Canine UTI (Urinary Tract Infection)

Canine UTI (Urinary Tract Infection): Symptoms, Prevention, and Treatment

Canine urinary tract infections (UTIs) are infections of one or more urinary system parts. UTIs are common in dogs, especially older females, divided into lower and upper or uncomplicated and complicated UTIs. Uncomplicated urinary tract infections are not signs of kidney diseases.

Canine UTIs are caused by bacteria, E. coli being the most common cause. Congenital defects, urethral sphincter mechanism incompetence, bladder stones, prostate disease, spinal cord issues, diabetes, and tumors contribute to canine UTI.

Frequent urination, straining when urinating, bloody or cloudy urine, house soiling, excessive licking of the genitals, and fever are signs of UTIs.

Pet owners must see a vet when wondering, "How do I know if my dog has a UTI?" The veterinarian diagnoses urinary tract infections using urinalysis and urine cultures. 

Antibiotics treat UTI in dogs. Anti-inflammatories, painkillers, and hydration boost the treatment in severe cases. 

Healthy hydration, hygiene maintenance, frequent potty breaks, routine vet checkups, and supplements, like probiotics, help prevent dog UTI episodes.

What is a urinary tract infection (UTI) in dogs?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) in dogs is a bacterial infection of one or more parts of the urinary system. The urethra, bladder, ureters, and kidneys are the primary urinary organs in dogs. 

UTIs develop when bacteria from the skin and gastrointestinal tract (feces) enter the urethra, overcome the urinary tract's defenses, and settle in the bladder. Urethra and bladder infections are called lower UTIs, while ureters and kidney infections are upper UTIs.

Dogs are prone to UTIs, and approximately 14% of canines experience a urinary tract infection at least once in their lifetime, according to a study "Prevalence and Antimicrobial Resistance of Bacterial Uropathogens Isolated from Dogs and Cats," published in Antibiotics in 2022. 

Urinary tract infections in dogs are classified as uncomplicated and complicated. Uncomplicated UTIs occur in healthy dogs, and complicated UTIs occur in dogs with underlying problems, such as bladder stones, prostatitis, or anatomical anomalies of the genitals or urethra. Dogs with complicated infections are likely to develop recurrent UTIs. 

Recurrent UTIs are infections that develop over three times in one year and are defined as reinfections or relapses. 

Reinfections occur within six months of the treatment's end and are caused by a different bacteria than the initial infection. Relapses manifest within six months but are caused by the same bacteria.

Uncomplicated urinary tract infections do not indicate kidney disease. Untreated UTIs increase the risk of renal problems and urinary incontinence.

Are certain dog breeds more susceptible to UTIs?

Yes, certain dog breeds are more susceptible to UTIs. Shih Tzus, Bichon Frises, and Yorkshire Terriers are predisposed to bladder stones, putting them at a higher-than-average risk of urinary tract infections. 

Pugs, Poodles, Schnauzers, Dalmatians, and French Bulldogs are prone to urinary tract infections due to excess skin folds around their vulvas, which provide warm, dark, moist environments for bacteria to thrive.

Urinary tract infections were prevalent among Labrador Retrievers in a study, "Transurethral cystoscopy in dogs with recurrent urinary tract infections: Retrospective study (2011‐2018)" published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine in 2020. The dogs with urinary tract infections included in the trial have an anatomical defect or hooded vulva, according to the study.

What age are dogs more likely to develop UTIs?

The ages dogs are more likely to develop UTIs are listed below. 

  • Young Puppies: Young puppies less than one-year-old are susceptible to urinary tract infections due to underdeveloped immune systems and congenital urinary tract defects. 
  • Senior Dogs: Dogs over the age of seven are at a higher risk of developing UTIs and other conditions that contribute to urinary infections, such as prostate issues, spinal disorders, urethral sphincter mechanism incompetence, and tumors.

Can male dogs get UTIs as frequently as female dogs?

No, male dogs cannot get UTIs as frequently as female dogs. Female dogs have anatomical features that increase the risk of urinary tract infections.

The urethra in female dogs is shorter and wider than that of males. The shorter and wider urethra makes bacteria easier to enter, travel up the urinary tract, and invade the bladder. 

"The incidence of UTIs was 26.6% in females and 6.2% in males," says a study, "Antimicrobial Susceptibility Patterns in Urinary Tract Infections in Dogs (2010–2013)" published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine in 2015.

What causes UTIs in dogs?

The causes of UTIs in dogs are listed below. 

