Have you noticed your female dog suddenly dribbling urine while walking up a flight of stairs or in her sleep? Urinary incontinence is fairly common in middle-aged and older spayed female dogs. While you may assume that incontinence is just something that happens in old age and there’s nothing that can be done about it, it is often an easy problem to solve.
What Causes Incontinence in Dogs?
Incontinence can be caused by several different things:
- Bladder infections, stones, polyps or tumors
- Overflow incontinence - this occurs when a dog is affected by another medical condition that causes her to drink excessively, such as diabetes and Cushing’s disease
- Spinal cord injury or disease
- Developmental urinary tract abnormalities, including ectopic ureters and vaginal strictures
- And the most common cause, which is a weakened bladder (urethral) sphincters in spayed female dogs, also known as estrogen-responsive or spay incontinence
After a female dog is spayed, the strength of her urethral sphincter decreases in the year following her surgery. As she gets older, this weakness worsens. Roughly 20% of spayed female dogs will develop incontinence within three years of being spayed.
Larger breed dogs are more likely to develop spay incontinence than smaller dogs. Female dogs who are spayed before their first heat have a lower chance of developing spay incontinence, however the veterinary community currently believes that spaying before 3 months of age may increase the incidence of its development.
It’s important to mention that spaying your female dog is very beneficial to her health. Spaying helps prevent uterine infections and breast cancer, which is fatal in about 50 percent of dogs. So, while you may be concerned about a potential incontinence issue, those can be solved much easier than a more serious disease.
If you are noticing your female dog is having more accidents you will want to take her to her veterinarian, who will perform a urinalysis and urine culture. This is important because the urinalysis will uncover any other health issues that may be going on that could be causing your dog to over-consume water.
Your vet may also recommend complete blood work and, depending on your dog’s age, x-rays or ultrasound to make a definitive diagnosis. These will help rule out bladder stones and cancer.
How Do You Treat Spay Incontinence?
Urethral sphincter strength can often be improved with medication. In fact, roughly 50 – 60% of incontinent spayed female dogs respond well to estrogen therapy.
There are also non-hormonal treatments that strengthen the urethra. Phenylpropanolamine (PPA) is one such treatment and about 85 to 90% of spayed female dogs have shown an excellent response to it.
For those dogs who experience adverse side effects to these medications, there are other procedures including collagen or bulking injections around the urethral sphincter, surgical implantation of a urethral occluder and certain bladder and urethral tacking surgeries.
As each dog is different and will respond differently to treatments, you and your veterinarian will have to use a trial and error approach to see what works best. Until you find a treatment that works, your best bet is to use doggy diapers to keep your home clean.