Urinary tract infections (or UTIs) are common in dogs. So it’s important to understand that the cause of your dog’s bladder problem might not be what it seems.
Many bladder issues are from inflammation … there’s no bacteria associated with them at all. That’s why giving antibiotics won’t do much to help. And because antibiotics can cause long-term damage … it’s best to avoid them whenever you can.
To a holistic vet, UTI usually stands for urinary tract inflammation, not infection. This is important to help you treat bladder issues. But first, let’s talk about the signs of UTIs in dogs.
Symptoms Of Urinary Tract Infections In Dogs
UTIs include kidney, ureters, urethra and bladder infections. Typical signs of UTIs in dogs include:
- Frequent urge to urinate.
- Urine may or may not contain blood. Sometimes you may see a little blood at the very end. Other times there might be a blood clot. Sometimes it’s hardly noticeable. Getting your dog to pee on paper towels is a good way to see if there’s blood present or not.
- You may see your dog licking before she urinates. Or she may lick when she comes back inside the house.
- Inappropriate urination or accidents in the house.
- General restlessness.
- Waking you up a couple of times in the middle of the night needing to go to the bathroom.
- Trying to pee again right after she’s peed. You may even see her try a few times and appear to squat or strain a few different ways.
If left untreated, UTIs can lead to further problems. This can include stones, dysfunction, infertility, kidney infection and even kidney failure.
Note: while I’m talking about a female dog in this post … remember, male dogs can get UTIs too!
How To Know If Your Dog Has A Urinary Tract Infection
If your dog is showing signs of a UTI, it’s a good idea to have your holistic vet run a urinalysis. That’s because UTIs can be a symptom of a more serious medical condition …
These urinary tract problems are much less likely but are easier to treat if caught early. Your holistic vet will help to rule out any other health issues in your dog.
If you visit a conventional vet, they may recommend a urine culture as well. Urine cultures are used to identify the type of bacteria affecting your dog so your vet can choose the right antibiotic. If you aren’t planning on using antibiotics, which you shouldn’t, a urine culture is unnecessary.
The Problem With Antibiotics For UTIs In Dogs
Most conventional vets will want to prescribe antibiotics for your dog’s UTI. The problem with this is that antibiotics don’t just kill the bacteria causing the UTI … they also destroy the healthy bacteria in your dog’s gut.
And if you remember, most urinary tract infections in dogs are actually inflammation or a symptom of a more serious problem. In those cases, the antibiotics are destroying your dog’s microbiome without effectively treating the real cause of your dog’s UTI. That’s why UTIs usually come back again and again.
Antibiotic resistance is also a concern. The more your dog takes antibiotics, the less effective they are.
The good news is there are lots of natural options available to prevent and resolve UTIs. But before I get to that, let’s take a closer look at the urinalysis and how it helps your vet understand your dog’s urinary tract health.
A Closer Look At Your Dog’s Bladder Health
When your vet runs a urinalysis, a fresh urine sample is the best for testing. On the day of your appointment, try to catch your dog’s first pee of the day. A first-morning urine sample lets your vet know how well her kidneys work overnight.
There’s no single component of a urinalysis that confirms a diagnosis or treatment. The combined results contribute to the bigger picture.
Let’s look at the components of the urinalysis and see what they can show you …
1. Collection Method
The vet clinic will record how you collected your dog’s urine sample, as it can affect some of the results. When you collect a sample at home in a clean container it collects material from all parts of the urinary tract. In your female dog, this includes the urethra and vulva. In a male dog it includes his urethra and prostate.
It might sound silly but some dogs get a bit of stage fright when you try to catch a sample at home. If this happens, your vet can grab a sample for you at the appointment.
Your vet can collect a sterile sample called a cystocentesis. She’ll insert a needle through your dog’s body wall right into her bladder. This may lead to a few red blood cells on her test … but your vet will note that.
Another way to collect urine is with a urinary catheter, although this is usually for male dogs. This method also collects urine straight from the bladder.
2. Color and Clarity
The next step is to record what your dog’s urine looks like. This includes the color and how clear it is. The more concentrated urine is the yellower it will be. Debris in the urine makes it cloudy or discoloured.
3. Specific Gravity
Specific gravity is a test that measures the concentration of your dog’s urine. This test tells your vet more about kidney function too … and it’s why that first morning sample is so important.
The pH level of your dog’s urine is important. It gives an idea of acid-base balance. If your dog is on a high protein diet she’ll likely have a lower, more acidic pH. If she has an infection or urinary stones she’ll have a higher, more alkaline urine pH.
A small amount of protein in your dog’s urine can be normal. But if the test shows a large amount … it could mean there are problems in her kidneys, bladder, or lower urinary tract. If your dog does have a high protein level, your vet may run some extra blood tests.