  • Bacterial Contamination: Bacteria are the number one cause of urinary tract infections in dogs. Infections are prevalent in dogs with weak immune systems and enter from feces, urine, and other debris surrounding the dog’s genitalia.  
  • Congenital Defects: Congenital defects predispose puppies to urinary tract infections. A common congenital anomaly in puppies is abnormal bladder positioning. 
  • Urethral Sphincter Mechanism Incompetence (USMI): USMI affects older dogs by weakening the muscles that keep the urethra closed, increasing the risk of incontinence and bacteria traveling up and down the urinary tract.
  • Bladder Stones: Bladder stones in dogs make urination painful and block normal urine flow, which leads to urine retention and increases the risk of infections. 
  • Prostate Disease: Enlarged and inflamed prostate glands put pressure on the dog’s bladder, forcing urine accumulation in the prostatic ducts. The urine causes inflammation and creates conditions that favor bacterial growth. 
  • Spinal Cord Issues: Spinal conditions that cause weakness and urinary incontinence put dogs at a greater risk of developing urinary tract infections.       
  • Diabetes: Increased sugar levels in the urine is what causes UTI in dogs with diabetes. Bacteria multiply when there is sugar for energy in the environment. 
  • Tumors: Cancer, in some cases, is the answer to the “how do dogs get UTI” question because it promotes inflammation and bacterial growth. 

Is having bladder stones cause a UTI in dogs?

Yes, having bladder stones causes a UTI in dogs. Bladder stones increase the risk of urinary infections through urine retention. Dogs with bladder stones are in pain when urinating and withhold urine for as long as possible to avoid the discomfort. Bladder stones obstruct normal urine flow from the bladder into the urethra in some cases.  

Urine retention creates a favorable environment for bacterial growth and multiplications, increasing the risk of infections.

Can a UTI cause a dog to be lethargic?

Yes, a UTI can cause a dog to be lethargic. Dogs with uncomplicated urinary tract infections are rarely lethargic, but complicated UTIs cause lethargy. 

Lethargy is defined as low energy levels, increased sleepiness, and lack of interest in daily activities. UTIs in dogs are painful and uncomfortable which causes the lethargy.

What are the common bacteria that cause UTIs in dogs?

The common bacteria that cause UTIs in dogs are Escherichia coli, Streptococcus spp., Klebsiella spp., Staphylococcus spp., Pseudomonas spp., and Bacillus spp.

Escherichia coli is the primary cause of UTIs in dogs, followed by Streptococcus spp. E. coli is found in the dog’s gastrointestinal tract, while Streptococcus spp. is present in the gastrointestinal tract, reproductive system, and skin.

E. coli and Streptococcus spp. bacteria are responsible for almost 60% of all dog UTI cases, according to a study, "Pathogens Isolated from Clinical Cases of Urinary Tract Infection in Dogs and their Antibiogram," published in Vet World in 2018.

Mixed infections cause rare UTIs in dogs, meaning more than one bacteria is responsible.

 

What are the symptoms of a UTI in dogs?

The symptoms of UTI in dogs are listed below. 

  • Frequent Urination: Increased urination with or without changes in urine volume is common for dogs with UTIs and is called pollakiuria. 
  • Straining when Urinating: Dogs with UTIs experience pain when passing urine. The medical term for painful or uncomfortable urination is dysuria. 
  • Bloody or Cloudy Urine: Blood in the urine or highly concentrated and cloudy urine are telltale signs of an underlying urinary. 
  • House-Soiling: Accidents around the house are standard for dogs with UTIs since they are unable to withhold urine for long periods. 
  • Licking of the Genital Area: Excessive licking of the genital area is one of the signs of UTI in female dog. Males lick the opening of the prepuce when suffering from UTIs. 
  • Fever: Increased body temperature is one of the common UTI symptoms in dogs. Fever is considered a temperature higher than 103° F. 
  • Behavioral Changes: Dogs with urinary tract infections are in pain, making them lethargic and disinterested in food. Increased thirst is a common response to pollakiuria. 

How can I tell if my dog's frequent urination is due to a UTI? 

You can tell your dog's frequent urination is due to a UTI based on its behavior. Dogs with UTIs urinate frequently and painfully. Dogs vocalize when attempting to urinate and their urine is cloudy or tainted with blood. 

Repeated urinary tract infections damage the bladder lining and the nerves controlling bladder function, causing urinary incontinence. Incontinence is an involuntary loss of bladder function that causes the dog to drip urine. 

Urinary tract infections are increased by urinary incontinence, creating a situation where two conditions fuel each other.

How do veterinarians diagnose a UTI in dogs?

Veterinarians diagnose a UTI in dogs based on urinalysis (UA) and a urine culture or sensitivity testing. 

Urinalysis (UA) includes measuring the urine pH and concentration and checking for abnormal cells and compounds, such as bacteria, sugar, proteins, crystals, and inflammatory cells. 

The urine culture and sensitivity test determines the type of bacteria causing the UTIs, allowing for a precise antibiotic choice. The urine culture is more sensitive and detects UTIs that the UA misses, especially if the urine is diluted. 

Urinalysis, urine culture, and sensitivity tests require a urine sample collected via free catch, catheterization, or cystocentesis. 

Cystocentesis entails taking a urine sample with a needle and syringe through the dog's abdomen and directly from the bladder. Cystocentesis is a simple test to administer and has the least risk of sample contamination.

Other diagnostic procedures for dogs with UTIs are complete blood count, biochemistry panels, abdominal X-rays, and ultrasound.

Can I test my dog for a UTI at home?

Yes, you can test your dog for a UTI at home. The modern pet market offers dog UTI test kits that are simple and quick to use. 

