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Understanding Dog Bladder Infections: Signs, Causes, and Effective Treatments - PawSafe

Understanding Dog Bladder Infections: Signs, Causes, and Effective Treatments

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

understanding dog bladder infections

Dog bladder infections, also called urinary tract infections (UTIs), are common but can be painful for dogs of any age. They’re so common, about 27% of dogs will suffer from it at some time in their lives. Now, bladder infections are really only one type of UTI, as a urinary tract infection can happen anywhere in the urinary tract, such as the ureter or kidneys. In the case of bladder infections, these are lower UTIs or bacterial cystitis. 

It’s important to know the signs of a UTI so you can get your dog the help they need quickly. In this article, we’ll look at what causes dog bladder infections, how to spot them, how to treat them, and how to prevent them.

We’ve talked to Dr. Mary Thompson, DVM, from the Highway 24 Veterinary Clinic, and other top veterinarian sources and studies to give you the best advice on how to deal with this issue. We also look at what you can do at home to help your dog with bladder infections.  

How Do You Know If Your Dog Has A Bladder Infection? Signs & Symptoms

Bladder infections in dogs can cause a lot of discomfort and may lead to more serious health issues if not treated promptly. Here are some common signs that your dog might have a UTI:

  • Straining to pee/urinate (stranguria);
  • Frequent urination (peeing a lot or polyuria);
  • Showing signs of pain when peeing (dysuria);
  • Slow peeing or peeing only small amounts;
  • Bloody urine (hematuria);
  • Cloudy urine (or dark urine, like orange);
  • Strong-smelling urine;
  • Accidents in the house;
  • Leaking urine;
  • Pain when touching (palpating the bladder);
  • Licking genitals;
  • Wet spots where your dog was lying down; and
  • Wet fur around the genitals.

Comparing Signs of a UTI in Female and Male Dogs

Signs of a UTIFemale DogsMale Dogs
Straining to urinateCommon, may squat oftenCommon, may lift leg frequently
Frequent urinationYes, noticeable increaseYes, noticeable increase
Bloody urinePossible, check for pink/red spotsPossible, check for pink/red spots
Cloudy urineCan occur, look for murkinessCan occur, look for murkiness
Strong-smelling urineOften has a strong odorOften has a strong odor
Accidents in the houseMay have more indoor accidentsMay have more indoor accidents
Licking genitalsCommon, to soothe irritationCommon, to soothe irritation

It’s important to note that while both female and male dogs can show these signs, the way they show them might be different due to anatomical differences.

If you notice your dog leaking urine while lying down, it could be related to a UTI. For more information, check out our article on Is Your Dog Leaking Urine While Lying Down?. Additionally, if your dog is peeing in their sleep, it might be a sign of a UTI. Learn more in our article on Dog Peeing in Sleep.

What Causes Bladder Infections In Dogs?

X-ray of dog with kidney stones that can cause bladder infections in dogs

Bladder infections in dogs happen for different reasons. Knowing what causes them can help you prevent and treat UTIs in dogs. Here are some common causes:

Bacteria

Bacteria are the main cause of bladder infections. They can enter the urinary tract through the urethra and grow, causing an infection.

Holding Urine for Long Periods

Dogs that hold their urine for too long are more likely to get bladder infections. When urine stays in the bladder too long, it helps bacteria grow. This means leaving your dog in a crate for long periods where they are forced to hold their pee for too long can cause this issue.

Anatomical Differences (Female vs. Male)

Female dogs are more likely to get UTIs because they have shorter urethras, making it easier for bacteria to reach the bladder. Male dogs can also get UTIs, especially if they have any anatomical problems.

Bladder Stones

Bladder stones (or stones in the kidneys or ureter, called uroliths) can cause irritation and block the urinary tract, making it easier for bacteria to grow.

Diabetes

Dogs with diabetes have higher sugar levels in their urine, which helps bacteria grow and cause infections.

