Urinary Incontinence in Dogs

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on September 04, 2023
4 min read

Urinary incontinence is when your dog involuntarily loses control of their bladder. This can occur across a range of severity, from small leaks to large amounts of urine. Incontinence is a separate issue from behavior-related urination problems. Incontinence is usually caused by a medical condition, and your dog probably isn’t aware it’s happening.

There are many causes of incontinence in dogs, including: 

  • Urinary tract infection
  • Anatomic abnormalities
  • Weak bladder 
  • Spinal injury or degeneration
  • Inherited medical condition that occurs at or before birth
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Prostate disorders
  • Diseases that cause excessive drinking of water, for example, diabetes, kidney disease, and Cushing’s disease
  • Some medications, like corticosteroids
  • Urinary stones

The most visible sign that your dog is incontinent is dripping urine. You may see irritation and redness on the skin from the dripping.

You may also notice your dog is licking their penis or vulva more than usual. If you spot these symptoms, consider taking your dog to the vet. The vet will examine the dog and ask you questions based on what you observed. It’s important to share everything in detail. This information will help the vet in making the correct diagnosis. 

Some of the observations you should note include:

  • When and where you are finding urine
  • When the problem started and if it’s getting better or worse
  • If your dog needs to go outside more frequently
  • If your dog is drinking more water than usual
  • If you have noticed frequent or painful urination outside
  • If your dog has any other unusual symptoms

Early detection and treatment of urine incontinence can help prevent more serious complications.  Urine leaks could cause infection in the bladder or kidneys or on your dog’s skin.

While urinary incontinence can happen to any dog, it is more likely in certain types.

Female Dogs. Middle-aged to older spayed female dogs are prone to what is referred to as “spay incontinence.” This is a form of incontinence commonly caused by lower estrogen levels, which can lead to a loss of muscle tone in the urethra. In some cases, incontinence may be caused by a weak bladder. This condition is referred to as weak bladder sphincter incontinence. Your vet may call it Urethral Sphincter Mechanism Incompetence (USMI). It is the most common cause of urinary incontinence in spayed female dogs. 

Older Dogs. Bladder leaks are not an uncommon occurrence in older dogs. This is because the urethral muscles are not as strong as they used to be. As your dog ages, they may have a harder time holding in urine.

Often, incontinence starts when dogs are mature or middle-aged. Several factors are thought to play a role in USMI. These include: 

  • Abnormal bladder positioning
  • Estrogen deficiency or decline
  • Genetics
  • Obesity
  • Changes to vaginal support structures

Certain Breeds. Some dog breeds are also prone to urinary incontinence, such as: 

  • German Shepherds
  • Rottweilers
  • English Springer spaniels
  • Doberman pinschers
  • Weimaraners
  • Old English sheepdogs
  • Dalmatians
  • Bearded Collies and Collies
  • Boxers

Your vet should thoroughly review your dog’s history and conduct a physical examination before making a diagnosis. They may do additional testing to gain information, such as: 

  • Urinalysis
  • Blood tests
  • Ultrasound
  • Urine culture
  • Radiography

These tests can help determine the root cause and best treatment plans for your dog. A urinalysis may prove your dog has a bladder infection. Some other tests, like blood tests, may be necessary to rule out underlying causes like diabetes or Cushing’s disease. Radiographs can rule out urinary stones, and ultrasounds will rule out tumors or growth in the bladder. Depending on the findings of these tests, other tests may be necessary too.

If your vet diagnoses your dog with a bacterial infection, they may prescribe antibiotics.

If your dog suffers from hormonal imbalance, the vet may recommend hormone therapy. Estrogen supplementation is also an available option, where your vet may prescribe estrogen-based medications such as estriol. Diethylstilbestrol isn’t commercially available in the US, but if your vet recommends it, a compounding pharmacy may be able to provide it. These medications provide a very low dose of estrogen to increase urethral tone and relieve urinary incontinence in many dogs. Testosterone may be given to male dogs with urinary incontinence. 

A weak urethral sphincter is treated with phenylpropanolamine. In cases like bladder stones and congenital abnormalities, your vet may recommend surgery. Surgical treatment is important especially when medication alone does not solve the problem.

Medical treatment is the best way to support the health effects of urinary incontinence. You can also take steps to manage the effects of your dog’s incontinence on your home, such as:

  • Using doggie diapers
  • Walking the dog more frequently
  • Using waterproof pads under their bedding
  • Maintaining proper hygiene to prevent skin infection

Urinary incontinence can quickly develop into an infection. Keep an eye on your dog's condition and consult your vet for treatment plans.