Urinary Incontinence In Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments


Reading Time: 8 minutes

Urinary incontinence in dogs is a condition in which the dog has little or no control over his bladder. It can vary considerably in degree, from the occasional dribble to full-on flood. Don’t confuse urinary incontinence with poor house training or peeing when the dog is nervous. When a dog is incontinent, it’s not that he wants to pee where he shouldn’t – he can’t help it.

Why would a dog become incontinent? And what can you do about it? In the material that follows, we’ll delve into the issue of urinary incontinence in dogs, offer suggestions on what measures you can take, and answer several common questions, so keep reading!

Cause of Urinary Incontinence in Dogs

There are several reasons why a dog might become incontinent. Some causes of urinary incontinence in dogs are serious; others not so much. Incontinence can be caused by anatomic problems like a weak bladder sphincter or a spinal injury. Anatomic problems can be due to injury. They can also be congenital, meaning that your dog was born with a physical defect.

Incontinence can also be due to diseases like kidney dysfunction, diabetes, or hyperadrenocorticism (a condition in which the adrenal glands fail to produce sufficient hormones for your dog’s body to function as it should – it’s the equivalent of Addison’s Disease in humans). Urinary tract infections and/or stones can also cause urinary incontinence in dogs.

Some steroidal medications can also cause urinary incontinence in dogs. Steroids are synthetic hormones that are used to treat several health issues in dogs. Unfortunately, one of the side effects of steroids can be increased thirst. This can lead to your dog consuming much more water than he would normally. If you’re not vigilant about making sure he has regular potty breaks, there’s a good chance that your dog will pee where you don’t want him to when he’s taking steroids. Long-term steroid use can also lead to urinary tract infections – another cause of urinary incontinence.

Some causes of urinary incontinence in dogs are gender-specific. Whether your dog is spayed or neutered can also be a factor.

Causes of Urinary Incontinence in Male Dogs

Other than the conditions we just talked about, there can be causes of urinary incontinence that are specific to male dogs. Your male dog may become incontinent because he has an enlarged prostate or another disorder of the prostate gland. Prostate problems are more common in intact males than in those that have been neutered.

Another problem that is usually the province of male dogs is bladder stones. These are caused when the urine becomes overly concentrated and/or alkaline. Crystals build up and form stones that can block the bladder. This is kind of a double-edged sword because sometimes the crystals are the result of a urinary tract infection. Other times, they cause a urinary tract infection.

Your dog may have bladder stones or crystals if he’s straining to urinate or just dribbling. You must get your dog to the veterinarian immediately – this condition can be fatal if not promptly treated.

A propensity to urinary crystals can be hereditary. If you’re a breeder, and any of your breeding dogs have developed this condition, please do not use them for breeding.

Neutered males will not develop urinary crystals. If you have an intact male that has developed this condition, you would be well advised to neuter as quickly as possible. By the time you notice the straining and the blood in the urine, it could already be too late.

Causes of Urinary Incontinence in Female Dogs

Any dog, male or female, can be vulnerable to birth defects, injuries, and diseases that can cause urinary incontinence. There are, however, some causes of urinary incontinence that are specific to bitches. Let’s talk about them.

Related Content:

My Dog Pees on My Bed!
Help, My Puppy is Constantly Peeing!
Diagnosing, Treating, and Preventing UTI in Dogs (Video)

Causes of Urinary Incontinence in Female Spayed Dogs

The most common cause of urinary incontinence that’s specific to female dogs is USMI (urethral induced sphincter incontinence). It usually occurs in middle-aged or elderly bitches and the main cause is lack of estrogen due to spaying. It can be aggravated by obesity, which can be a side effect of spaying.

Essentially, the hormone levels in the female drop, and along with it the tension in the muscles that work to hold in the urine. The urine collects and the dog dribbles. Usually this occurs when the dog lies down or gets up.

Of course it’s important to rule out a urinary tract infection before deciding “Oh, she’s spayed, so that’s going to happen.” Your veterinarian can do bloodwork that will help to determine exactly what’s going on.

Symptoms of Urinary Incontinence In Dogs

The most common symptom of urinary incontinence in dogs is, as you might expect, the dog peeing where he shouldn’t. If the incontinence is due to crystals in the urine, you will also notice that the dog is straining when he tries to pee. There may be blood in the urine, although this can be difficult to identify unless it’s winter and your dog goes out to pee on the snow. If you suspect a urinary tract infection, your veterinarian can provide you with a kit consisting of a tray and a bottle – you catch your dog’s urine in the tray and transfer it to the bottle. Then you take it to the vet for a urinalysis.

How to Treat Urinary Incontinence In Dogs

If the incontinence is due to an infection, your veterinarian will provide antibiotics. Anatomical causes may require surgery. If the incontinence is due to a chronic illness like diabetes, the dog may have to be on medication for the rest of his life. The good news is that urinary incontinence in dogs is almost always treatable one way or another.

Urinary Incontinence in Dogs After Surgery

It’s perfectly normal for a dog to be incontinent for a while after surgery of any type – the dog has been under general anesthesia and probably still feeling “dopey.” Just give it a while and it will usually pass. Some dogs, though, never fully regain control of their bladder – this is particularly true of spayed bitches. Increased vigilance when it comes to potty breaks may be all you can reasonably do.