The kits feature a strip that is pre-dipped in specific reagents. The reagents change color when they come in contact with the dog’s urine and confirm the presence of certain infection-indicating compounds. Blood, leukocytes, and nitrite are commonly measured parameters that suggest a urinary tract infection. Schedule an appointment with the vet for formal diagnosis and treatment if the at-home UTI test suggests a UTI.

Human UTI tests at home are not suitable for dogs. Home test kits for urinary tract infections must not substitute for a veterinary visit and diagnosis.

What is the typical treatment for a canine UTI?

The typical treatment for a canine UTI is listed below. 

  • Antibiotics: Antibiotics are the number one dog UTI treatment. The primary antibiotics are penicillin and fluoroquinolone. Antibiotics treat the UTI for one week to over a month, depending on the situation. 
  • Anti-Inflammatories: Non-steroid anti-inflammatory medications are typical treatments for canine UTIs. They are combined with antimicrobials to reduce inflammation and provide UTI relief. 
  • Analgesics: Veterinarians prescribe anti-pain medications for dogs with severe urinary tract infections to alleviate the pain and make them comfortable. 
  • Probiotics: Probiotics are recommended for dogs during UTI treatments because they counter the harmful effects of long-term antibiotic use. 
  • Adequate Hydration: Proper water intake is critical to typical treatment for a canine UTI. Drinking water flushes away the bacteria that cause infections.  

Are antibiotics always necessary for treating UTIs in dogs?

Yes, antibiotics are always necessary for treating UTIs in dogs. Antibiotics clear up a urinary tract infection. 

Veterinarians prescribe a broad-spectrum antibiotic. The antibiotic is changed if the dog is not responding or the urine culture tests show specific bacteria that require different antibiotics.

Antibiotic treatment varies from one week to six weeks or longer, depending on the bacteria and infection type.

How long does it take for a UTI to clear up in dogs with proper treatment?

It takes between a week to over a month for a UTI to clear up in dogs with proper treatment. 

Uncomplicated urinary tract infections need a week or two of antibiotic treatment to resolve. Complicated infections have a prolonged recovery time of up to six weeks or longer. 

The vet takes a urine sample and makes a culture test before the end of the treatment to check if the infection has cleared.

Untreated UTIs have a progressive tendency and spread to the kidneys or prostate or enter the bloodstream, causing life-threatening sepsis.

What steps can I take to prevent UTIs in my dog?

To prevent UTIs in dogs, follow the 5 steps below.

  1. Ensure Water Access. Give the dog constant access to fresh drinking water to support hydration and reduce the risk of UTIs. Drinking copious amounts of water helps flush down bacteria. 
  2. Maintain Hygiene. Use pet-friendly wet wipes to clean the dog's genital area after urinating. Regular cleaning is paramount for dogs with skin folds near the genitals. 
  3. Give Frequent Potty Breaks. Take the dog out for potty breaks frequently to prevent urine retention. Dogs that withhold urine for long are at a higher risk of UTIs because the urine concentrates. 
  4. Use Prescription Diets. Dogs with chronic urinary tract conditions predisposed to UTIs benefit from prescription formulas. Consult the vet for help selecting the best urinary diet. 
  5. Practice Routine Vet Checkups. See the veterinarian regularly to monitor the dog's health and catch issues early before they progress to serious conditions.

How can probiotics help prevent UTIs in dogs?

Probiotics can help prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs) in dogs by regulating the dog’s gut microbiome. The majority of UTIs in dogs are caused by bacteria from the gastrointestinal tract. Balancing the bacteria in the gut reduces the risk of urinary tract infections. 

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that yield beneficial effects when introduced to dogs. Dog probiotics "have been found to counter urinary tract infections," says the article "The Power of Probiotics," published by the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine in 2024.

How can you make homemade probiotics to treat UTIs in dogs?

To make homemade probiotics to treat UTIs in dogs, follow the 4 steps below.

  1. Select a Probiotic Source. Choose a probiotic source, such as kefir, plain Greek yogurt, or goat milk. An alternative is to use a commercially available probiotic powder formulated for dogs. 
  2. Choose Dog-Friendly Ingredients. Combine the probiotic food with other dog-friendly ingredients to complete the recipe. Peanut butter as a carrier or apples, carrots, and cranberries as healthy additions are common options.  
  3. Mix the Ingredients. Combine the selected ingredients and put the mixture in small silicone molds or ice cube trays with separate sections. 
  4. Freeze the Probiotic Treats. Store the probiotic treats in the freezer. Freezing is the best storage option for homemade probiotics with a very short shelf life because they are free from preservatives.

Are there any supplements that help prevent UTIs in dogs?

Yes, there are supplements that help prevent UTIs in dogs. Supplements that help prevent UTIs in dogs include cranberry extract, methionine, D-mannose, vitamin C, marshmallow root, and glucosamine.

Cranberry extract contains proanthocyanidins, which prevent E. coli from attaching to the bladder wall. E. coli is the primary cause of UTIs. 

Methionine, D-mannose, and vitamin C make the dog's urine more acidic and less favorable for bacteria. Marshmallow root and glucosamine help coat the bladder lining with protective mucus, preventing bacteria from attacking.