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Urinary Incontinence

Understanding Your Pet's Medical Diagnosis

What is urinary incontinence?

Urinary incontinence refers to involuntary leakage of urine that occurs in between normal urinations.

What causes urinary incontinence?

Normal urine storage depends on a normally functioning urinary bladder, as well as tight muscles in the urethra. The urethra is the tube that runs between the bladder and the outside of the body. Incontinence often occurs in middle aged or older spayed female dogs. The most common cause of urinary incontinence is weak urethral musculature. Urinary bladder disorders can cause urine leakage if urine is not stored properly or if urine retention causes overflow. Rarely, anatomic abnormalities of the urinary system can cause incontinence in puppies or kittens.

What are signs of urinary incontinence?

The most common sign of urinary incontinence is urine pooling underneath the pet's hindquarters while resting. You may actually see urine dripping from the penis or vulva, or just see wet spots or puddles where your pet sleeps. Occasionally animals will drip urine while standing, walking or jumping. Frequent licking of the penis or vulva also may be a sign of urine leakage. Most dogs with urinary incontinence will continue to urinate normally as well. Dogs with urinary incontinence may be prone to urinary tract infections.

How is urinary incontinence diagnosed?

Urinary incontinence is usually diagnosed by the history, which consists of your description of the pet's behavior at home. In addition, your veterinarian will assess your pet's urinary bladder and neurologic function further by physical examination and a urinalysis. Sometimes more extensive testing is required, including evaluation of anatomy with radiographs (X-rays) or referral to a specialist for more advanced procedures.

How is urinary incontinence treated?

Medications that improve contraction of the urethral musculature (phenylpropanolamine, phenylephrine, ephedrine) may be prescribed. Some of these drugs are used in humans as diet aids or as decongestants and are available as over-the-counter products. Side effects are uncommon but include restlessness, hyperactivity, inappetance and rapid heart rates.

Antispasmodic agents that relax the urinary bladder (oxybutynin, dicyclomine, imipramine) are occasionally used if bladder storage is inadequate. These drugs may cause sedation, vomiting or constipation if the dosage administered is too high.

Estrogen compounds (diethylstilbesterol, estriol, conjugated estrogens) may be administered to strengthen urethral muscle tone and the urethral "seal". Side effects of estrogens may include hair loss, signs of estrus (heat cycles), behavior changes or low blood cell counts. All of these problems are rarely seen with low dose estrogen treatment, but periodic monitoring of a blood count is advised.

Surgery may be required in puppies or kittens with anatomic defects causing incontinence.

Antibiotic treatment may be necessary if your pet also has a urinary tract infection.

What is the prognosis for animals with urinary incontinence?

Most pets with urinary incontinence can be managed for prolonged periods with medical treatment. In some cases, medication or surgery will lessen incontinence but not cure it. This most often occurs in puppies and young dogs with incontinence, which may require multiple medications, dosage adjustments, or diapers to stay dry.

The information on this page was obtained from the site www.vetmedcenter.com