on the microorganism causing the infection.
Prognosis of Urinary Tract Infections in Dogs
The prognosis for bacterial UTIs is excellent after a full course of antibiotics has been taken and any underlying conditions have also been treated. The prognosis for the rarer and more complicated fungal UTIs will depend greatly on the cause of the infection, or the contributing disorder or disease.
How to Prevent Urinary Tract Infections in Dogs
Preventing UTIs in dogs is extremely important. Not only is the condition very painful for your pet, if left untreated it can lead to much more serious conditions and diseases.
Because UTIs in dogs often don’t present any noticeable symptoms, one of the best preventative measures you can take is to ensure your dog has regular veterinary examinations including standard blood tests and urinalyses. Once your dog has one UTI, these exams and tests should be done even more often to ensure the infection has not returned.
Of course, if an underlying condition or disease is causing UTIs in your dog, these will need to be treated to ensure the urinary tract infection will not come back. When dogs have recurrent UTIs, vets will often prescribe a long-term low dose prophylactic antibiotic treatment. These can have their own problems, such as the dog’s immune system building a resistance to antibiotics.
Ensuring your dog always has access to plenty of fresh water is always important, and it plays a role in preventing urinary tract infections as well. When dogs drink plenty of water, it allows microorganisms to be flushed from their system and urinary tract, and reduces the chances of bacteria settling in.
While no pet owner ever wants to hear that their dog has a UTI, it’s important to remember that urinary tract infections in dogs are quite common and that it usually only takes a course of antibiotics to clear them up. Always make sure your dog has regular veterinary examinations to detect non-symptomatic UTIs and to also detect any underlying conditions or diseases that may be causing UTIs and recurrent UTIs.