Does your dog suddenly need to go outside more often? Are they straining to urinate, having accidents in the house, or have you noticed blood in their urine? These frustrating changes could be signs of a urinary tract infection (UTI), a common problem in dogs. Approximately 14% of dogs will experience a UTI in their lifetime. While more common in females, UTIs can affect any breed or age. Bacteria are usually the culprit, with E. coli being a common offender. While treatable, UTIs can become more serious if ignored. This guide will help you understand UTI symptoms in dogs, what causes them, and what you can do to help.

What are the UTI symptoms in dogs that you need to know?

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are a common problem in dogs. While a UTI can be uncomfortable, the good news is that they're usually easy to treat.

I want to help you understand the signs and symptoms so you can get your pet get the help they need quickly. With that, below are the symptoms of a UTI in dogs that you should know:

1. Frequent urination: If your dog is asking to go outside more often than usual or you notice they're urinating small amounts frequently, this could be a sign of a UTI. It’s as if they feel the need to pee all the time but can’t get much out when they try.

2. Straining or pain during urination: Watch for signs of difficulty or discomfort when your dog is urinating. They may whimper, cry, or show signs of stress, indicating that the process is painful.

3. Bloody or cloudy urine: While it may be difficult to spot, especially if your dog urinates on grass, bloody or cloudy urine is a telltale sign of a UTI. You might notice a pinkish tint or cloudy appearance that wasn’t there before.

4. Excessive licking of genital area: Dogs with a UTI may lick their genital area more than usual due to discomfort or irritation. This can be a self-soothing behavior.

5. Unusual urinating behavior: If your well-trained pup suddenly starts having accidents in the house or in places they normally wouldn’t, it could be a sign of a UTI. They aren’t being naughty; they’re telling you something is wrong.

6. Strong odor to the urine: An unusually strong or foul smell from your dog’s urine can also be an indicator of infection.

7. Lethargy or decreased appetite: While less specific to UTIs, any change in your dog’s energy levels or appetite can signal discomfort or illness, including UTIs.

Vet's tip: Some dogs are very good at hiding their discomfort. Don't dismiss even subtle changes in behavior, especially if they involve urination. If something seems off with your dog, it's always best to consult your veterinarian.

Additionally, some dogs with a urinary tract infection may show no symptoms at all.

UTI symptoms in dogs
Frequent urination or straining to urinate are common UTI symptoms in dogs

What are the common causes of urinary tract infections in dogs?

A urinary tract infection, or UTI, occurs when bacteria invade your dog's urinary system. This system includes the kidneys, the ureters (tubes that carry urine to the bladder), the bladder itself, and the urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body).

Normally, urine is sterile. However, bacteria from the environment, often from the digestive tract, can sometimes find their way into the urethra. From there, they can travel upward and start to multiply within the urinary tract.

Interestingly, E. coli is frequently found in dogs with a UTI, making up 40-50% of all cases. Around 25-30% of dogs are affected by multiple pathogens.

Several factors can make a dog more susceptible to UTIs:

  • Bacteria: As mentioned, bacteria are the usual cause of infection.
  • Gender: Female dogs have a shorter urethra, providing a shorter distance for bacteria to travel to reach the bladder. The act of urination protects your dog from allowing bacteria to enter the bladder and the rest of the urinary system.
  • Underlying medical conditions: Diseases like diabetes, kidney disease, or certain cancers can weaken the immune system and increase vulnerability to infections.
  • Bladder stones: Bladder stones irritate the bladder lining and can make it more difficult to fight off infections. Once a UTI has been established, bacteria can seed within the stone acting as a bacterial reservoir for future infections.
  • Medications: Long-term use of immunosuppressant medications (such as prednisone or cyclosporine) can make dogs more susceptible to UTIs.
  • Anatomical abnormalities: In rare cases, structural issues within the urinary tract such as ectopic ureters, can increase the risk of UTIs. This is more common in puppies, so if your puppy has been having recurring urinary tract infections, please have your vet explore this cause.

How are UTIs classified?

We use specific terms to categorize UTIs in dogs. This helps determine treatment approaches and the likelihood of future infections.

