Q: My dog was just diagnosed with a urinary tract infection and started on a round of antibiotics. How did this happen? How do dogs get bladder infections?
A: Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are common in pets of all ages. Owners will usually notice the common signs at home: frequent trips outside, small amounts of urine passed with each void, blood in the urine, and in-home accidents by pets who usually don’t have those.
At the veterinarian, some simple lab work can be done in the office to confirm if a urinary infection is present or if something else is going on. One of my funniest stories — you know, I have collected a lot of funny stories over the years. I should write a book! — has to do with collecting a urine sample from a dachshund by using a catheter. His male owner’s eyes got so big and his breathing got so labored as he watched me advance the urinary catheter up the urethra that I thought he was going to fall over. Since then I have stopped passing urinary catheters in exam rooms and made sure we always have smelling salts handy. We still laugh about it to this day.
Anyhoo, owners need to know how these infections happen to their pets and how they can keep them from happening again. Here’s what we know:
UTIs occur when there is a problem with the host’s natural immune system and bacteria are allowed to adhere, multiply and persist in the urinary tract. This is typically in the bladder, but can also occur in the kidneys and the ureters and urethra.
Bacterial infections are more common in dogs than in cats. About 14 percent of dogs will develop a bacterial urinary tract infection in their lives. In cats, it’s only 1 to 4 percent. Their urinary issues are more commonly inflammatory and behavioral in nature, but cats develop bacterial infections more readily as they grow older.
Bacterial bladder infections, or cystitis, result from bacteria ascending from the genitals, perineum or rectum into a normally sterile bladder. Without a strong and frequent flow of urine outward, bacteria keep traveling upward to the bladder. Bladder wall secretions, such as mucus, and immune factors can prevent an infection from becoming established. If any of those defense mechanisms aren’t working, bacteria can become established in the folds and lining of the urinary bladder and start to cause those clinical signs of a UTI.
E. coli bacteria account for 40 to 50 percent of all UTI cases. In 25 to 30 percent of all cases in both dogs and cats, E. coli will pair up with other pathogens to create a mixed bag of bacterial contamination that can be twice as hard, if not harder, to treat. Compound that with underlying medical conditions that lower pets’ immune systems, such as diabetes, Cushing’s disease and thyroid disease, and treating and curing bacterial infections can be complicated.
A urine culture and susceptibility test can definitively identify the type and number of bacteria present and which antibiotics will eradicate those bacteria. A laboratory tests a sterile sample of urine to make the identification. Veterinarians use this test when they have cases that don’t respond as they should or reoccur too frequently.
Now that you understand how they occur, what can you do to prevent another infection? One of the best things to allow pets access to the outside so they can urinate more frequently. Every two hours is ideal. Holding their urine over a prolonged amount of time is not a good thing for them.
Also give them more opportunity to drink water or liquids. Fountains for cats and crushed ice or frozen-broth slushes for dogs are great treats, and you can sneak more liquids into your pet’s diet that way.
Above all else, watch your pet. Note if there is a change in behavior, or accidents, or blood present where it should not be. Visit your veterinarian if you think anything is off. Your pet cannot tell you if something is wrong. As responsible pet owners, we have to notice, act and work to resolve all issues with our pets so they do not suffer needlessly.