Urinary tract infections in dogs … called UTIs … are common. But what are they really?
What Are UTIs In Dogs?
You assume a UTI means your dog has a urinary tract infection … caused by a urinary pathogen or bacterial infection. But your dog’s urinary tract disease might not be what it seems. Bladder issues often stem from inflammation – with no bacteria causing them at all. In fact, many holistic vets say that UTI stands for urinary tract inflammation (not infection). This is important to help you treat bladder problems in your dog.
What Are The Signs Of UTIs In Dogs
Urinary tract disease can include kidney, ureters, urethra and bladder infection.
While we’re using a female dog example below … remember that male dogs can get UTIs too! Typical symptoms of UTIs in dogs of either gender include:
- Frequent urination or urging.
- Bloody urine. Sometimes you may see a little blood at the very end. Other times there might be a blood clot. Sometimes it’s hardly noticeable. Get your dog to pee on a paper towel to see if there’s blood present.
- Licking before or after she urinates.
- Inappropriate urination or accidents in the house.
- General restlessness.
- Needing to go out during the night.
- Trying to pee again right after she’s peed. You may see her try a few times and appear to squat or strain a few different ways. This is due to difficult flow of urine.
- Signs of painful urination.
When untreated, UTIs can lead to bigger problems, including stones, dysfunction, infertility, kidney infection, and even kidney failure.
What If There’s Blood In Your Dog’s Urine?
If you see bloody urine (called hematuria) that’s a good reason to get a urine sample to your vet for analysis. Testing will help you find out if it’s caused by inflammation, infectious disease or another problem.
Is It A Urinary Tract Infection Or Something Worse?
If your dog is showing signs of a UTI, it’s a good idea to take a urine sample to your vet for analysis. That’s because UTIs can be a symptom of a more serious medical condition, such as …
- Bladder or urethra stones
- Kidney stones or other kidney problems
These problems are much less likely … but are easier to treat if you catch them early.
What Is A Urine Culture Test?
Most conventional vets will recommend a bacterial culture test as well. That’s because they want to know which bacterial species is affecting your dog … so they can choose the right antibiotic. So, if you’re planning to avoid antibiotics and use natural remedies for your dog’s UTI, you don’t need a urine culture.
How Do Vets Diagnose Urinary Tract Problems In Dogs?
Your first challenge is to get a sample from your dog.
Urine Sample Collection
Try to get a sample from your dog’s first pee of the day. It’ll show how well your dog’s kidneys work overnight. The vet clinic will ask how you collected your dog’s urine sample, as it can affect some of the results. When you collect a sample at home it contains material from all parts of the urinary tract. In female dogs, this includes the urethra and vulva, and in males, the urethra and prostate.
Use a clean container and label it with the date and time of the sample. Refrigerate it until you take it to the vet, if you can’t go right away. Sometimes it can be hard to get a sample from your dog. One useful tip is to use a clean ladle to catch the sample, then transfer it into another clean container with a lid. But if your dog really won’t cooperate, you may need your vet’s help.
Your vet can use a procedure called cystocentesis to get a sample. She’ll insert a needle through your dog’s body wall into her bladder. Holistic vets don’t like this method as it can cause a little bleeding so there may be some red blood cells on the test. Another way vets collect urine is with a urinary catheter … mainly for male dogs. This method also collects urine straight from the bladder.
Let’s look at the components of the urinalysis and see what they can show you …
Color and Clarity
Your vet will note the appearance of your dog’s urine looks like, including the color and how clear it is. The more concentrated urine is, the yellower it will be. Discolored or cloudy urine can stem from debris in the urine.
Specific gravity measures the concentration of your dog’s urine. This test tells your vet about kidney function … and it’s why that first-morning sample is so important.
The pH level of your dog’s urine is important. 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.
Protein In Urine
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 has a high protein level, your vet may run some extra blood tests.
Glucose In Urine
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 if there’s glucose in your dog’s urine, your vet will probably recommend blood tests.
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. This may be another reason for extra bloodwork.
Red Blood Cells (RBC)
As mentioned earlier, red blood cells 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 …
- Severe inflammation
- Kidney disease
- Bleeding disorder
If your vet finds blood she’ll suggest the possible reasons for it, based on other tests.
White Blood Cells (WBC)
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 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 may suggest possible kidney disease.
The urine can get over-saturated with substances that form crystals. Crystals form because of …
- Urine pH
- Urine concentration
Your dog may develop bladder or kidney stones from crystals … but the presence of crystals doesn’t always mean there are stones. And they won’t show the type of stone if there is one.
What Are Treatment Options For UTIs In Dogs?
There are many natural remedies for UTIs in dogs … so it’s best to avoid antibiotics, even though most vets will prescribe them as the main treatment option.
Antibiotics For UTIs In Dogs
Antibiotics are standard treatment for UTIs. 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. Remember that many holistic vets say that urinary tract problems in dogs are actually inflammation, not an infection. So using antibiotics will damage your dog’s microbiome … without effectively treating the real cause of your dog’s UTI. That’s why UTIs become chronic recurrent infections in many dogs. Urinary concentration of antibiotics is also a factor. The drugs are less effective if they don’t achieve high antimicrobial concentrations. In fact, a 2014 review of antibiotics for UTIs at University of Copehagen concluded: “there is little published evidence relating to antibiotic treatment of UTIs in dogs and cats. Well-designed clinical trials focusing on the duration of treatment are warranted to create evidence-based treatment protocols.”
