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Bark n Wag 15 Minute Vet Talk

Mar 29, 2021

What Causes Urinary Tract Issues in Dogs?

Almost all dog urinary tract infections are caused by bacteria, which are normally present on the skin or in a dog’s poop. Typically, problems start when the bacteria move up through the genitals and spread into the bladder, kidneys, and prostate. 

Bacteria irritate the urinary tract causing inflammation (swelling). Some types of bacteria can also cause stones to develop in the bladder.


Any dog can have a UTI, but Sharon Marx, DVM, medical director of VCA Animal Healing Center in Yardley, Penn., says some dogs are more likely to get them. Older female dogs and those who hold their urine for a long time are more susceptible. Your dog may also be at higher risk if he has: 

  • Diabetes
  • Bladder stones
  • A weakened immune system, due to medications or medical conditions like Cushing’s disease or hypothyroidism

Warning Signs of Urinary Tract Infections

Dog UTI symptoms are easily noticeable if you know what to look for. Signs of a UTI in dogs include: 

  • Frequent need to pee but little urine comes out
  • Straining to pee
  • Crying out or whining during urination
  • Blood in urine
  • Peeing in the house
  • Leaking urine
  • Licking genitals

If you have a male dog that hasn’t been neutered, the bacteria that cause a UTI can infect the prostate as well. Signs your dog’s prostate is affected include: 

  • Back pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Stiff or funny walk
  • Disinterest in normal activities

Treating Urinary Tract Problems 

Just like UTIs in humans, UTIs in our canine companions are painful—and waiting too long to take your pup to the vet for treatment can make symptoms worse. The infection can spread to kidneys and the prostate. While you might want to run out and pick up over-the-counter treatment to help your pup now, Marx says to avoid medications meant for people, since they’re toxic to pets.

If you suspect your dog has a UTI, see your veterinarian for antibiotics. The test for a dog UTI is a urine culture. Your vet will analyze a sample of your dog’s urine to see if bacteria are present and if there are any crystals, which can signal that your dog has bladder stones too. 

Marx says you can collect a urine sample at home or have your vet do it at the clinic. Here’s how:

Taking a Urine Sample at Home

Marx recommends trying to get urine from your dog’s first-morning pee if possible—it’ll be the most concentrated sample. Catch it in a clean container that can be sealed. 

You can also scoot a soup ladle underneath your dog to catch the urine while she pees and then transfer it to a clean container. But note that a home urine sample has to get to your vet’s office within two hours. 

Collecting a Urine Sample at the Veterinary Clinic

If you can’t get a sample at home, your vet can take a sterile sample with a needle. “It’s a quick procedure that most dogs tolerate extremely well,” Marx says.  

Your dog may also need x-rays to check for bladder stones if your vet finds crystals in the urine sample. Bladder stones can cause recurring bladder infections and need to be treated as well. 

In most cases, Marx says treatment for a UTI in dogs is a simple course of antibiotics, usually prescribed for seven to 14 days. You should also encourage your dog to drink water to flush bacteria from the bladder.  

“Dogs should feel better by 48 hours after starting antibiotics,” Marx says. “Sometimes, it can be as early as 24 hours. But continue the medication for as long as prescribed by your vet to completely clear up the UTI.” Your vet can recheck the urine at a follow-up exam to make sure the bacteria is gone.

How to Prevent Urinary Tract Infections from Occurring

Marx says the best thing you can do to prevent another UTI is to make sure your dog has plenty of fresh water. Also, take frequent walks or provide a lot of potty breaks for your dog throughout the day. 

If your dog has recurring UTIs, your vet may recommend taking supplements. “Cranberry and vitamin C can help dogs that have chronic UTIs by lowering urine pH,” Marx says. “But discuss it with your vet before using any treatment. These supplements can make some types of infections worse, especially if certain crystal types (calcium oxalates) are part of the cause.”

An underlying medical condition could also be what’s behind your dog’s multiple UTIs or difficulty getting one to go away. Your vet may suggest additional testing to determine the root cause of chronic UTIs.