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Monday, 20 April 2009

A wee problem

Nine months ago I acquired Shelly, a rescue Beardie bitch, who is now nearly 13. She had been kept in a garage for four years, with a bare plastic bed and apparently no free access to water. I soon realised that the lack of bedding was probably due to the fact that Shelley suffers from urinary incontinence. She had been spayed. My vet initially thought she might have a bladder infection, and prescribed antibiotics, and when these did not help, Propolin, and Valerian in case it was caused by stress. Nothing has helped.
She had very bad teeth and a while ago underwent a dental under general anaesthetic. For a week afterwards, she was dry, but then the problem resumed. She used to be dry at night, but no longer is. There does seem to be some connection with events perceived to be exciting - supper-time, when visitors arrive - it gets worse at these times, but she dribbles at other
times too, and I can see no pattern. She does not seem to be aware of it. She used to lick herself, but no longer does.
The vet has said her urinary system is fine, though has carried out no further tests, and just seems to think that because of her age I should put up with it. I have tried a herbal remedy, which has not helped either, and am wondering whether this could possibly be a mental rather than a physical problem? Perhaps linked to the abuse she suffered?
I do not have insurance for Shelley, and cannot really afford expensive referral treatment, but of course will do anything that might help. Acupuncture has been suggested - does anyone have experience of this for this condition? Any other suggestions? My washing machine is about to go on strike for shorter working hours!
Pat Dyer

My sympathies are with you; an incontinent dog is a frustrating and demoralising problem to have to cope with. Many spayed bitches do develop urinary incontinence, and this is the most likely cause of the condition, but it could well be that emotional factors are also involved. If she has had no urinary investigations there is also the possibility of bladder stones, or an ectopic ureter (where the kidneys pass urine straight into the vagina rather than into the bladder), or bladder polyps, amongst other conditions.
Of course, investigating the possibility of other causes will involve an anaesthetic and then X rays, ultrasounds and maybe other procedures, and you need to consider whether you want to put a 13 year old dog through such investigations.
Assuming it is ‘spay incontinence’, I have found acupuncture to be helpful, but this does involve regular sessions of acupuncture, more or less indefinitely (usually monthly) and depends on finding a vet with experience in acupuncture within reasonable travelling distance.
I have had great success with homoeopathic treatment, especially using a homoeopathic combination known as Dr Reckeweg R74 (in the form of drops) which is made for bedwetting in children but seems to work for bedwetting dogs too!
I have also used the homoeopathic medicines Causticum, Plumbum and Oestrogen amongst others, but every dog is different, and you would need the advice of a qualified homoeopathic vet to get the best regime of treatment for Shelley. Good luck with finding a treatment that works!
Richard Allport, alternative vet

I often get contacted about incontinent dogs, to ask whether the problem has a behavioural cause. The answer is that if the urine leakage happens when the dog is asleep then it is a physical problem and not psychological. Dogs with incontinence may also dribble when they are excited, such as when greeting visitors, but dogs with purely excitement induced peeing don’t leak when they are asleep.
Shelly’s problem does need to be resolved because it has welfare implications for her. Dogs with incontinence tend to get recurrent bladder infections, which are painful and distressing. Leaked urine can cause skin sores and irritation.
It is impossible to treat an incontinence problem successfully unless its cause has been investigated. There are several different physical causes for incontinence and they respond to different treatments and medications. Choosing the wrong one will be costly and ineffective.
Urine is held in the bladder by a tight muscular band at its neck. This is called the urethral sphincter, and it should be strong enough to create a good seal. As bitches get older, the sphincter becomes weaker. This is worse in neutered bitches because neutering takes away the hormone oestrogen that helps to maintain bladder sphincter tone.
If this were the only cause, life would be simple; we could just give drugs or hormone replacement therapy to tone up the sphincter and all would be well. Unfortunately, sphincter function depends on several other things, Firstly, the bladder must be in the correct position; in some bitches the neck of the bladder is wrongly positioned and the sphincter is unable to function properly. Secondly, the bladder muscles must be strong enough to expel all the urine when the dog goes to the toilet, otherwise some will remain inside. Thirdly, the dog must be producing normal amounts of urine; if she is drinking a lot then she will produce more urine and need to go to the toilet more often. This will make any incontinence much worse. Many ageing dogs are incontinent due to a combination of these factors and the only way to get to the bottom of it is to have some further investigations done. The good news is that there are numerous drugs that can help, and in some case the situation can be helped with surgery.
Your vet should be able to carry out these investigations, but you may want to get opinion from another vet, or seek referral, if you have lost confidence in your current vet. If money is a problem you could try contacting the rescue shelter you got Shelly from. It is impossible to take out an insurance policy for an old dog like Shelly and you cannot possibly have known what the cost of looking after her would be. By taking on an older dog you showed kindness, but you have also taken a risk, and, in my opinion, the rescue shelter you got her from has a moral responsibility to assist you.
Jon Bowen, behaviourist


  1. We have a 14 year old husky who has the same peeing problem. We tested her for everything! Finally, I asked my vet how much water she needed a day and we started limiting her to that amount (more for hot days, etc). After we did that, she stopped peeing all the time and was able to hold it.
    Maybe check with your vet about how much water Shelly needs and see if she is drinking too much?
    Also, have her thyroid checked, if you haven't. Many old dogs have thyroid levels that are too low and that causes a lot of problems, too.

  2. I wouldn't recommend limiting Shelly's access to water. Prolonged excessive drinking is likely to be symptomatic of a physiological problem. Restricting water intake may make this problem worse.