Owners may be surprised to learn that pets and humans share common urinary tract issues, ranging from urinary tract infections (UTIs), urinary stone formation to incontinence. Yet there’s one crucial difference. Humans can settle for watchful waiting as an issue develops, but bladder problems in dogs and cats can turn into serious threats surprisingly fast.

The most common ailments are UTIs, cystitis (inflammation of the bladder wall) and urinary stones that form in the kidneys, bladder or urethra. Also, like humans, older male dogs can suffer from benign prostatic hyperplasia, where an enlarged prostate blocks the flow of urine out of the bladder. And worst-case scenario, urinary tract tumors that can form in the bladder or prostate causing urinary issues.

Factors such as smoking or exposure to chemicals can worsen problems in human bladders. However, bladder problems in dogs and cats mostly develop due to genetics or secondary to another disease. For instance, urinary stones form more readily among Dalmatian and Bulldogs or dogs with portosystemic shunts, metabolic or endocrine diseases.

How Does an Owner Detect a Problem?

Watch for changes in urinary habits. Do you notice a significant increase or decrease in volume or frequency, discoloration or a pungent smell? Does your pet suddenly drink a lot more water? That’s the body’s mechanism for flushing out toxins and can indicate kidney or bladder trouble.

If your dog normally gets three walks a day and now wants six, that’s a sign. So are “accidents” from a dog that normally doesn’t have them overnight. If your pet postures to urinate multiple times – or produces hardly any urine – or vocalizes/whines while straining, they may need attention. If your pet has a distended abdomen or seems uncomfortable in their abdomen, this may also be an indication that something is wrong.

Those factors hold true for cats, who vocalize discomfort more frequently. They may also urinate outside the litter box, though that behavior could be a symptom of psychological stress.

Don’t wait too long to make a decision about treatment, however. Cats and dogs should ideally urinate multiple times a day. If they don’t, especially if they’re vocalizing and showing signs of pain, your vet should assess them at once. Pets who become obstructed and are unable to urinate could suffer changes in their electrolytes that affect the heart and could even lead to death.

Can Owners Prevent Bladder Problems in Dogs and Cats?

Vets often recommend dry diets to help with plaque buildup in healthy animals, but canned food has a higher moisture content to increase hydration to the kidneys and urinary tract. For a pet who develops urinary stones, you may switch his or her diet to one that makes urine more acidic or alkaline, depending on the nature of the stones. Diets lower in magnesium and phosphorus can help as well.

Neutering male dogs when they’re young can cut down on the likelihood of prostate enlargement. However, if a female is neutered very young, it could possibly lead to urinary incontinence. There are pros and cons and each should be discussed with your veterinarian when deciding a good time to neuter your pet.

Treating Your Pet After Diagnosis

A vet who finds a UTI must clear the infection with appropriate antibiotics. A urinalysis or potentially submitting that urine for a culture could determine the right antibiotic choice. For long-term bladder issues or recurrent UTI’s, some animals respond well to antioxidants or nutraceuticals. These can help restore the integrity of the bladder wall. Sometimes a probiotic may be used to help decrease the amount of E. coli exposure from fecal contamination. Females have a shorter urethra and the anus and urethra are closer together than males. Consequently, females also have a higher incidence of UTIs. If bladder stones are detected, sometimes antibiotics are all that are needed but, in most cases, urinary bladder surgery with stone removal and diet change is going to be warranted.

In conclusion, if you see changes in your pet regarding their urinary habits, contact your veterinarian. It could be as simple as a UTI, but also could be something more dire.

Think of CARE as the animal version of a medical center for people. It offers all-purpose treatments for pets, both with 24/7/365 emergency care and board-certified specialty care, which is based on referrals from your primary veterinarian. You’ll find a visual tour of the practice at carecharlotte.com/tour.

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