Antibiotic resistance is also a concern. The more your dog takes antibiotics, the less effective they are. So save them for when they’re truly necessary and avoid antimicrobial resistance that’s becoming a problem for all of us!
5 Home Remedies for Urinary Tract Infections In Dogs
Homeopathic Remedies For UTIs
If you’re a fan of homeopathy, here are some effective UTI remedies recommended by veterinarian Dr Dee Blanco, along with dosing instructions. Homeopathy is often a successful treatment for UTIs. In stubborn cases, you may need expert help. A homeopath will analyze your dog’s whole symptom picture to select the best remedy … not only the UTI symptoms. So homeopathy can help with more complicated infections or even systemic infection. Find a homeopath at theavh.org.
Herbal Remedies for UTIs
There are many herbal remedies to choose from. When you buy herbs, try to get organic, pesticide-free products. Here are the top 5.
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.
2. Parsley Leaf
Parsley leaf is another diuretic that can help with UTIs. This is because of its antiseptic properties … plus it’s easy to give your dog.
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 lbs body weight. It’s best to give it by mouth and on an empty stomach. You can add it to your dog’s water if she won’t let you give it by mouth.
3. Marshmallow Root
Marshmallow is one of the most versatile herbs for dogs. It’s a demulcent that soothes and protects irritated and inflamed tissue, so it’s an ideal 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, giving ½ tsp for each lb of food
Horsetail is antimicrobial, so 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.
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. Caution: Don’t use horsetail long-term as it may cause irritation.
Cranberries are a well-known natural remedy for UTIs in humans, and they can work for your dog too. You may wonder if you can give cranberry juice … but most juices have a lot of sugar, so they’re best avoided. But cranberries or supplements with cranberries are one of the best remedies for UTIs.
Many people believe cranberries change the pH of your dog’s urine to control 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.
How D-Mannose Helps UTIS In Dogs
One of the most common bacteria causing urinary tract infections in dogs is E coli. Studies show that D-mannose stops E coli from attaching to the urinary tract. So D-mannose is a great remedy to use if your dog does have an infection. Studies also show that D-mannose can improve UTI symptoms. It’s been shown to work as well or better than some antibiotics. Flavonoids in cranberry may also activate your dog’s own innate immune system to battle bacterial infections. You can buy supplements with cranberry, which has natural D-mannose, or just a D-mannose supplement. Nancy Scanlan DVM CVA likes to use cranberry along with the amino acid methionine for treating UTIs. The combination is an effective antimicrobial treatment
How To Give Your Dog Methionine For UTIs
Small to medium dogs: 100 mg twice daily. Larger dogs: 200 mg twice daily. Dr Scanlan also recommends testing your dog’s urine with litmus paper strips. Make sure it’s slightly acidic (6 to 6.5). If it’s above this range, increase the methionine to 3 times daily. Note: Apple cider vinegar will also lower your dog’s urine pH. Add raw, organic apple cider vinegar to your dog’s food or water. Give 1 tsp for small dogs, 2 tsp for medium dogs, and 1 Tbsp for large dogs.
How To Give Your Dog Cranberry For UTIs
You can buy a cranberry supplement made for dogs and follow the label instructions. If you buy a supplement made for humans … assume the recommended dose is for a 150 lb human and adjust for your dog’s weight.
How To Give Your Dog D-Mannose For UTIs
Follow the same principles as for cranberries. Adjust human supplements for your dog’s weight as described earlier. Or follow the label dosing if it’s a pet product. You can safely give 1g of D-mannose per 20 lbs bodyweight. Mix D-mannose with food or add it to your dog’s water.
How To Give Cranberry Plus D-Mannose Supplements
Again, adjust the human dose for your dog’s weight. Or follow the dosing instructions on the label if you buy a pet product.
Can Diet 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. Avoid Unhealthy Carbohydrates
It’s best to avoid feeding your dog starchy carbohydrates like beans, potatoes, grains, rice, corn, or peas. Dogs don’t need these unhealthy carbs, and they increase inflammation in your dog’s body. Inflammation can increase the risk of UTIs … and many other health problems. Starch is also a food source for harmful bacteria and yeasts, helping them overgrow to crowd out the good bacteria. One of the biggest sources of unhealthy carbohydrates for dogs is kibble. In fact, processed food can contain 30 to 60% starch. So if you feed your dog kibble, that means that more than half his diet could be food that’s not good for him.
RELATED: Why kibble’s not a good option …
2. Feed A Raw Diet
Start with a whole food, raw-meat based diet. Raw diets give your dog a natural source of the vitamins and minerals she needs to boost her immune system. And they don’t include undesirable starchy carbohydrates that promote inflammation and bacterial growth.
RELATED: Find raw recipes for your dog …
Next, make some diet additions to help prevent UTIs.
3. Give 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 giving foods like broccoli and blueberries.
4. Add 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 probiotic benefits … 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 … so 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 prebiotic foods include garlic, chicory root, and mushrooms.
So don’t forget you have great natural options for your dog’s UTI. Be confident you can help your dog naturally at home if she develops any UTI symptoms.
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