Incontinence in Older Dogs

Older dogs are especially vulnerable to health problems, including incontinence. While urinary incontinence can occur in younger dogs due to congenital deformity or injury to the nerves controlling the bladder muscles, the condition typically affects older dogs, and can be hormonal in nature.

How Your Dog's Bladder Functions

Dogs store urine in their bladders. When they want to urinate, the urine passes out of the body through the urethra. Normally, dogs can control the passage of urine in and out of their bladders. When dogs lose control over their bladders, incontinence occurs.

Normally, a band of muscles at the base of the bladder creates a valve that your dog can use to keep urine from escaping his bladder. Vets have discovered that hormones play a role in allowing your dog to control these muscles consciously. In female dogs, estrogen helps strengthen the muscles of the bladder; in males, testerone strengthens them.

Urinary Incontinence in Aging Dogs

As dogs age, their bodies produce fewer reproductive hormones like estrogen and testosterone. Dogs who have been spayed or neutered are also more likely to suffer hormone deficiencies. Urinary incontinence causes small amounts of urine to leak out of the dog's bladder while he is resting or sleeping. Your dog may lick the vulval or penile opening frequently, as drops of urine leak out.

Older dogs are most prone to urinary incontinence, though younger animals may develop this condition, usually due to congenital abnormalities or nervous injury. Urinary incontinence may begin to develop at about eight or nine years of age. Spayed females can develop urinary incontinence as young as three to five years of age.

Secondary Problems Associated with Incontinence

Dogs who suffer from urinary incontinence are prone to bladder infections, probably because the loosening of muscles at the base of the bladder makes it easier for bacteria to enter the organ. They may also suffer from a condition known as urine scalding, which occurs when urine remains in contact with the skin for a long period of time, causing irritation. Antibiotics can be used to treat bladder infections; topical salves can be applied to areas affected by urine scalding.

Treating Urinary Incontinence in Aging Dogs

Treatment in older dogs usually involves administering oral medication. Phenylpropanolamine is a common, non-hormonal drug suitable for both males and females. Hormone replacement therapy is often used to treat urinary incontinence in older dogs, since the problem is often hormonally based. Daily doses of hormone substitutes are administered at first; once the dog begins to respond to treatment, dosages are administered weekly.

The side effects of hormone replacement drugs are rare. Dogs who suffer from hormone responsive incontinence will need to remain on medication, whether hormonally based or not, for the rest of their lives. In some cases, medication does not succeed in clearing up incontinence symptoms entirely. Dogs whose symptoms are not completely resolved by medication can wear a dog diaper in conjunction with, or instead of, medical treatment.