UTIs in dogs

Written by Small Door's medical experts

Bacterial urinary tract infections (UTIs) are one of the more common infections in dogs. Approximately 14% of the canine population will be afflicted by a UTI at some point. Although they often affect older canines (ages 7 and up), younger pups can also develop UTIs. All breeds are susceptible, with females being more prone than males. (Male dogs have a longer urethra, so it takes bacteria longer to travel upwards.)

In This Article

What is a urinary tract infection in dogs?

The bladder is a sterile area of the body that normally does not contain bacteria. But sometimes bacteria do make their way into the bladder through the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the body during urination). These bacteria then begin to multiply and colonize the urinary tract, leading to an infection, known as a UTI.

Signs & symptoms of UTI in dogs

Unlike humans who develop a UTI, dogs are often asymptomatic. But when signs of a urinary tract infection do present themselves, they may include the following:

  • Excessive drinking

  • Incontinence/inability to hold urine for a normal amount of time

  • Bloody and/or cloudy urine

  • Lack of appetite

  • Licking around genitals

  • Fever

  • Passing small amounts of urine very frequently

  • Acting uncomfortable or distressed while urinating

  • Lethargy

Dogs with diabetes or an endocrine/hormonal disorder (such as Cushing’s Disease); dogs receiving chemotherapy or immunosuppressive drugs; and dogs that are on long-term cortisone-type medications are at a higher risk for developing UTIs. In these cases, your veterinarian may recommend regular urine tests to check for signs of infection.

What causes UTIs in dogs?

The area around a dog’s genitalia is exposed to bacteria from urine, feces, and other types of debris. When bacteria travel up through the urethra and into the bladder, an infection develops. E. coli is a very common cause of UTIs, although there are several other types of bacteria that can also cause infection.

When a dog is very young, elderly, or has a weakened immune system as a result of an illness, the body has a harder time fighting off infection.

If the infection makes its way up into the kidneys, more serious issues like kidney infection (pyelonephritis), kidney stones, or even kidney failure can occur.

Are some dogs predisposed to UTIs?

UTIs can develop in any dog and at any age, but some factors might make your dog more likely to experience an infection. While male dogs can still develop a UTI, female dogs are more likely to suffer from an infection, along with dogs that suffer from other health problems, such as chronic kidney disease and Cushing’s disease.

What is a urinalysis and what does it look at?

A urinalysis is an important screening tool that examines chemical properties of the urine sample. It also allows for a visual inspection of the urine to look for things like crystals, cells, or bacteria. This test may be performed “in-house” by your veterinarian or by an outside laboratory; either way, results are typically available within 24 hours or less.

Diagnosing a UTI in dogs

A urine sample needs to be collected and tested. If the dog shows symptoms indicative of an infection, a urinalysis and a urine culture can be performed simultaneously.

  • Urinalysis (UA): Common UA findings for a dog with a urinary tract infection may include:

    • An excess of white blood cells

    • Presence of bacteria when the sediment is checked under the microscope

    • Excess protein in the urine

  • When a dog drinks an excessive amount of water, the urine may become too diluted to allow detection of bacteria or white blood cells. Many dogs with a UTI have no abnormalities on their UA, so a urine culture must be carried out to determine if there’s an infection.

  • Urine culture: This is the only test that actually confirms a urinary tract infection is present. Urine is spun in a centrifuge to separate out the solids from the liquid. The solid part, known as the sediment, is placed in a container and incubated for bacterial growth. The confirmation of bacteria allows for further examination, including whether the bacteria are known to cause disease or likely to be harmless. The antibiotic profile helps doctors determine which antibiotics will work against the infection. Urine culture results are typically available within 3 to 5 days.

Urinary tract infections can be classified as uncomplicated or complicated:

  • Uncomplicated: This is typically the first occurrence of a urinary tract infection in an otherwise healthy dog. An uncomplicated UTI is easily treatable with antibiotics.

  • Complicated: A complicated UTI is a bacterial infection that occurs as the result of an anatomic or functional urinary tract abnormality that predisposes the dog to persistent infection, recurrent infection, or treatment failure. Pyelonephritis, bladder stones, and prostatitis are some examples of complicated bacterial urinary tract infections. In order to eliminate the UTI, the underlying condition or abnormality must be corrected.

Recurrent UTIs that develop three or more times during a 12-month period may be considered a reinfection or relapse.

  • Reinfection: UTI returns within 6 months of completing a successful course of treatment. The urinary tract has now become infected with a different bacterial organism.

  • Relapse: A relapse is caused by the same species of bacteria as the previous infection, and occurs within 6 months of completing treatment.

Treatment for UTIs in dogs

Not all urinary tract infections are alike, so the course of treatment can vary.

An uncomplicated UTI is usually treated with a 7- to 14-day course of an appropriate antimicrobial agent. Although noticeable improvements should occur within the first few days, the medication should be taken in its entirety as instructed by your vet.

Approximately a week after completing treatment, a new urine sample is cultured to ensure the infection is gone. If it has not cleared up, or a new one has developed, there is usually a reason, such as an underlying condition.

In the case of more severe or recurrent UTIs, your veterinarian may recommend re-culturing your dog’s urine both prior to the completion of antibiotics (to ensure that the antibiotics are working) and again after the course of antibiotics are finished (to confirm that the infection has resolved).

Complicated UTIs are also treated with antimicrobial agents. However, the length of treatment is longer than for an uncomplicated UTI—usually 3 to 6 weeks, although there is evidence that a 10- to 14-day course can be effective if the right antimicrobial agent is given.