Medications

Some medications, especially those that weaken the immune system like chemotherapy, can increase the risk of UTIs.

Other Risk Factors

According to a study in Today’s Veterinary Practice, other factors can cause recurrent UTIs:

Functional or Structural Problems 

Issues like urinary or fecal incontinence, recessed vulva, not emptying the bladder completely, and urine pooling in the vagina.

Bacteria Colonization

Neoplasia (tumors), bladder stones, and foreign materials.

Weak Immune System

Conditions like hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s Disease), diabetes, cancer, and immunosuppressive drugs like chemotherapy.

Poor Antibiotic Treatment

Problems with the medication or not giving it correctly. This means giving your dog the wrong antibiotics or not finishing their treatment can cause bladder infections.

What Can I Give My Dog For A Bladder Infection?

If you think your dog has a bladder infection, it’s very important to talk to a veterinarian first. Here’s what you should know about treating a dog’s bladder infection:

Consult a Veterinarian

Always see a vet if you think your dog has a bladder infection or a problem somewhere else, like kidney stones as it can look similar but will need different treatments. The vet will diagnose the infection and suggest the best treatment. Giving your dog medicine without a vet’s advice can be harmful.

Prescription Antibiotics

Vets often give antibiotics to treat bladder infections. According to Today’s Veterinary Practice, the common antibiotics for bladder infections are:

  • Amoxicillin; and
  • Trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole.

Your dog will usually need to take these antibiotics for 3 to 5 days. The vet will choose the right antibiotic based on tests. Remember to finish your dog’s course of antibiotics.

Pain Medication

Dogs with bladder infections may need pain relief. However, not all pain medications are safe for dogs. Here’s what to know:

  • Your vet will prescribe safe pain relief medicine for your dog.
  • Never give your dog human medications like aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil), or acetaminophen (Tylenol). These can be very dangerous for dogs.

Treatment Recommendations from Vets

UTIs can be in different parts of the urinary tract: the bladder (cystitis), kidneys (pyelonephritis), or prostate (prostatitis). Here’s how vets treat them:

Sporadic Cystitis

This is a common bladder infection. For this, vets recommend antibiotics like amoxicillin or trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole for 3 to 5 days. If symptoms don’t get better in 48 hours, there might be another cause, like bladder stones.

Recurrent UTI

If a dog has three or more infections in a year, it’s called a recurrent UTI. This needs more tests to find out if it’s a new infection or the same one coming back. Treatment might include a longer course of antibiotics.

Subclinical Bacteriuria

This is when bacteria are in the urine but don’t cause symptoms. Usually, no treatment is needed unless the dog has other health problems.

What Do You Feed a Dog With a UTI?

When your dog has a urinary tract infection (UTI), what they eat can help them recover. Here are some tips on feeding your dog with a UTI:

Wet Food vs. Dry Food

This is one time when wet food may be better than dry food because wet food is about 75% water. The more hydrated your dog is, the better. Staying hydrated helps flush out bacteria from the urinary tract.

Increase Water Intake

Adding sodium-free chicken broth to your dog’s food can make them drink more water. Anything you can do to safely encourage your dog to drink more will help.

Special Diets for Kidney Stones

If kidney stones are causing the UTI by blocking the flow of urine out of their body, your dog may need a special diet. Your vet will need to send the stones to a lab to find out what kind they are. Dogs can have different types of stones like struvite, calcium oxalate, urate, cystine, and silica. Each type needs a different diet with specific pH levels and nutrients to help dissolve them.

Type of StoneDiet NeedsExplanation
Struvite StonesDiet that makes urine more acidicFoods that lower urine pH, such as meat-based diets.
Calcium Oxalate StonesDiet that makes urine less acidicFoods that raise urine pH, like certain vegetables. Avoid foods high in oxalates (spinach, nuts).
Urate StonesLow-purine dietAvoid high-purine foods like liver and certain fish. Purines are compounds found in some foods.
Cystine StonesDiet that reduces cystine in urineSpecial prescription diets designed to reduce cystine, a type of amino acid.
Silica StonesLow in certain plant-based ingredientsAvoid foods high in grains like corn and wheat.

