Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) in Dogs

By Malcolm Weir, DVM, MSc, MPH; Robin Downing, DVM, DAAPM, DACVSMR, CVPP, CRPP

Medical Conditions, Pet Services

My dog suddenly started asking to go outside very frequently. A sample of urine revealed a bladder infection. How did this happen?

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are fairly common in dogs. Dogs with UTIs generally attempt to urinate very frequently whenever they go outside. They also may strain to urinate, or cry out or whine when urinating if it is painful. Sometimes you might even see blood in their urine. Dripping urine, or frequent licking of the genitals, may also signal that a UTI is present. Urine that has a very strong odor to it can also be a sign that your dog has an infection.

"A break in housetraining is a red flag that something is wrong in the bladder."

A break in housetraining is a red flag that something is wrong in the bladder. If this should happen to your previous well-mannered dog, a UTI may be to blame.

Generally, a UTI occurs when bacteria travels up the urethra and into the bladder. Urine in the bladder is supposed to be sterile, but once bacteria find their way there, they can grow and reproduce, causing a UTI. Additionally, some dogs will develop bladder stones in conjunction with their UTI, which opens the door for additional health issues.

What does a urinalysis look at?

If your cat presents to your veterinarian with urinary signs, your veterinarian will first perform a urinalysis. The urinalysis can reveal so much important information about the urine when a UTI is suspected. Your veterinarian will look at the following:

  • urine-specific gravity (how well the dog is concentrating their urine)
  • pH (certain pH levels can indicate infection or other problems)
  • ketones (sometimes seen in cases of diabetes or body-wasting)
  • glucose (sugar in the urine, usually a sign of diabetes)
  • bilirubin (a breakdown product of blood)
  • blood
  • protein

Once these levels are measured, the urine specimen is placed into a centrifuge and spun down to allow cells and other debris to accumulate at the bottom of the sample tube. That debris can then be evaluated under magnification, and this examination can reveal the presence of red blood cells, white blood cells, bacteria, and crystals.

What is seen under the microscope’s magnification can lead to the next steps of assessing the dog’s urinary tract disease. For example, if there are crystals in the urine, your veterinarian may recommend radiographs (X-rays) or an ultrasound of the abdomen in order to look for bladder stones.

My veterinarian sent a sample of urine to a laboratory for a culture and sensitivity test. What is this?

All urinary tract infections are NOT created equal! Even though the most common organism to cause UTIs in dogs is Escherichia coli (the bacteria found in feces), there are several other organisms that may be involved. The only way to identify which specific bacteria is to blame, is to grow it in a laboratory. At the same time, the lab can also test which antibiotic is best suited to treat the infection.

Often, a veterinarian will prescribe an antibiotic that is among the most commonly used for treating UTIs in order to try to provide immediate relief to the dog. Pain medication may also be prescribed (UTIs can be uncomfortable), and a diet change may be recommended.

Once the culture and sensitivity results are received, an appropriate antibiotic will be prescribed. After the course of antibiotics is given, it is important to recheck the urinalysis to confirm that the infection is resolved. If it is not, then it will be important to investigate additional issues that may contribute to a persistent UTI.

Are some dogs predisposed to UTIs?

Older female dogs, and dogs with diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes), more commonly develop UTIs than the general population. Dogs who have bladder stones are also more prone to recurrent UTIs. This highlights the importance of getting a complete diagnosis whenever there is evidence of disease in the urinary tract. Bladder stones must be removed or dissolved in order to restore bladder health.

What can I do to prevent a UTI from occurring in the future?

Your veterinarian will let you know if there is anything that can be done to prevent your dog’s UTI from recurring. Often, a diet change may be recommended. They may also recommend some medications or supplements that can help to change the pH of the urine, making it harder for an infection to take hold. It is best to discuss UTI prevention with your veterinarian in order to put into place strategies that have been shown to be effective.

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