Knowing how to prevent a urinary tract infection in dogs can save you and your pet a lot of stress. Most dogs who are diagnosed with a simple and uncomplicated urinary tract infection recover without incident, which is good news.
Sadly, about 25 percent of pets that develop a urinary tract infection will get a recurrence at some point during their lifetime.
My first Cocker Spaniel battled urinary tract infections for several years. I kept a dog journal of all her veterinary visits and medical issues. Looking back, she had over 10 UTIs before we finally got them under control.
I’ll share what worked for us and other pet parents to help prevent urinary tract infections in dogs. Always talk to your dog’s veterinarian if you plan to introduce any “natural” supplements to your dog’s diet. A dog’s urine pH can be severely altered by supplements or diet, but more about that shortly.
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How Do Dogs Get a Urinary Tract Infection?
Bacteria is the number one cause of UTIs in dogs. Think about how most dogs pee: they squat, especially female dogs. The bacteria come into contact with the dog’s private parts and enters upward through the urethral opening.
Bacteria forms when feces or debris enters the area. Dogs who have a weakened immune system or eat a poor diet may also be more prone to UTIs.
Urine in a dog’s bladder should be sterile. When bacteria make their way into a dog’s urethra and bladder, they grow and reproduce. The result is a UTI.
Not all UTIs are created equal. They may be caused by bacteria, crystals in the urine, bacteria, diabetes, and even certain medications.
Other dogs may develop bladder stones with a urinary tract infection, which is why a veterinarian must see your dog if a UTI is suspected.
What Are the Signs of a UTI?
UTIs manifest in many ways. Your dog may strain to pee without any or very little output. If you’ve ever had a urinary tract infection, you know the pressure and pain associated with trying to void without success.
Your dog may whine, cry out, whimper, or ask to go outside repeatedly. She may lick at her genital area from time to time. You might even see droplets of blood in the urine. Oftentimes, the blood is microscopic and not visible to the naked eye.
Housebroken dogs who suddenly start peeing in the house should be evaluated. The dog cannot “hold it” if pressure or pain are involved from stones or bacteria. Sometimes, dogs will pee in the house if they feel stressed.
Dogs may also drink more, seem excessively tired, and their urine may have a strong odor. Our Cocker Spaniel experienced “dribbling” where the urine would drip out of her in the house.
How to Prevent A Urinary Tract Infection in Dogs
Never second guess or assume your dog has a UTI. It is imperative that you know the cause because kidney stones, physical malformations, or medication side effects are separate issues.
Here’s what has worked for us once we learned the cause of our dog’s urinary tract infections:
Perform Urine Checks At Home Regularly
When you take your dog to the veterinarian, a urine test strip will be dipped into your dog’s urine as a first check. You can do the same thing at home in between appointments. We highly recommend you do this, as it has been a lifesaver for us.
I buy urinary test strips for my dog online. When used properly, the strips can detect if your pooch has a urinary tract infection. Not all test strips are created equal, so check reviews and be sure to throw them out when expired.
Collect the dog’s urine with a free catch in the morning when it is most concentrated, dip the stick in, wait for the time recommendations (2 minutes for most), and then compare against the colors on the bottle. (strips expire and are about $35 for 100 but so worth it – about the same cost as one urinalysis at the vet, so very cost-effective).
You do not want the dog’s urine stream to come into contact with the ground or any debris or dirt. I use a clean, never washed disposable plastic container with a lid and place the urine in the fridge until I see the vet…the sooner the better that day so an accurate sample is given to the vet. Never get your fingers near it.
In healthy pets, the urine pH is typically in the 6.5 to 7.0 range. Medicines, age, co-existing health conditions, and even stress can change the level of pH. In addition, the most concentrated form of urine is the “free catch” first thing in the morning.
Chewy also carries a 10-in-1 veterinary-grade urine testing strip kit for dogs.
Pro Tip: Catch your dog’s urine using a soup ladle, the PawCheck P-Scoop, or a plastic container when you take your pooch outside. Don’t use soapy water to clean the ladle or container so it doesn’t interfere with the reading. (I use hot water and dry with a paper towel before storing the container).
Consider Cranberry Capsules
When my first Cocker Spaniel developed chronic urinary tract infections in her middle years, treatment was generally monitoring her urine and watching for symptoms.
After talking with some friends in the veterinary field and doing a bit of research, I discovered cranberry capsules. Cranberry in general helps to promote a healthy urinary tract by preventing bacteria from adhering to the mucosal lining of the urinary bladder.
In other words, the bacteria are there but the cranberry prevents them from sticking to the bladder wall. There are precautions to take and the administration and/or addition of any medication or vitamin/supplement should be discussed with a veterinarian first.
Avoid capsules or supplements that contain sugar or artificial sweeteners. Xylitol and birch sugar can kill a dog. Cranberry is a berry and has a certain amount of natural sugars in it. Cranberry in general will change the pH of the urine and you don’t want a dog with too high of a pH or too low: Stones can result.
Some pet parents prefer to give their dogs a cranberry supplement in a chewable form. We like Zesty Paws’ Cranberry Bladder Bites.
Make Sure Your Dog Drinks Enough Water
Drinking water is essential and crucial to a dog’s overall well-being. I hear from pet parents all the time who tell me their dog doesn’t drink enough and how can they get their dog to drink?
In general, a healthy dog drinks about 1/2 to 1 ounce of water per pound of body weight per day. Frequent drinking (polydipsia) is a sign of other health issues, like diabetes, so always monitor your dog’s water intake. Knowing the amount of water your dog should drink helps you determine if your dog is drinking too little or too much. Flushing the kidneys and urinary tract is one way to keep crystals from forming and to keep dogs healthy.
Dogs love cool, clean, fresh water. This is totally possible using the Drinkwell Water Fountain.