If kidney or bladder stones are not causing the infection, diet changes won’t really make a difference.

Cranberry Extract

One supplement that shows some evidence of working is cranberry extract. According to a study published in the American Journal of Veterinary Research, cranberry extract can help prevent UTIs by stopping bacteria like E. coli from sticking to the cells in the urinary tract. 

In the study, dogs given cranberry extract did not develop UTIs, and it reduced bacterial adhesion in their urine samples. This means it stopped bacteria like E.coli from sticking to the bladder walk.. 

Debunking a Common Myth: Apple Cider Vinegar

There is no evidence that apple cider vinegar helps with bladder infections in dogs. It’s best to stick with treatments recommended by your vet.

By following these tips and working with your vet, you can help your dog recover from a UTI and stay healthy.

How Do You Treat Bladder Infections In Dogs At Home?

Beagle dog peeing frequent pee breaks can help treat your dog's bladder infection at home

If your dog has a bladder infection, it’s crucial to follow your veterinarian’s advice for treatment. While professional treatment is essential, there are some things you can do at home to help your dog feel better.

Encourage Frequent Urination

Encourage your dog to urinate frequently. This helps flush out bacteria from the urinary tract. Take your dog outside more often for bathroom breaks.

Provide Ample Water

Make sure your dog drinks plenty of water. Staying hydrated helps to flush out the bacteria causing the infection. You can add sodium-free chicken broth to their water to make it more appealing.

Keep Your Dog Warm

Keeping your dog warm can help them feel more comfortable. Make sure their sleeping area is cozy and free from drafts.

Use a Heating Pad on Low (With Supervision)

You can use a heating pad on a low setting to help soothe your dog’s discomfort. Place it on their lower abdomen, but always supervise to ensure it doesn’t get too hot or cause burns.

Will A Dog’s Bladder Infection Go Away On Its Own?

It’s not recommended to wait for a bladder infection to go away on its own. Bladder infections can be painful and can lead to more serious health problems if left untreated.

Consult a Veterinarian for Proper Diagnosis and Treatment

Always consult a veterinarian if you suspect your dog has a bladder infection. The vet will provide the right diagnosis and treatment plan to help your dog recover quickly and prevent complications.

Potential Complications

Untreated bladder infections can lead to complications such as kidney infections, bladder stones, or chronic UTIs. Prompt treatment is essential to avoid these issues and ensure your dog’s health.

How to Prevent UTIs in Dogs

Regular Bathroom Breaks

Take your dog out for regular bathroom breaks. This helps prevent the buildup of bacteria in the bladder.

Proper Hydration

Make sure your dog always has access to fresh, clean water. Proper hydration helps keep the urinary tract healthy and flushes out bacteria.

Maintain Hygiene

Keep your dog’s genital area clean, especially after they go to the bathroom. Wipe the area with a damp cloth if necessary to remove any dirt or bacteria. Make sure there is no matted hair around the genital area and carefully trim it away to limit bacteria.

Regular Vet Check-Ups

Regular veterinary check-ups can help catch any health issues early, including UTIs. Your vet can provide advice on the best ways to prevent infections and keep your dog healthy.

Conclusion

Bladder infections in dogs can be painful and lead to more serious health issues if not treated properly. Recognizing the signs of a UTI, understanding the causes, and knowing how to treat and prevent these infections are crucial for your dog’s health. 

Always consult with your veterinarian for the best advice and treatment options. By keeping your dog well-hydrated, maintaining good hygiene, and ensuring regular vet check-ups, you can help keep bladder infections at bay and ensure your pup stays happy and healthy.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe

Author

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.