Urinary Incontinence in Older Dogs While Sleeping

Incontinence while sleeping can be a problem in the elderly – humans as well as dogs! It’s a hard thing to accept, but your dog may simply be senile. I have a friend who had a 16-year-old Doberman/Boxer mix who slept on the bed every night with her human and wet it every night. My friend bought a rubber sheet and washed the bedding every day rather than tell her beloved dog that she could no longer sleep on the bed.

There’s no cure for this type of urinary incontinence in dogs. But think of it this way – would you tell your elderly grandmother “I’m sorry, but you have to sleep on the floor from now on”? I rest my case.

Can Food Cause Urinary Incontinence in Dogs?

Foods that are overly high in magnesium and phosphate can lead to a buildup of crystals in the urine. This can lead to urinary incontinence.

Home Remedies for Urinary Incontinence in Dogs

All you have to do is Google this header, and you’ll find any number of home remedies for urinary incontinence in dogs. I would be doing you a great disservice, though, if I didn’t tell you that I believe the ONLY home remedy you should be using for urinary incontinence in dogs is one that your veterinarian recommends. There are plenty of holistic veterinarians out there – probably at least one in your community – who can tell you what’s true and what’s bull crap when it comes to home remedies. Talk to your vet and then decide if you want to go with a home remedy, or with conventional veterinary treatments.

Common questions

Can Gabapentin cause urinary incontinence in dogs?

Sometimes, but hardly ever. If your vet has recommended Gabapentin for your dog, chances are you can use it without having to worry about incontinence.

Can Prednisone cause urinary incontinence in dogs?

Prednisone is a steroid, so it could cause urinary incontinence in some dogs.

Can Benadryl cause urinary incontinence in dogs?

Sometimes, but usually it has the opposite effect of allowing the dog to sleep comfortably through the night without urinating.

Can constipation cause urinary incontinence in dogs?

It’s rare that constipation and urinary incontinence go hand in hand. However, if your dog is suffering from urinary dysfunction, you should let your veterinarian know if there are also problems with his bowels. The converse is also true.

Can fish oil cause urinary incontinence in dogs?

Generally speaking, fish oil is very good for your dog. That said when you’re buying dog food that contains fish oil you should be very careful about reading the label to determine when the dog food was manufactured and how long it was sitting on the shelf. Rancid fish oil can cause all kinds of problems, and no fish oil at all is better than rancid fish oil. Bad fish oil will not in and of itself cause your dog to become incontinent. However, it could cause other health problems that might lead to incontinence.

Can stress cause urinary incontinence in dogs?

If your dog is stressed, chances are he’ll pee where you don’t want him to pee. This isn’t true incontinence. He doesn’t physically have to pee wherever he chooses. Emotionally, though, it’s a different thing. This is really a behavioral issue.

Can Tramadol cause urinary incontinence in dogs?

Tramadol can be very effective in short-term management of pain for your dog. Potential side effects include constipation, tremors, upset stomach, loss of appetite, upset stomach, diarrhea, vomiting, decreased heart rate, and in rare cases, seizures. But not urinary incontinence.

Can worms cause urinary incontinence in dogs?

Hardly ever, although there is a worm known as capillaria plica that causes inflammation in the urinary tract and that can lead to incontinence.

How to control urinary incontinence in dogs?

First, take your dog to the vet to find out what is causing the urinary incontinence. If it’s a disease or disorder, your vet will recommend a course of treatment. If it’s just that your dog is old, you might simply have to learn how to live with it.

What Should You Do?

Urinary incontinence in dogs is a problem for both the dog and the humans involved. Assuming that’s you’ve house-trained your dog, it’s a safe bet that he doesn’t want to pee on the floor. It’s your job to find out why it’s happening and what to do about it.

If you haven’t house trained your dog, or if you think that you might be dealing with a behavioral issue, check out my post My Dog Pees on My Bed.

One thing I must ask you to do, though, whether the issue is behavioral or physical, is please, please, don’t punish your dog for peeing where he shouldn’t. There’s a reason why he’s doing it. You might not know what the reason is, but there IS one. And you’re your job to find out what it is.

I hope that this post has provided you with some answers as to why your dog might be incontinent. Think about what’s going on and what might be causing the behavior. True incontinence is a physical issue – not emotional. Your veterinarian is the best source of help for physical issues.


I hate leaving you with sad stories. But I want to tell you about a friend, Wendy, who had an English Mastiff, Leonard, who developed urinary crystals. You could call it a “perfect storm.” That was the veterinarian’s term. A perfect storm of urinary crystals, a brachycephalic dog, an elevated potassium level due to the crystals, and the fact that any time you put a dog under general anesthesia, bad things can happen.

The vet did CPR until she almost passed out, and then she had a vet tech take over. Leonard didn’t make it. He died while being prepped for surgery.Wendy is a mess and probably will be for quite some time.

Please. Please, if you perceive urinary incontinence in your dog, don’t take it lightly. It might not be a big deal. But then again, it might.

Related Content:

My Dog Pees on My Bed!
Help, My Puppy is Constantly Peeing!
Diagnosing, Treating, and Preventing UTI in Dogs (Video)