Unfortunately, most dog owners don’t think about their dog’s urinary tract health until they are at the vet’s office facing a urinary tract infection (UTI). It’s unfortunate because it is actually quite easy to maintain urinary tract health and prevent infections.
Urinary Tract Illnesses
UTIs are a common illness treated by vets. It is just what it sounds like: an infection inside your dog’s urinary tract. Aside from an infection, poor urinary tract health can lead to kidney or bladders stones, which are very painful.
Dr. Diane Levitan, VMD, Peace Love Pets Veterinary Care, PLLC, cautions: BLOCKAGE CAN BE DEADLY, SO MAKE SURE YOU GET YOUR PET EVALUATED RIGHT AWAY IF THERE ARE SYMPTOMS.
Signs of infection and stones are similar:
- Urinating blood
- Discomfort urinating
- Blocked and unable to urinate
Causes of Illness
UTIs can be caused by a variety of factors. According to Dr. Cathy Alinovi, DVM, three main factors are “not enough acid in the urine, weakened immune system, and arthritic joints making it hard to hunch and bend over to fully empty your bladder.”
In addition, Dr. Levitan explains that UTIs can be caused by poor hygiene (excessive build up hair around the urethral opening), excessive licking, or if your pet leaks urine (poor sphincter function possibly) it allows infection to creep in.
“Infection is the number one reason for stones to form. In the bladder, they cause pain and straining to urinate. In the kidneys they often go unnoticed, causing slow progressive infection and damage,” explains Dr. Levitan, “Some stones are caused by excessive excretion of certain electrolytes like calcium, which can be genetically predisposed or from a disorder causing elevated calcium.”
Who’s At Risk
Of course, any dog can get a UTI or stone, but there are a few dogs that are more prone than others. Dr. Alinovi notes that female dogs tend to be more likely to get bladder infections, as well as older dogs. In fact, she says a lot of older dogs walk around with bladder infections all the time and nobody knows.
Interestingly, she has notes that female dogs spayed young can be predisposed to bladder infections because “they have infantile female parts that hide in a cave and so it’s harder to keep it clean and dry.” So while there are a lot of arguments for spaying early, here may be a reason to wait.
Ways to Prevent
While UTIs and stones can be dangerous, even fatal, luckily they are also fairly easy to prevent.
Dr. Alinovi has three main ways to keep your dog’s urinary tract healthy:
- Keep the urine acid up. The best way to do that is with food based on meat, as many as a great source of acid.
- Keep the immune system up. Great food also helps build a strong immune system so that the body can recognize problems in the bladder sooner. If the body knows there’s a problem then it will tell the dog to pee lots of little bits so that the family knows something has changed.
- Keep the arthritis at bay. Older dogs tend to have a lot of arthritis, just as humans do, therefore things that make the tips and joints strong are a great way to help your dog bend over and fully empty his bladder. A couple personal favorites include elk velvet antler, and veterinary spinal manipulation therapy, a.k.a. animal chiropractic.
In addition to the above suggestions, Dr. Levitan has a few more ways you can ensure urinary tract health:
- Keep you dog hydrated. I cannot stress how much giving water alone can help keep the urinary tract healthy. Water hydrates and also dilutes out bad things like bacteria or buildup of mineral that can create problems.
- Keep your dog on schedule. You also need to allow your dog to urinate regularly, as holding urine in for long periods of time can allow bacteria to colonize and infection will be more likely. Holding the bladder for long times, such as when at a boarding facility or in a place where they are not used to going, for instance, and can cause the bladder to stretch which can damage the bladder long term and prevent it from emptying properly.
- Keep track. If your pet has a history of infections of the urinary tract, your vet should help you narrow down and treat any underlying causes. Special diets are available to help keep urinary tracts healthy- ask your vet about these. Cranberry extract (highly concentrated, not just from cranberry juice) can act as an antiseptic for the bladder wall and prevent infections.
- Keep your dog clean. Keeping the area around the external urethra clean and free of hair and debris is important as well.
- Keep good bacteria. Probiotics are also helpful to improve the body’s immune system and also create a healthy bunch of intestinal bacteria that are less angry if they come to cause urinary tract infections.
A final note, Dr. Levitan reminds us that the most important thing we can do for our dog’s urinary tract health is to keep on top of it. See your vet regularly and make sure a urine samples I part of your annual examination.