Uncomplicated vs. complicated urinary tract infections

  • Uncomplicated UTI: A simple, isolated infection in an otherwise healthy dog. Think of this as a one-time occurrence that's easy to treat.
  • Complicated UTI: UTIs that are associated with underlying factors that increase the risk of reinfection or treatment complications. These factors could include:
    • Bladder stones
    • Kidney disease
    • Diabetes
    • Anatomical abnormalities of the urinary tract

Sporadic vs. recurrent urinary tract infections

  • Sporadic UTIs: These are infrequent UTIs in an otherwise healthy dog, with less than 3 suspected episodes within a year. While a complication or underlying issue might exist, these dogs don't consistently develop recurrent problems.
  • Recurrent UTIs: Repeated UTIs, especially in the presence of a predisposing factor. Sexually intact animals, most cats, and dogs with underlying conditions usually fall into this category.

Understanding these distinctions helps your veterinarian choose the most appropriate treatment, address underlying issues, and potentially implement strategies to help prevent future UTIs.

How is a UTI diagnosed in dogs?

If you suspect a UTI in your dog, the best course of action is to visit your veterinarian. They'll start by discussing your dog's symptoms and medical history.

Here's what you can expect at your appointment with your vet:

  • Physical exam: Your vet will do a thorough physical exam, potentially paying close attention to your dog's urinary system by palpating the bladder and examining the external genitalia.
  • Urinalysis: This important test involves analyzing a urine sample. It allows the vet to detect bacteria, white blood cells (indicating inflammation), blood, crystals, and other abnormalities.
  • Urine culture: In some cases, your vet might recommend a urine culture. This involves sending a urine sample to a lab to identify the specific bacteria causing the infection and determine which antibiotics will be most effective.
  • X-rays or Ultrasound: Your vet may recommend imaging studies if they suspect bladder stones or other complications.

What are the treatment options for UTIs in dogs?

The specific treatment of a UTI in your dog will depend on its severity and whether there are any underlying factors. Here's what you can generally expect:

Uncomplicated UTIs

  • Antibiotics: Your veterinarian will prescribe a course of antibiotics tailored to the type of bacteria in your dog's urine. A 7 to 14-day course is typical. It's important to administer the entire course, even if your dog improves early, to ensure the infection is completely cleared.
  • Follow-up: Your vet might recommend a recheck and repeat urinalysis a week or so after treatment to ensure the infection is resolved.

Complicated or recurrent UTIs

  • Longer antibiotic course: Treatment may last 3-6 weeks or potentially even longer in some cases.
  • Repeat urine cultures: Your vet might monitor the infection more closely with urine cultures both during and after treatment.
  • Underlying issues: If your dog has recurring UTIs, your vet will likely investigate potential causes, such as bladder stones, anatomical abnormalities, or other medical conditions. Addressing those issues is crucial for preventing future UTIs.

Other considerations

  • Hydration: Encouraging your dog to drink more water helps flush bacteria out of their system.
  • Natural remedies: While some natural remedies might be soothing, they cannot replace veterinary care. Always consult your vet before trying at-home treatments, as some human remedies can be harmful to dogs.

Please do not attempt to diagnose or treat a UTI yourself. UTI symptoms can overlap with other serious conditions, and untreated UTIs can lead to complications.

How can UTIs be prevented in dogs?

While not every UTI can be prevented, here are some strategies that may help reduce the risk for your dog:

  • Plenty of fresh water: Encourage your dog to drink lots of water. This helps flush bacteria out of the urinary tract. Supplementing your dog's diet with canned food can help with this.
  • Frequent urination: Allow for regular potty breaks so your dog doesn't hold their urine for extended periods.
  • Managing underlying conditions: If your dog has health issues like diabetes or kidney disease, proper management is crucial to reduce their vulnerability to UTIs.
  • Cranberry/D-mannose supplements: While not suitable for every dog, talk to your vet about whether cranberry supplements or D-mannose might be beneficial.

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are a common problem in dogs, and they can cause discomfort and anxiety for you and your pet. Recognizing UTI symptoms in dogs is important for getting them the help they need. Look out for frequent urination, straining to urinate, accidents in the house, blood in the urine, licking the genitals, and changes in behavior. While bacteria are the usual culprits, dogs with underlying health conditions, or those of certain breeds, may be at higher risk. If you have any questions or are concerned that your dog may have a UTI, please contact your veterinarian.