We all want to ensure that our dogs live their best lives. But unfortunately, like people, dogs can have health complications that impact their well being (and sometimes your carpet). Urinary tract infections (UTI’s) are a fairly common ailment of dogs. They can be very painful for the dog and require treatment so that they don’t become a more serious medical issue.
Urinary tract infections in dogs can cause discomfort and more frequent urination. Veterinarians treat them with antibiotics, but there are also over-the-counter medications and home remedies that can possibly treat dog UTIs, especially if the infection is minor. There are also treatments to try to prevent them from occurring again.
Let’s look at how to detect UTI symptoms in dogs, how to treat them at home, and how to prevent them from happening.
What Is a UTI in Dogs?
UTI stands for urinary tract infection, and the condition is as straightforward as the name implies. It refers to an infection that occurs in the urinary tract, and it can range in severity.
The urinary tract (heading outwards) includes the kidneys (where filtering of waste occurs), the ureters (transports urine), the bladder (where urine is stored prior to elimination), and the urethra (the tube that transports urine to outside of the body).
When bacteria gets into the urinary tract, infection can develop. If the infection is limited to the urethra or bladder, it is considered a lower urinary tract infection. If it continues up to the ureters and kidney, it is an upper urinary tract infection.
Upper tract infections are usually more serious, so it’s best to treat the infection early when it is in the lower tract before it works its way up. You should always address any signs of UTIs, as they generally will not just go away on their own, and they can provide a lot of discomfort and pain to the dog.
What Dogs Are More Prone to UTIs?
UTIs are much more common in females dogs than males. The male’s urethra is longer than the female’s, so it is more difficult for bacteria to work their way all the way up it.
Females also squat to urinate (fewer males do), so their genitals are closer to the ground, making it easier for foreign bacteria to get in.
It is generally believed that older dogs get UTIs more often than younger ones because their immune systems are not as strong.
Light Water Drinkers
Dogs that drink a lot of water urinate more, which helps flush out the offending bacteria. Dogs with a lower water intake don’t urinate as much, which gives bacteria more time to grow and travel in the urinary tract.
Dogs on Steroid Medications
Corticosteroids (including prednisone) use increases the likelihood of UTIs, particularly when used long-term. Steroids can weaken the immune system, which allows bacteria to grow.
Because steroids have remarkable pain and inflammation controlling properties (they also come with significant downsides), UTIs often are not easily detected as the steroids can mask the symptoms. Many dogs on long-term steroid use have periodic cultures taken to check for infection.
UTI’s occur more frequently in overweight dogs, as their excess skin folds provide more opportunity for bacteria to grow.
What Are the Symptoms of UTIs in Dogs?
Dogs with UTIs will typically urinate frequently, as they have trouble holding it in. It can also cause discomfort or pain while urinating, so in bad cases of UTIs, your dog may yelp in pain when urinating. There may also be visible blood in the urine.
Other signs of UTIs in dogs are:
- Excessive licking of genital area
- Difficulty initiating urination
- Leaking small amounts of urine
- Urination accidents in the house (when dog is already house trained)
- Urine has a strong odor
- Typical signs of infection such as lethargy, fever, and vomiting
Your goal is to prevent the symptoms from becoming advanced, which is why it is critical to recognize and treat symptoms early.
How Do UTIs Occur in Dogs?
One of the most common causes of UTIs is bacteria entering the urethral opening; this can happen if debris or feces enters.
It can also happen if your dog’s immune system is weakened from a lack of nutrients (we will discuss this later) or they get E.coli. Food-related UTIs usually stem from either poor quality dog food or a raw food diet that is poorly managed.
How Common Are UTIs in Dogs?
UTIs occur fairly frequently in dogs. Veterinarians work with patients who have symptoms on a relatively regular basis, so they are equipped to help your pup work through it.
While they may seem scary, UTIs can be overcome, but early detection will make things much easier for both you and your dog.
How Do Veterinarians Treat UTIs?
Your vet will likely perform a physical examination and collect a urine sample. They are able to check the urine pH in the office, but the sample will be sent to a lab to perform a culture. If your dog is unable to produce a urine sample, they can collect one using cystocentesis, a simple procedure where a needle is inserted directly into the bladder.
The lab will identify the types of bacteria present in the sample, which will determine which antibiotic is appropriate for treatment.
Your veterinarian might choose to forego the culture and simply prescribe a broad spectrum antibiotic. In either case, most UTIs should clear up in one to two weeks.