You may be familiar with testing sugar levels in the blood … but glucose can also show up in urine. When there’s sugar in the urine, the most common cause is diabetes … but false-positive tests can happen.
Kidney disease in dogs can also cause glucose in the urine. So your vet will recommend blood tests if glucose shows on the urine test.
Bilirubin forms when red blood cells break down. A small amount of bilirubin in urine may be normal, especially in male dogs.
Bilirubin can also appear if there are liver or bleeding problems. If this comes up on a test, your vet will likely do some extra bloodwork.
9. RBC (Red Blood Cells)
I mentioned earlier that red blood cells (RBC) can appear if the vet used a needle to collect your dog’s sample. A small amount of RBC can be normal with low-grade inflammation. But a larger amount of blood could be mean …
If your vet finds blood she’ll suggest the possible reasons for it, based on other tests.
10. WBC (White Blood Cells)
White blood cells (WBC) show the degree of inflammation. Inflammation can occur because of …
- Calculi (crystals or stones)
WBCs can also originate from inflammation of the vulva, prostate, or prepuce. If there are WBCs, your vet should take a cystocentesis (needle) sample to find out the source.
If WBCs continue to show up in your dog’s urine, without bacteria … your vet will collect more cystocentesis samples. The lab will culture the sample to see if there are bacterial organisms.
Sometimes bacteria is due to contamination after the sample’s collected. This is common if your female dog has inflammation or an infection on her vulva. It doesn’t mean that her bladder is also infected. If there are bacteria on a clean or cystocentesis sample then you know it’s real.
A urine test will screen for other cells. Most cells in the bladder and urinary tract will be normal … but your vet should assess them for signs of any cancerous changes.
Casts are a group of cells that can stick together in a cast-like shape. There are casts that can be normal but some can also be present if your dog has kidney disease.
The urine can get over-saturated with substances that form crystals. Crystals form because of …
- Disease conditions
- The pH of the urine
- Urine concentration
Your dog may develop bladder or kidney stones from crystals … but the presence of crystals doesn’t mean there are stones. And they won’t show the type of stone if there’s one.
5 Natural Remedies for Urinary Tract Infections In Dogs
Now that you know what’s irritating your dog, let’s review some home remedies that can help.
Homeopathic vets Dr Sara Chapman and Dr Dee Blanco recommend a handful of remedies. Learn more about these homeopathic remedies and dosing instructions.
For homeopathic remedies, you may need expert help … so consult a homeopath for alternative remedies. A homeopath will take your dog’s overall health into account … not only the UTI issues.
There’s also many herbal remedies to choose from. These are more approachable if you aren’t comfortable administering homeopathic remedies.
These are a few herbs you can try at home to help soothe your dog’s UTIs.
1. Couch Grass
Couch grass is a common weed in North America and is sometimes called quack grass.
According to Herbs for Pets by Gregory L Tilford and Mary L Wulff … it’s a go-to for urinary tract problems.
Couch grass is an anti-inflammatory, mild antimicrobial and pain soother. It’s also a diuretic, which means it can help encourage waste elimination.
How To Give Your Dog Couch Grass For UTIs
- Simmer a heaping teaspoon of the chopped dried root in 8 oz of water for 20 minutes.
- Cool and strain the liquid.
- Use a dropper or teaspoon to place in your dog’s mouth (1/2 teaspoon per 20 pounds of body weight twice daily).
- You can also add it to your dog’s water.
- Make sure to find an organic or pesticide-free herb.
2. Parsley Leaf
How To Give Your Dog Parsley For UTIs
- Tilford and Wulff recommend you juice parsley leaf in a vegetable juicer.
- Feed the juice at 1 teaspoon per 20 pounds of your dog’s body weight.
- It’s best to give it by mouth and on an empty stomach.
- You can add it to her water if she won’t let you give it by mouth.
Marshmallow is one of the most versatile herbs for dogs. It’s a demulcent that soothes and protects irritated and inflamed tissue. This makes it a perfect remedy for urinary tract infections in dogs. It helps reduce inflammation and creates a barrier between the lining of the urinary tract and harmful bacteria.
How To Give Your Dog Marshmallow For UTIs
- Sprinkle marshmallow root powder on your dog’s food
- Give him ½ tsp for each lb of food
Horsetail is antimicrobial, which means it can help fight off infection. It’s also helpful if your dog has a urinary tract infection with minor bleeding. Horsetail is best used with a soothing herb like marshmallow root. And you shouldn’t use it long-term. Otherwise it may cause irritation.
How To Give Your Dog Horsetail For UTIs
- Tilford and Wulff recommend a decoction.
- Add a large handful of dried herb, ½ tsp of sugar, and water to just cover the herb into a pot.
- Simmer on low heat until the water is dark green (about 20 minutes).
