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Integrative Pet Vet column: Urinary tract infections in dogs are common

One of the most common infections in dogs occurs in the urinary tract. An estimated 27% of dogs will have a urinary tract infection at some time in their life. Signs of a UTI include frequent urination, licking genital areas, blood in the urine, painful urination and straining to urinate. It is important to note that these signs do not always indicate that there is a urinary infection. Other disorders that can lead to similar signs include diabetes mellitus and kidney disease, which result in frequent urination because of the large volumes of urine produced, or a urinary bladder tumor, which could bleed into the urine.

The urinary tract consists of the kidney, ureters (connects the kidney to the urinary bladder), urinary bladder and urethra (connects the urinary bladder to the outside). UTI is typically associated with the urinary bladder and urethra.

Most UTIs are thought to be the result of bacteria traveling from the external genital areas up the urethra to the urinary bladder. Certain anatomic conditions can predispose to higher levels of bacteria in the genital areas. A small number of UTIs result from infections traveling from the bloodstream. There are numerous protective mechanisms and factors that reduce or prevent urinary infections. These include mechanical flushing action of urine during urination, antimicrobial characteristics of urine, barrier function of the lining of the urinary tract and action of antimicrobial and protective substances produced by the lining of the urethra.



Some UTIs are sporadic, meaning that there are less than three episodes in a 12-month period. Antibiotics are generally used for these dogs. When there are more than three episodes in 12 months, it is considered a recurrent UTI, and predisposing factors should be investigated. Interestingly, not all dogs with predisposing factors have recurrent UTI.

There are a number of health problems that predispose to UTIs. These include diabetes, Cushing’s disease (adrenal problem), immune deficiencies, uroliths (bladder stones), tumors, prostate disease and back pain. The presence of any of these predisposing issues complicates the management of UTIs, and they contribute to recurrent UTI problems. Successfully identifying and addressing these issues can play a significant role in short- and long-term management and control of UTIs.

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The presence of bladder stones adds complexity to managing UTIs. Since there are different types of stones and because they develop for different reasons, they require different therapies. Not all bladder stones are associated with infections, but they can contribute to inflammation and blockage of the urethra. Struvite stones do form along with an infection. The infectious organism becomes part of the stone. Struvite stones can be dissolved with special diets. However, as the stone dissolves it releases the infectious organisms, so protocols generally also recommend antibiotics. Other stones like the calcium oxalates are not associated with infection and have to be surgically removed. Unfortunately, identification of the stone type cannot positively be determined without analyzing the stone. Identification can be essential for long-term management.

Clearly, it is important to have an appropriate evaluation to determine the presence of a UTI and, in some situations, evaluation for predisposing factors. This may include a complete physical examination, urinalysis, blood tests and X-rays of the abdomen or an ultrasound. While antibiotics can play an important role in management of UTIs, selecting a diet that helps maintain the correct urine conditions can be essential. Addressing any concurrent issues like diabetes or anatomical conditions can aid long-term management. From an integrative approach, providing a probiotic is valuable, along with support for the lining of the urethra and urinary bladder with vitamins like A and C for management of recurrent UTI issues. Certain herbs like cranberry, marshmallow root and uva ursi may be helpful when appropriately selected.

If you have questions about UTI in your dog, contact your veterinarian.

Ron Carsten, DVM, PhD, CVA, CCRT was one of the first veterinarians in Colorado to use the integrative approach, has lectured widely to veterinarians, and has been a pioneer in the therapeutic use of food concentrates to manage clinical problems. He is also the founder of Colorado Animal Rescue (CARE). In addition to his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, he holds a PhD in cell and molecular biology and is a certified veterinary acupuncturist and certified canine rehabilitation therapist. He practices integrative veterinary medicine in Glenwood Springs.


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