In addition, your veterinarian may recommend a diet change — usually just a simple change of dry or wet dog food. As mentioned, poor quality dog food is a common contributor to UTIs. Thus your vet will likely want to put your dog on food designed to combat the symptom in dogs or that simply has the necessary nutrients to boost your dog’s immune system with plenty of vitamins and minerals.
There are prescription dog foods such as Hill’s Prescription Diet Urinary care which target dogs with UTI issues. Prescription diets are more expensive than regular formulas, but if they can successfully prevent chronic UTIs in your dog, they would likely be worth the added cost.
How Do You Detect UTIs in Dogs Early?
Detecting a UTI as early as possible is critical to successful treatment. UTIs can be fought more easily in the early stages to prevent them from developing into something severe.
Sometimes this is easier said than done, however. Some dogs may not react to the slight pain early on, and they may do a good job holding the urine in if they are very well trained and the UTI is not creating huge discomfort in its early stages.
However, one key thing to look out for is if your dog wants to be let outside more often than usual. If they haven’t increased their water intake, then this is a huge red flag that something isn’t right, and we would recommend a trip to the vet.
The more common way to tell that your dog has a UTI is that you’ll notice that your dog is beginning to leak urine around the house. If your dog is already house trained then this is an even bigger red flag than the above example. At this point the symptom has likely developed into the intermediate stages.
It’s important not to think that you are being “too paranoid;” dogs can’t tell you that something is wrong, so it is crucial as a pet parent not to take any risks. Frequent urination and leakage is a symptom of health issues outside of UTIs as well, and so it isn’t something to take lightly.
Your dog may also develop a fever since its body is being attacked by bacteria. We recommend checking your dog’s temperature if you believe something is up (rectal thermometers are by far the most accurate). A dog’s normal temperature is 101℉ to 102.5℉, so if the thermometer reads a temperature of over 103℉ (39℃), then that is considered a fever.
What are the signs that your dog has a fever before checking his temperature? You’ll typically notice that your dog has a loss of appetite, has a lack of energy, and they might start shivering. Many of the same fever symptoms humans experience also apply to dogs.
What Are Ways To Prevent Dog UTIs at Home?
While antibiotics are the most common and effective way of treating existing UTIs, there are a number of home remedies for preventing their reoccurrence.
If you search for “UTI medication for dogs,” you’ll have plenty of options to choose from, with a significant portion of them being cranberry-based. But why cranberry specifically?
Humans often drink cranberry juice to help prevent UTIs and ward them off. While there is no scientific proof that cranberry juice works to prevent UTIs, the fact that it has been an extremely popular prevention treatment for so many years suggests that it may possibly be effective to some degree.
But what do cranberries do exactly? In theory, they increase the acidity of the urine, making it harder for bacteria to adhere to the urinary tract walls, causing them to flush out. Hence you see so many cranberry medications for dogs designed to help prevent and release urinary tract infections.
PetHonesty Cranberry for Dogs is a popular preventative supplement for UTI in dogs, with a large number of purchases and positive reviews. Fortunately, cranberries don’t pose a high health risk to dogs, so it may be worth trying if your dog has chronic UTI issues.
Again, cranberry probably only has value as a potential preventative measure. If your dog has a developed UTI, antibiotics are likely the only treatment that will kill the infection unless it is an extremely mild case.
Making Your Own Remedy
One common home remedy to prevent chronic dog UTIs is very easy; in fact, it only takes one ingredient and little effort. Simply add a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to your dog’s water dish if they weigh less than 35 pounds and one to two tablespoons if they are of a larger breed.
This simple remedy has been said to help prevent dog UTIs from developing. Just be sure to have a second water bowl nearby without apple cider vinegar if they don’t like the taste. We want to encourage the pup to drink water to stay hydrated and flush the bacteria out.
Feeding your dog blueberries as a regular part of their diet may also prevent UTIs from coming back in the future due to their immune system boosting properties.
Small dogs can handle approximately 10 blueberries, while larger breeds can eat more. You can feed blueberries daily in moderation, but not too much as, like many fruits, blueberries contain sugar, and too much of them can end up upsetting your dog’s stomach (and adding weight).
Have Your Dog Drink More Water
As we mentioned above, having your dog drink more will help with work with the fruits, cranberries, and antibiotics to flush the bacteria out. Ensuring your dog has extra fresh water and changing it once or twice a day will encourage drinking.
Canned dog food contains a lot of water; this is an easy way to increase a dog’s water intake if they are reluctant to drink much on their own.
Give Your Dog a Warm Bath
Give your dog a warm bath to soak in for 10 minutes to relieve their muscles and alleviate discomfort. Make sure that the water is not too hot nor too deep. Wash the dog with shampoo made specifically for dogs or baby shampoo to avoid accidentally burning their eyes or irritating their skin and rinse thoroughly. Do this every few days or so until the UTI is gone.
