What is urinary incontinence?
Strictly speaking, incontinence is unconscious and involuntary urination or urine leakage. It is most common in older (8 years +) desexed female dogs, but can occasionally occur at a much younger age. It is rare in male dogs, and rarer still in cats. It generally starts with nocturia (bed wetting at night, whilst asleep), but can progress to day time dribbling as well.
Why does it happen?
A vast majority of incontinence in dogs is due to hormonal deficiency. There is a natural decline in the female hormone oestrogen, with ageing, that is linked to incontinence in many species. In dogs, this process is accelerated by the desexing operation (speying), that includes removing the ovaries, the body’s main source of oestrogen. The deficiency of oestrogen causes atrophy (weakening) of the neck of the bladder, and associated urethral structures, that normally keep the bladder closed, and results in urine leakage.
Is it dangerous?
Incontinence is primarily a mess / hygiene problem for indoor pets, and their owners. I certainly believe that many dogs also display signs of emotional stress or “embarrassment” at soiling inside, when they have previously been able to “hold on all night”. Medically speaking, constant urine leakage can result in urine scalding of the skin around the vulva, and lead to secondary skin infection. Infection in this area, combined with a weakened bladder neck, can also increase the risk of cystitis (bladder infection).
Treatment for incontinence in dogs
Conventional treatment for incontinence involves hormone replacement therapy, using a low dose of oestrogen (Stilboestrol tablets) once or twice weekly. The doses required to control incontinence in dogs are very small though, nothing like HRT in humans. This works very well for most bitches, and has no known side effects at the required doses.
Another treatment for incontinence in pets is pseudoephedrine (Sudofed). Generally only used if oestrogen has failed, pseudoephedrine can be quite effective but the side effects are the same as the effects of Sudofed in people, including increased heart rate, agitation and restlessness.
Natural alternatives include oestrogenic herbs, like red clover and chaste tree, or you can get good results with acupuncture and chiropractic manipulation.
Dr Bruce Syme BVSc (Hons), Founder of Vets All Natural.
Dr Bruce Syme is a practicing vet and expert in natural pet nutrition, has spoken at the Australian Veterinary Association Annual Conference, and provides regular comment on TV and Radio.
Disclaimer: The entire contents of this article are based upon the opinions of Dr. Bruce Syme, unless otherwise noted. The information is not intended as medical advice, it simply shares the knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr. Bruce and his community. Pet health care decisions should be based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified pet health care professional.
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