Consider Vitamin C
For a period of time, before we discovered cranberry capsules, we added vitamin C to our dog’s diet. Though dogs are capable of making their own vitamin C, this water-soluble antioxidant may help in fighting off urinary tract infections when given in extra doses.
In her book, Four Paws, Five Directions: A Guide to Chinese Medicine for Cats and Dog, Cheryl Schwartz, DVM, says the forms of Vitamin C best absorbed by the intestinal tract are calcium ascorbate and sodium ascorbate, as they are also both less likely to cause diarrhea.
Re-evaluate Your Dog’s Diet
Feed your dog natural, high-quality pet food, free of by-products and fillers which is appropriate to their nutritional requirements. We feed a moist pet food (Dr. Harvey’s Canine Health) and ensure our dog drinks an adequate amount of water daily.
Dog food can actually cause kidney stones, which is why keeping an eye on the pH level of your dog’s urine is so important.
Here’s what we feed our dogs.
Take Your Dog To Potty More Often
Urine is not meant to sit in a bladder for inordinate periods of time. We took our Cocker Spaniel out every two to three hours until bedtime. The more your dog has the opportunity to eliminate, the better.
Keep Your Dog Well-Groomed
Dogs who are not properly groomed or whose hair or tail is unkempt may experience more UTIs. The reason is simple: the hair collects moisture, urine, and bacteria and the cycle begins.
Male dogs are less likely to develop UTIs, but it happens. Intact males may develop prostate issues which can lead to UTIs.
Learn to groom your Cocker Spaniel at home like we did, even if that means just certain body parts in between professional grooming sessions.
Consider Medications to Change Your Dog’s Urine pH
By making it more difficult for your bacteria to grow, your dog may avoid UTIs for the long haul. The urine should not be too acidic nor too alkaline, as in either case stones can form. This is why urinary test strips at home can be a lifesaver.
Consider Canine Probiotics or Supplements
Sometimes all it takes is the right probiotic or supplement to get your dog’s urinary tract back on track. Some of the favorites that we use are:
Dr. Harvey’s Kidney Health Support Supplement: Just sprinkle it into food.
Zesty Paws Probiotic Bites: Supports gut health, gut flora, and immune function with six probiotics.
FortiFlora Pro Plan Veterinary Supplement: I’ve used this as directed by our veterinarian to support my dog’s intestinal microflora.
Nutramax Proviable-DC Digestive Health Supplement: A staple in our household as directed by our veterinarian to use as needed. Supports GI health in times of stress from diet, travel, etc.
Nutramax Crananidin Urinary Tract Health Supplement: Chewable and helps stop bacteria from sticking to the lining of the urinary tract.
Are Bladder Infections the Same As Urinary Tract Infections?
Bladder infections are a type of UTI in dogs, but not all urinary tract infections are bladder infections. The National Institutes of Health, bladder infections are the most common type of UTI. Your veterinarian may call it cystitis, meaning inflammation of the urinary bladder.
The most common cause of cystitis in dogs is bacteria. However, dogs may be experiencing bladder stones, a tumor, benign polyps in the bladder, congenital issues, neurologic problems, and diverticula. Cystitis is a general term that applies to any inflammatory condition of the urinary bladder.
Stress or any sort of upset in a dog’s life can instigate UTIs. If a dog is exposed to trauma at home, a chaotic household is left alone for long periods of time, or has other stressors, her immune system may become depressed.
What Tests Should My Veterinarian Perform?
In the event you suspect your dog has a UTI, your veterinarian should perform a few tests. The most basic test is a urinalysis or UA. The best time of day to collect urine is in the morning in a sterile container, as it is most concentrated then.
Your vet may want to perform cystocentesis in some cases. The veterinarian will insert a sterile needle into your dog’s full bladder. Urine is withdrawn into the sterile syringe.
The urine will be analyzed to look at color and turbidity (if it is cloudy), to see how concentrated it is, to measure pH, and examine the cells and if any material is present.
A urine culture, or urine culture and sensitivity test, is often performed and sent off to an outside lab. Not all bacteria are created equal. What causes one dog’s UTI may not be the same reason in another dog. Your dog’s urine culture will grow in a laboratory to see which bacteria is the culprit.
Your vet may also perform an abdominal x-ray or ultrasound if stones are suspected.
What If My Dog’s UTI Won’t Go Away With Treatment?
Recurrent detection of bacteria in a dog’s urine can be troublesome. Dogs who suffer from bacterial UTIs at least three times a year or twice in six months are considered to have recurrent infections.
According to DVM360, NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) may be “as effective to treat a UTI in veterinary patients based on human studies.”
However, some veterinarians will not use NSAIDs for canine UTIs other than to abate symptoms while waiting for culture and sensitivity results.
Recurrent UTIs can be a sign of transitional cell carcinoma (TCC). Early detection is key. Dogs may also experience recurrent UTIs due to:
- Relapse because the original infection never cleared up or the antibiotic prescribed wasn’t effective for the strain or wasn’t taken for a long enough period of time.
- Irritated urethra: Dogs may experience dermatitis from urine that collects in the folds of the genital area. Because bacteria thrive and grow in a moist, dark environment, a UTI may occur over and over.
- Urinary retention happens in dogs the same way as in people. If a dog isn’t able to fully empty her bladder during urination, UTIs may result. This can be caused by muscle weakness, urethral or bladder rupture, or even some sort of injury.
- Underlying illness can affect a dog in many ways. If your dog suffers from diabetes, UTI symptoms appear before or after the diagnosis. Dogs with Cushing’s Disease tend to get recurrent urinary problems.
Urinary tract infections in dogs are either acute (sudden onset) or chronic (ongoing). Understanding why your dog is getting UTis is the key to preventing them.