Your Dog’s Diet
As we mentioned above, your dog’s diet will be very important in helping prevent UTI and other health problems in the future. Dogs need a balanced nutritional diet that is tailored for their needs; unlike cats and wolves, dogs are not obligate carnivores; they are omnivores like humans due to thousands of years of domestication and sharing food.
This doesn’t mean the nutritional balance of a dog is the same as a human, but they do require much of the same needs:
You may initially think that all dog food would be able to meet the nutritional needs of your pup, but unfortunately, this is not the case. Low-end bargain bin dog food typically is loaded with fillers and not enough nutrients, which results in a canine not receiving enough of what they need.
This results in not only increased hunger, more bathroom breaks, and increased risk of constipation, but also it means your dog’s immune system is compromised since they are not getting enough vitamins.
Because your dog’s diet is directly related to the dog’s well-being and its ability to ward off certain health problems in the future, we will discuss what to look for when choosing a diet for your dog and some products that we recommend.
Wet or Dry?
People like to debate whether wet or dry dog food is best for their dogs. It doesn’t make much of a difference when it comes to your dog’s urinary health, and so this section is more about which one is actually “better.”
In short, don’t worry too much about it. In general, dogs prefer wet food over dry and usually contain more animal protein and fewer carbohydrates than dry food. However, dry food is cheaper, and you can typically get high-quality dry food for the cost of average quality wet food. If you have a picky eater, however, then wet food can help prevent fussy behavior.
We should also mention that wet food can also help keep your dog hydrated if they don’t drink enough water independently.
Does Brand Matter?
The top brands of dog food, such as Hill’s and Purina, have years of scientific research behind them to create nutritionally complete food for dogs. Some of their product lines are better than others. For example, Purina Pro Plan is much better than Dog Chow when it comes to ingredients, but you can trust their “above average” formulas.
And ingredients are one of the first things you should be looking for when changing your dog’s diet. Meat should almost always be the first ingredient — not meat-by-products, just meat. Low-quality dog food will often include corn as one of the first ingredients, and that’s a sign to turn the other way.
Keep in mind that we aren’t saying you need to buy the most top-shelf dog food on the market for your dog to have a healthy diet. Just look for one that is nutritionally dense and has mostly good ingredients with minimal fillers.
What About the Raw Food Diet?
This topic alone could make up a piece as long as this entire article, but we will give you the basics.
First, what is a raw food diet? A raw food diet for dogs typically consists of whole raw meats, veggies, fruits, and an egg. This video below is a representation of what a raw food diet can look like:
Advocates for this diet say it is best for your dog because it is whole foods with no hidden ingredients. Admittedly, when done right, it definitely can be one of the best ways to feed a dog from a nutritional standpoint, but the problem is the “when done right” part.
Veterinarians are typically very wary of people doing this because many people don’t have a complete grasp of what their dog’s nutritional needs are, and messing up the balance is going to cause your dog problems. In most cases, simply buying quality wet or dry food is going to be best for your dog.
We also have to mention the risk of making your dog ill by feeding raw meat. Dogs can get e.coli from eating infected meat, and they can spread salmonella in their stool. Not to mention the owners themselves can get sick from handling the raw meat.
We promise your dog will be just as happy with eating a quality wet food such as Wellness Stew, and it will be safe, nutritionally complete, and you won’t have to worry about prepping. Not to mention that it is a lot easier on your wallet!
Special Dog Foods for Urinary Health
Your vet might suggest that you feed a special formula to benefit your dog’s urinary health (including avoiding bladder infections, stones, and kidney infections). These typically have lower amounts of crude protein to ease the strain on the kidneys. They also might have less calcium to decrease the likelihood of bladder stones.
Hill’s Urinary Healthy u/d Dry Dog Food and Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets UR Urinary Ox/St Dry Dog Food are two good formulas. Note that these diets are focused more on avoiding bladder stones and easing kidney function than on specifically avoiding urinary tract bacterial infections.
Can You Give Dogs Vitamins?
Another way to boost your dog’s immune system while ensuring they are getting the nutrition they need is through a multivitamin. Some say that this is completely unnecessary; if you are already feeding your dog a nutritionally complete diet, then those extra vitamins will simply pass through and come out in their urine.
But if you are concerned that your dog isn’t getting a fully balanced, nutritionally complete diet, vitamins can provide peace of mind and may help in preventing UTIs and other health problems.