During this time, it’s important to increase your dog’s water intake; fluid consumption helps flush out bacteria during urination.

Some pet owners familiar with the signs and symptoms of a UTI may try to treat the infection with natural, at-home remedies. While these natural remedies may be helpful, there is no scientific evidence that they can cure a UTI. Also, some natural remedies for humans may not be safe for dogs. Since an untreated urinary tract infection can lead to more serious problems (and is very uncomfortable for your dog!), you should always consult your veterinarian if you suspect your dog has a UTI. In addition, remember that UTI symptoms can mimic other serious health conditions.

Is there a cure for urinary tract infections in dogs?

Urinary tract infections can be cleared up with antibiotics.

Are UTIs in dogs contagious for humans or other pets?

No, urinary tract infections are not contagious.

What is the cost of treating a urinary tract infection in dogs?

The cost to treat a UTI varies, with geographic location being one of the biggest factors to take into consideration. Costs to consider include:

  • Office visit: varies depending on your vet, with an emergency veterinary clinic often costing much more.

  • Antibiotics: medication can range in price from $25–$100 or even more, depending on the type of antibiotic needed, the length of treatment, and the size of your dog (the larger the dog, the more expensive the medication).

  • Tests: a urinalysis and urine cultures can run up to a few hundred dollars depending on your location, veterinarian, how the urine is collected and the extent of diagnostic testing required.

Recovery and management of UTIs in dogs

Recovery time depends on the severity of the infection. Most cases clear up pretty quickly without any complications once treatment begins, but in other situations it may take longer.

The following tips can assist in recovery:

  • Provide access to fresh, clean water and a diet that includes wet food (which contributes to overall water intake).

  • Administer medication on schedule and ensure your pup is getting the full dose as prescribed. Do not stop medication even if your dog is showing signs of improvement; it’s absolutely critical that you administer the entire course of medication exactly as directed.

  • Ensure your dog is taken outside regularly to urinate: “holding it in” for too long on a regular basis can contribute to, or worsen, UTIs.

  • Keep an eye on your dog’s behavior. If there is no improvement after 48 hours of starting treatment, contact your vet.

What can happen if a dog’s urinary tract problems go untreated?

As UTIs may be a symptom of another underlying condition, it’s essential to seek veterinary care as soon as possible if you suspect your dog might have a UTI. 

Left untreated, a UTI could go on to cause more serious illnesses such as a kidney infection (or pyelonephritis) in one or both kidneys. 

Untreated UTIs may also cause dogs to develop struvite bladder stones. While not all bladder stones are related to infection, this specific type — which is quite common in dogs — are directly correlated with UTIs. Bladder stones can then predispose your dog to more UTIs, in addition to being incredibly painful.

Preventing UTIs in dogs

UTIs in dogs are highly preventable. In order to minimize your dog’s risk of contracting a urinary tract infection, take the following steps:

  • Provide fresh, clean water every day. Drinking clean water helps to flush away any bacteria that has accumulated in the urinary tract.

  • Routine grooming, especially around the urinary opening, and regular bathing can help prevent bacteria from entering the urinary system. Keep the area clean and free of debris, scratches, etc.

  • Provide plenty of opportunities for your dog to go outside for a pee break. It’s not good for dogs to hold urine in for very long periods of time.

  • Feed your dog a healthy, well-balanced diet.

  • Probiotic supplements can build up the growth of healthy bacteria in a dog’s body.

  • Vitamin C helps strengthen the immune system. (However, large doses of vitamin C can alter the pH of urine and predispose your dog to forming bladder stones, so consult with your veterinarian first.)

  • Regular vet check-ups can identify problems before they get serious.

Is there a vaccine for urinary tract infections in dogs?

There is no vaccine for urinary tract infections.

When UTI Symptoms Are Something Worse

UTI symptoms are similar to those of other conditions, and so they may at times be indicative of something far worse going on in your dog’s body. If your dog is experiencing any of the following, bring them to your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Bloody urine

One of the more alarming urinary symptoms is blood in your dog’s urine. While this can be indicative of a UTI, bloody urine can also be a sign of several severe or potentially fatal conditions, such as:

  • Poisoning

  • Kidney disease

  • Trauma

  • Cancer

  • Bladder stones 

Difficulty urinating

If your dog is having difficulty urinating or is not passing any urine, this warrants a visit to the emergency room. If left untreated, this can be fatal for your dog and can also suggest a number of bigger issues such as:

  • Obstructions in the urinary tract

  • Scar tissue in the urinary tract

  • Spinal cord injuries or disease

  • Trauma

  • Cancer

  • Prostate disease

Changes in urination habits

Paying close attention to your dog’s urination habits isn’t just important for care and training, but also for their wellbeing. Any abrupt or noticeable changes in their bathroom habits warrant a discussion with your veterinarian.

Accidents in the house or increased frequency in urination may be symptoms of diabetes, hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, cancer, trauma, as well as urinary tract infections.

Summary of UTIs in dogs

Urinary tract infections are fairly common in dogs, but may not show any symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they often include frequent urination, passing little urine, and increased thirst. It’s important to treat a UTI as soon as possible, as they can lead to complications such as kidney infections or failure, and are very uncomfortable for your dog! Providing plenty of clean drinking water and frequent pee breaks, as well as keeping an eye on your dog’s overall health with regular check-ups, can help prevent UTIs.

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