If you’ve ever had a urinary tract infection (UTI), or passed a kidney stone, then you know how horribly painful it can be. You wouldn’t even wish it on a Kardashian, never mind your beloved dog. Sadly, though, our canine friends can be every bit as vulnerable to UTIs as humans can. So, how do you identify UTI in dogs, and what can you do about it?
First, let’s talk a bit about your dog’s pee and what it’s supposed to do. If you want the straight facts, then urine the right place.
Your dog’s urinary functions work essentially the same way as they do in humans. Pee is formed in the kidneys and then stored in the bladder. When enough urine accumulates in the bladder, then your dog will (assuming that he is properly house trained, of course), want to go out and “pump ship.” The water is what helps the dog’s body flush out the remaining 5% of compounds in the urine, which include toxins, mineral salts, uric acid, dissolved urea, and other wastes. If the urine also contains a lot of bacteria, parasites, yeast cells or an excess of crystals, then you end up with UTI.
In dogs, the urine should have a pH factor of between 6 and 6.5. If the pH level is seven, it’s a bit on the high side, but still normal. Anything above seven is alkaline as opposed to acidic, which is what it should be.
Your vet can test your dog’s urine to determine the pH level, but usually you’ll notice signs before the vet becomes involved. The most obvious sign of UTI in dogs is frequent urination without passing a whole lot of liquid.
Don’t just assume that this indicates a UTI, though. It could also be a sign of bladder inflammation, which can occur even in the absence of a UTI. It’s important to know the difference, because the treatment will be different for each disorder. The only way to know what you’re dealing with is to have your veterinarian analyze the urine.
So, now you might be thinking, fine, I’ll just put a cup under my dog and collect some urine. This actually isn’t going to be effective. In order to make a proper diagnosis, the urine has to be absolutely free of any external contaminants. Your vet will collect sterile urine by means of a bladder tap and then analyze it to determine the pH level.
At the same time, the vet will check the urine for the presence of crystals – in other words, minerals that have clustered up together. When enough of them bond with one another, they can impede or even completely block the flow of urine. This isn’t just painful; it can be extremely dangerous. To make matters even worse, if enough crystals bond, they can develop into stones.
The most common urinary crystals are struvite stones, and they are caused by bacteria in your dog’s urinary tract. Dogs that typically have urine that is either alkaline or neutral on the pH scale are sometimes prone to struvite crystals, and can benefit from a diet that works to create a more acidic urine.
The other type of urinary crystals are oxalate, and are more often found in dogs that have acidic urine. The problem with oxalate crystals is that they don’t respond well to dietary treatments.
Another issue is the concentration of the urine. If it’s highly concentrated, then the solution is to try to dilute it. You can do this by adding a small amount of salt to your dog’s diet, or by increasing the dog’s fluid intake. I don’t ordinarily recommend canned dog food, but if your dog isn’t getting enough fluid, then it would be a good idea to feed canned food, at least in the short term. And, of course, make sure that your dog always has a full water bowl.
We’ll move forward by assuming that your vet has evaluated our dog’s urine, and found pus or blood, which are the most common indications of UTI in dogs. The next step forward is two-fold: first, treating the infection, and second, working to boost your dog’s immune system with the goal of preventing UTIs down the road. For more on this, see 16 Best Immune System Boosters for Dogs.
Treatment will involve administering antibiotics to the dog immediately. If you catch UTI early enough, you might get a pass on having struvite crystals form. You’ll also be dramatically reducing the chance of the dog developing scar tissue due to the UTI, which can leave the dog vulnerable to more infections. This happens when the scarring leads to the bladder being unable to contract fully, meaning that urine accumulates and provides an ideal medium for bacteria to grow.
If you’re like me, you might know how to administer injectable antibiotics. If you don’t, you might want to learn. Injectables are always better than oral antibiotics since they work faster. It’s just a shot into the muscle (usually in the shoulder or the butt), so you don’t have to worry about finding a vein. Dr. Kim, the vet I had before Dr. Stephen, showed me how to do an intra-muscular injection, and since then, I’ve never used oral antibiotics.
Now, the goal is to prevent a recurrence. Your vet can provide medication that will lower your dog’s urinary pH level. You could also consider a natural remedy, like cranberry extract. It works by slightly increasing the acidity of the urine, while also preventing bacteria from grabbing onto the walls of your dog’s bladder. Don’t waste your time or money with cranberry juice; you’ll never be able to get your dog to drink enough to make any difference. Instead, go with cranberry extract capsules. You can buy them at health food stores, or even in the herbal section of your supermarket’s pharmacy. Make sure to read the label carefully, though, as you can end up administering too much of a good thing. Most cranberry extract capsules contain about 300 mg. If your dog weighs less than 35 pounds, give him half a capsule every 12 hours. Bigger dogs can have a whole capsule every 12 hours.
With UTI in dogs, you might only need to give the cranberry extract in the beginning, when the infection is present. Your vet can advise you as to whether you should keep your dog on a “maintenance” dose. This would be one-fourth of a capsule every 12 hours for dogs 25 pounds or under, one-half capsule every 12 hours for dogs between 25 and 60 pounds, and a whole capsule every 12 hours for dogs over 60 pounds.
You can also include additional nutritional supplements like Vitamins C and E, which are powerful antioxidants. Also, consider your dog’s diet. Is it working to improve your dog’s immune system? Harming it? Doing nothing? Again, your vet can be a great source of information.
We touched on this before. Maybe your dog is in discomfort, but the problem isn’t a UTI. In dogs, painful urination can occur in the complete absence of pus, blood, or bacteria. This generally indicates alkaline urine, and increasing the acidity will usually ease the condition. If the urine contains oxalate crystals, though, increasing the acidity by a whole lot isn’t a good course of action. You want to get it to the point of being neutral but not beyond.
This is another situation where cranberry extract can help. Another natural remedy is apple cider vinegar (a tablespoon every 12 hours for a dog that weighs around 50 pounds – a bit more for a larger dog, and a bit less for a smaller dog).
You could also consider a methionine supplement; this is an amino acid that is naturally produced in the body but is also available in supplement form. For dogs up to 20 pounds, the proper dosage would be 100 mg every 12 hours. For dogs up to 60 pounds, it’s 200 mg every 12 hours. And for the giant breeds, start with 200 mg every 12 hours and don’t go higher than 500 mg every 12 hours without veterinary approval. In fact, when using methionine, it’s a good idea to have your vet check your dog’s urine regularly to make sure that you’re delivering the optimum amount.
A lot of the time, we can end up harming our dogs even though our intentions are good. One way that we do this is by adding vitamin and mineral supplements to their regular dog food.
I give Janice and Leroy vitamin supplements from time to time, because I only feed store brand dog good. My vet, Stephen, is fine with this. But I wouldn’t think of offering a supplement that he didn’t recommend, and I also wouldn’t give it more often than he recommends. This is because some supplements are very high in calcium and minerals, and these supplements can cause your dog to develop stones. And there’s nothing in this world more painful than passing a stone.
The takeaway here is simple: don’t over-supplement. Always check with your vet to make sure that your supplement is safe and not overloaded with minerals and calcium.
UTI in dogs can be beyond painful, and can recur. It is, however, treatable and preventable. A good diet is the best defense. That said, though, diet alone is not going to invariably prevent the development of UTI in dogs. So if your dog does develop a UTI, or if you even think that your dog has a UTI, see your vet. It’s not something that’s going to go away on its own, and neglecting treatment can be very detrimental, or even fatal.