Canine incontinence

1st December 2017


Urinary incontinence happens when bladder control is lost when an animal is awake or asleep. Urine leaks occur without them being aware or in control.

Many older dogs develop weak bladder problems, but it can also affect younger animals for a variety of reasons. At Bollington Veterinary Centre we tend to find that the sooner you get your dog seen by a vet and a diagnosis of incontinence made, the quicker the problem can be improved or resolved.

Inappropriate urination - incontinence

If your dog is leaving patches of urine about the house, we may suspect urinary incontinence and carry out some investigations.

The first thing our vets will do at Bollington Veterinary Centre is to ask for a urine sample. We can carry out some simple tests to find out what cell types and biochemical markers are in the urine. We can also measure the concentration of the urine as well as look for blood and infections.

What causes incontinence?

1. Sphincter weakness

Most dogs investigated for incontinence are diagnosed with urethral sphincter mechanism incompetence as a result of weakness at the opening of the bladder neck into the urethra.

This is a common problem in older female dogs and is sometimes referred to as 'spay incontinence'. The exact reason for this link with spaying is unclear but it’s believed to be associated with low oestrogen levels. Several other factors including age and obesity can contribute.

At Bollington Veterinary Centre we usually neuter female dogs between 6 months and a year of age. This is often after they have had one season though sometimes it may be earlier.

The benefits of delaying neutering need to be weighed up against the risks of unwanted puppies and mammary tumours developing. It’s always advisable to discuss the timing of neutering with one of our vets, particularly if you have a breed susceptible to sphincter incontinence such as a Doberman, Old English Sheep Dog or Springer Spaniel.

Fortunately, this form of weak sphincter can be treated using drugs which help increase the control of the neck of the bladder. The most common drug we use is phenylpropanolamine. This needs to be given daily to be effective. It’s generally very safe, though some dogs may experience mild behavioural changes.

Some dogs with urethral sphincter incontinence don’t respond to medical treatment and need surgery. There are a number of techniques available, all of which have very similar success rates. One of the more common surgical techniques is known as ‘colposuspension’. This is a procedure that repositions the bladder neck in the abdominal cavity so that abdominal pressure acts on both the bladder and the urethra at the same time, thus preventing urine from leaking.

2. Bladder Infections

A bladder infection is a common cause of urinary incontinence in young adult female dogs and is generally diagnosed by a urine culture. The culture will confirm the diagnosis and identify the bacteria causing the problem. Once we have the results we’ll be able to make a choice of the most effective antibiotics to clear the infection.

3. Excessive drinking

Some dogs drink such large volumes of water that their bladders simply cannot hold it all in and it over-spills. If you’ve recently noticed your pet drinking more and starting to leak urine, it’s time to pay us a visit.

Some causes of excessive drinking include:

  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Cushings disease
  • Bladder infections
  • Kidney failure


Are you worried your dog may be incontinent?

Call us to make an appointment to speak to one of our vets. When you come to the surgery, it helps if you can bring a fresh urine sample from your pet at the same time. If you are bringing in a sample please ensure that you use a clean container to avoid any contamination.

Call us if you're worried about your pet


Sometimes inappropriate urination isn't caused by incontinence

  1. Some dogs may urinate inappropriately in the house just because they feel frightened or threatened, a problem we refer to as ‘submissive urination’. This tends to affect young animals and isn’t incontinence.
  1. Male dogs that aren't neutered may mark their territory in the house, leaving urine patches on doors, walls and carpets. This isn’t incontinence.
  1. Sometimes older dogs suffering from canine cognitive dysfunction may forget they are inside and urinate intentionally. This again isn’t incontinence.