Senior Dog Incontinence

The senior dog is particularly prone to incontinence. As dogs get older, their bodies naturally produce fewer sex hormones. Decreases in reproductive hormone levels are thought to be responsible for most cases of dog incontinence. Here's what dog incontinence is and how you can help your dog cope with this condition.

Causes of Urinary Incontinence in Older Dogs

Urinary incontinence in dogs occurs when urine leaks from the dog's bladder almost constantly. Leakage occurs most often when the incontinent dog is sleeping or lying down.

In a normal dog, the muscles of the bladder are strong enough to keep urine in. The dog has conscious control of these muscles, so that he can choose when to empty his bladder. In older dogs who have become incontinent, the muscles of the bladder, especially the muscles responsible for keeping urine in the bladder, weaken. The dog loses conscious control over his bladder and can no longer stop urine from seeping out. 

Vets believe that reproductive hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone, play an important role in keeping the muscles of the bladder strong and under your dog's conscious control. As your dog grows older, his body produces fewer reproductive hormones, and his control of his bladder may naturally diminish.

Urinary incontinence in senior dogs occurs most often in spayed females, though males may also experience urinary incontinence. Neutered males are more likely than intact males to experience incontinence, though both intact males and females may develop this condition. Senior dogs older than eight years of age are most vulnerable, though spayed females may develop this condition as young as three years of age.

Potential Complications of Urinary Incontinence

Dogs who suffer from urinary incontinence are more likely to get bladder infections, since their bladder muscles are less effective at keeping the urethra sealed off against bacteria. Some dogs may need to use antibiotics routinely if their urinary incontinence can't be controlled.

Incontinent dogs are at risk for a condition known as urine scalding, in which the acids in their urine burn their skin. Urine scalding is common in incontinent dogs, because their skin can be constantly exposed to the harsh acids present in urine. If urine isn't cleaned from the skin frequently, incontinent dogs could develop inflammation, irritation, lesions and ulcers.

Treating Urinary Incontinence

Many senior dogs with urinary incontinence respond well to hormone replacement therapy. Your vet may prescribe non-hormonal as well as hormonal medication. Your dog will need daily doses of hormones and other medication for a while, but eventually you'll be able to reduce these doses to once a week. Your dog will need to take the drugs for the rest of his life, but side effects are few and minor and, in most cases, dogs experience total remission of incontinence symptoms.

Some dogs may not respond fully to incontinence treatment and may continue to leak small amounts of urine from their bladders for the rest of their lives. These dogs can wear dog bloomers to help soak up the leakage.