When I see older dogs for wellness visits, I find it’s a great opportunity to talk about what problems we might expect in the coming years and how to be best prepared. One of the problems I bring up, and one that owners often don’t consider, is incontinence.
Different from a breakdown in housetraining, incontinence is defined as involuntary urinary leakage, and the most common place to see “accidents” is on the floor or bed where they have lying. It most commonly starts with small spots but can progress to puddles.
So, why do older dogs become incontinent? Sometimes it is caused by an underlying medical condition, such as a urinary tract infection or a neurological condition. These possibilities can be eliminated with simple urine or blood tests.
However, a fairly high proportion of spayed female dogs (some sources estimate up to 20%) develop what is described as urethral sphincter mechanism incontinence (or USMI). This means that the muscles that help to keep the bladder closed aren’t working properly, causing urine to leak out.
The good news? USMI is usually responsive to relatively safe and inexpensive medical therapy. While some cases can require treatment with hormones or even surgery, the vast majority of cases respond well to a medication called phenylpropanolamine.
So, don’t let your aging dog be embarrased by bedwetting. Consult with your veterinarian at the first sign that the floodgate may not be holding!
Fetch Spring/Summer 2010