- Cool and strain the liquid
- Add 1 tbsp for every 20 lbs of body weight to your dog’s food
Cranberry is a well known natural remedy for UTIs in humans, and it turns out it can work for your dog too. But there’s a misunderstanding about how cranberries help with UTIs.
It’s believed that cranberries change the pH of your dog’s urine, which affects the types of bacteria that can survive in the urinary tract. But it’s actually a sugar in cranberries, called D-mannose, that helps with UTIs.
One of the most common causes of bacterial urinary tract infections in dogs is E coli. Studies show that D-mannose stops E coli from attaching to the urinary tract. Studies also show that D-mannose can improve UTI symptoms. In fact, D-mannose works as well or better than some antibiotics. Flavonoids in cranberry may also activate the innate immune system, which can battle bacterial infections.
You can buy supplements with cranberry or ones with just D-mannose for UTIs. Nancy Scanlan DVM CVA likes to use cranberry and the amino acid methionine for treating UTIs. She finds that the combination of the two works as an effective antibiotic.
How To Give Your Dog Methionine For UTIs
- 100 mg twice daily for small and medium dogs
- 200 mg twice daily for larger dogs
Dr Scanlan also recommends testing your pet’s urine with litmus paper strips. This helps make sure it’s slightly acidic (6 to 6.5). If it’s above this range, increase the methionine to 3 times daily.
How To Give Your Dog Cranberry For UTIs
- 100 mg for small dogs
- 200 mg for medium dogs
- 300 mg for large dogs
- 400 mg for giant breeds
Dr Scalan recommends giving these doses 3 times daily.
How Diet Can Prevent Urinary Tract Infections In Dogs
One of the best ways to help prevent UTIs in your dog is through the food you feed her.
1. Try Prebiotics and Probiotics
Probiotics encourage the growth of healthy bacteria, which help crowd out harmful bacteria. They also produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that boost your dog’s overall health. This can help prevent bacteria growth to reduce the risk of UTIs caused by infections.
Supplements are the most convenient way to add probiotics to your dog’s diet. Many people will use fermented veggies and kefir for probiotics but they aren’t the best choice. That’s because the probiotics in these foods rarely survive the trip through your dog’s digestive tract. And that means they can’t provide the healthful benefits your dog needs.
But that doesn’t mean fermented foods aren’t useful. They also contain prebiotics that feed the probiotics in your dog’s gut so they can produce SCFA. Other prebiotics include:
You can also find supplements with both prebiotics and probiotics.
2. Add Antioxidants
Antioxidant-rich foods help boost your dog’s immune system. This means she’ll be better able to fend off infections throughout her body, including the urinary tract. They also help reduce inflammation, which as you now know, is a major cause of UTIs.
Fruits and vegetables are full of antioxidants. If you want to give your dog an antioxidant boost, try:
3. Avoid Unhealthy Carbohydrates
Do you feed your dog starchy carbohydrates like beans, potatoes, grains, rice, corn, or peas? If so, you may want to reconsider. These unhealthy carbs increase inflammation in your dog’s body. And that can increase the risk of UTIs … and many other health problems.
Starch is also a food source for harmful bacteria and yeasts. This can cause harmful bacteria to overgrow and crowd out the good bacteria. And this imbalance can lead to problems with your dog’s immune system and overall health.
One of the biggest sources of unhealthy carbohydrates for dogs is kibble. In fact, processed food can contain 30 to 60% starch.
And that number is even more concerning when you realize that dogs don’t need starch. So if you feed your dog kibble, that means that more than half his diet could be food that he doesn’t benefit from. And it could be making him sick.
So what do you feed your dog instead? Let’s take a look at the next tip.
4. Choose Raw
Raw, species-appropriate diets are the best choice when it comes to all aspects of your dog’s health. And that includes preventing UTIs.
Raw diets give your dog a whole natural source of the vitamins and minerals she needs to boost her immune system. And they don’t include the starchy carbohydrates that promote inflammation and bacterial growth.
What To Do If You Used Antibiotics For Your Dog’s Urinary Tract Infection
Earlier, I mentioned that antibiotics can be harmful. And that’s why they shouldn’t be part of your holistic vet’s plan at all.
If your vet does recommend antibiotics as a first step, ask her why. A holistic vet who prescribes antibiotics isn’t a real holistic vet! And unless your dog’s severely septic from a kidney infection and needs to be hospitalized … you’re going to want to say “No, thank you.” Antibiotics don’t discriminate between good and bad bacteria. They kill all bacteria!
If you do choose to give antibiotics or used them before you found out why you shouldn’t, you’ll also want to give pre and probiotics. This will replace the good bacteria.
You’ll need to continue this support for at least a week after your dog finishes her course. Some dogs may even need on-going support for life … research shows the gut never truly recovers from antibiotic damage.
So don’t forget you have great natural options for UTIs! And be confident that you can help your dog naturally at home if she develops any UTI symptoms.