Urination Behavior Problems


Urine licking

Q: We have a 12 year-old female cocker spaniel. On July 10th she was diagnosed by ultrasound as having a tumor in her bladder. At that time we were told that the left kidney was about to shut down. And that surgery would not probably do any good and that it would be best to let things run their course. So, you see we are about to lose a dog that we love very much.

Recently, she has been leaking urine. We try to dry her off whenever possible so she won't keep licking herself. We keep wondering her ingesting the urine will make matters worse and she will get sicker sooner. Is there anything we can do?

Thank you very much for any advise you can give us,

S. and M. E.

A: S. and M.E.

Ingesting its own urine is very unlikely to cause any significant problems in a dog, since any organisms in the urine are already present in the dog's system. As long as another water source is freely available there should be no problem.

Depending on the treatments being used it may be possible to use medications for the incontinence which has developed that might help a little. You may wish to ask your vet about this. It is usually OK to use Desitin (TM) or a similar product around the vulva to prevent urine burns and the absorbent mats made for bedridden human patients work really well to wick the urine away from her body if she will sleep on them.

I hope this helps some.

Mike Richards, DVM

Urine licking or drinking

Question: Dear Dr. Mike,

I am a recent subscriber to Vetinfo Digest after finding your website and all the terrific information it contains. I am currently enrolled in Registered Veterinary Technician school and love it! Your site has been an immense help with school. I have a question regarding the dog of a friend of mine. I searched your site but came up empty. She has a 9yr. old Yorkie who has been urinating on the pavement and then trying to drink it! The owner took the dog to the vet to have tests run and everything was negative. None of the doctors in the office seem to have any answers or suggestions. Do you? She takes very good care of the dog including brushing its teeth every week. The dog is scheduled for a dental next week. Thanks for any assistance you can provide. K Answer: Karma-

There isn't much information that I can find on dogs that will urinate and then lick or drink the urine. The only references I can find to this suggest that it is a learned behavior in some dogs that are constantly penned when young (usually pet store dogs) and that it occurs in other situations in which excessive boredom is likely. Some people have associated this behavior with hormonal changes in unspayed female dogs but I don't know if there is really any data to support that association.

The only treatment options that I have seen for this is to use amitriptyline (Elavil Rx) or clomipramine (Clomicalm Rx). I am not sure what the rational is behind using these medications, though.

Mike Richards, DVM 3/14/99

Overcoming strict urinary control training

Q: Hello. I searched the index and could not find a question like the one I have. I have also been looking at different web sites and have also asked my local veterinarian and still need help. Jake is my mutt (part german shepard, part chow). I adopted him two years ago. His previous owners kept him in a small kennel-like cage. He would not go to the bathroom in the cage. They would let him out at the end of the day and walk him around the yard, and he would go to the bathroom then. He would also go at the start of the day before they put him in the cage. This "training" they did to Jake has the unfortunate result in that he will only go to the bathroom twice a day!! Once in the morning, when he is let out into the yard. In the evening (here's the kicker) he will not go unless he is taken for a walk. When I tried to break him of the habit, he peed on the carpet sometime during the night, so I resumed the evening walks so he wouldn't do that again.

My question is twofold: 1. Is it unhealthy for his kidneys, etc. to hold "it" that long? Literally, all night and all day, with only going twice a day?? He will only have a bowel movement during his evening walk. 2. I come home from work too tired to take him for a walk, and yet, I am forced to or he will make a mess on the carpet. Can I train him to go in the yard? I've tried walking him around the yard with his leash on, but he didn't go for it. The vet I asked said that Jake will eventually get older and not be able to hold "it" for such long periods and will go in the yard when I let him out. I give him plenty of opportunities to go in the yard, but he never does. Another person I consulted said that Jake is too old (he is now 5 years old ) to learn any new behaviors. Yet another person suggested leaving him outside all night until he learns to go in the yard. I tried that and he Barked too much (the "I want to come in" bark) so I had to let him in. I was wondering if you had any ideas or suggestions. Thanks!

A: Cathy- Although it seems like it would be uncomfortable it is not likely that urinating only twice a day will hurt Jake's kidneys. I suspect your vet is right about his ability to hold urine in his bladder, though. That ability does tend to diminish with age. I think that cystitis (bladder infection) is probably a little more likely with this behavior problem but it isn't too common in males so he may make out OK.

I am pretty certain that you could train him to urinate in the yard with time -- and perhaps the help of a good dog trainer or animal behaviorist. Teaching him a word to "go" by might be a good first step. Cheering him on when he does urinate using the same phrase, like "go potty" and "good boy" can make it possible to encourage him to urinate on command. Then use the same command when following him around in the yard until he goes there. Stay out with him a few times so you can encourage him and then try him "on his own". It is likely to be a little more complicated than it sounds here but I really do believe a dog this age can still be retrained. Give it a good try.

Mike Richards, DVM

Submissive Urination.

Puppies that have very submissive personalities tend to urinate small amounts when greeting people or when someone makes sudden movements or assumes a dominant position, even inadvertently. These puppies are generally showing other submissive signs, such as head down postures or rolling over. It can help to just ignore these puppies at first and let them get used to your presence in the house prior to greeting them. Many dogs will outgrow this behavior but some do not. For some dogs, treatment with anti-anxiety medications or phenylpropanolamine can be helpful. Unfortunately, not all dogs will respond to medical therapy or behavioral therapy for this condition. Strategically placed throw rugs or plastic runners are the next line of defense since the behavior often occurs at predictable times and places.

Mike Richards, DVM

Excitement urination

Some puppies can not control urination when they are very excited. They just get so worked up that they leak urine. Most puppies will outgrow this problem, too (at least based on the ones we see). Some dogs don't, though. We have some success treating these dogs with phenylpropanolamine. It seems to give them just enough control to get them through the excitement. It doesn't always work, though. I have never tried any other therapy for this condition. I think this is because I practice in a rural area and it is easy for my clients to adjust to making these dogs "outside dogs" and living with the problem. If there is an animal behaviorist in your area, your vet may be able to refer you to him or her for help with this problem.

Mike Richards, DVM

Urine marking behavior

Q: Hi I have two Australian Cattle Dogs a male (4 yrs old) and a female (2 yrs old). Recently I have been catching my male urinating on my female. Why is this and how can I correct this terrible problem?

A: I will try to check into this particular behavior for you (no promises -- I do not remember seeing anything on this anywhere).

This is probably a urine marking behavior. These behaviors can be a sign of dominance behavior or anxious behavior or both. It can take careful observation by a trained observer (i.e. a behaviorist) to really sort this out in many instances. If it is possible to seek the help of a veterinary or animal behaviorist in your area it would probably be best to do so.

Castration helps with urine marking behavior about 50% of the time if that has not been done and it is an acceptable option for you. Medical treatment using anti-anxiety medications or progesterone compounds sometimes helps but should be done as part of an over-all behavioral modification plan for long term success. The choice of medications falls back to the diagnosis -- so you still need the help of someone who can make a diagnosis of the cause of the behavior.

Your vet may be able to help you find someone who can help with this problem.

Good luck with this.

Mike Richards, DVM

Last edited 01/30/05


Michael Richards, D.V.M. co-owns a small animal general veterinary practice in rural tidewater Virginia. Dr. Richards graduated from Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1979, and has been in private practice ever since. Dr. Richards has been the director of the PetCare Forum...