What do dog multivitamins contain? They’ll typically have most if not all of your dog’s vitamin requirements and extras such as probiotics to aid digestion and minerals to support joint health such as glucosamine, MSM, and chondroitin sulfate.
To spare you the trouble of having to go on a search and wade through a whole host of options, if you’re lookin for a multivitamin, we recommend Pet Parents USA Dog Multivitamin as it contains most everything that makes for an excellent multivitamin for most dogs, including probiotics, glucosamine, and Omega 3s.
Ensure Your Dog Is Getting Their Regular Check-Ups and Answer Questions Honestly
It is highly advised to take your dog to the vet once a year for a check-up, otherwise known as a “wellness exam.”
These check-ups will tell you how your dog is doing health-wise. Additionally, your vet will ask you multiple questions ranging from diet to behavioral changes:
What Do You Feed Your Dog?
You will typically get asked this question regardless if your dog looks healthy or not, as your dog’s diet is a huge part of their well-being and overall health.
Typically you’ll answer with the brand and recipe of food you feed and how much of it, and how often you feed daily. Your veterinarian will make suggestions if the food isn’t nutritious enough or if you have pointed out that your dog has shown allergies to his food. They may also make recommendations on the quantity fed each day.
It’s important, to be honest with your vet; they are there to help your dog, and so if they tell you that food intake needs to be cut down, increased, or better food should be fed, don’t take it personally.
Are There Changes in Behavior?
This is perhaps one of the most important questions that can be asked, and in the case of this article’s topic, you can potentially stop conditions such as UTI from becoming worse by describing what is going on with your dog.
But UTI isn’t the only thing your vet can help with; they will be able to pin down specific behaviors and abnormalities and tell you what is wrong and act accordingly to the situation. For example, your dog might not be their usually bouncy self if they are developing arthritis or aren’t eating enough because they are ill.
What Medications or Supplements Do You Give?
Even though vets have records, it’s still good to report exactly what medications you are giving your dog, whether prescribed, recommended, or an over the counter product. If you are mistakenly giving something that is doing more harm than good, then your vet may be able to put two and two together if the dog is having any issues. Also, your dog’s old prescribed medication might need to be swapped out or canceled.
If you are feeding your dog a homemade dog food diet, your vet is likely to recommend a specific brand of vitamins to ensure that your dog is getting all of the nutrition he needs.
Do You Have an Emergency Plan and Know Who To Call for an Emergency Outside Office Hours?
Anything can happen at any point, and sometimes you might need to take emergency action for your dog, whether it is within office hours or not. Your veterinarian will want you to have a number you can call if you need help when the office is closed.
If you don’t have one right now, we suggest calling the office and asking about who you can contact in an emergency and keep the number somewhere where you can easily find it, such as in your dog’s first aid kit.
If you don’t have a first aid kit for your dog yet, we highly suggest getting one like this ARCA PET Cat & Dog First Aid Kit. It’s always good to be prepared just in case; it’s better to have it and not need it rather than need it and not have it.
Tips To Prevent UTI in the Future
In addition to all the aforementioned suggestions, there are three basic tips to follow that can significantly reduce your dog’s chances of getting a UTI in the future, and these are all things that anyone can do.
Make Sure Your Dog Is Drinking Enough Water
As we said earlier, dogs need to have fresh water readily available to avoid dehydration. If you need to encourage your dog to drink, you can add water flavoring to the dog’s bowl.
Alternatively, you can slowly switch your dog’s diet to a wet food diet so that their meals help with staying hydrated. If you are content with your dog’s dry food, however. You can pour either water or broth for dogs on their food.
Keep Your Dog Groomed
For long-haired dogs, sanitation can be a problem if not groomed every 3 months. You can take your pup to many of the readily available pet stores such as Petco for this, or you can use a local business. They will do what is known as a “sanitary trim,” which involves cutting hair off the anus and genital areas. This will help prevent bacteria from entering the urinary tract.
Encourage Routine Potty Breaks
Dogs typically urinate 3-5 times a day, and with this in mind, scheduling potty breaks at the same time every day will help ensure your dog can relieve themselves as often as they should. Healthy urination will help flush out bacteria that might be building up in the urinary tract, thus preventing UTI.
Knowing how to treat and prevent UTI in dogs is doing a huge favor for your pup. By ensuring your dog is on a nutritious diet, getting enough water, and being kept on a consistent grooming schedule, you are already doing a lot to help prevent the condition from occurring again.
Chronic UTIs in a dog can be very frustrating for both you and your dog. Some dogs are just naturally more prone to UTIs. In these cases, do all that you can to prevent them, and be extra vigilant so you can identify them early and treat them before they get worse.