Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher
OFF THE LEASH
It’s hot, it’s cold, it’s windy, it’s snowy, it’s raining, it’s sunny — and in my world, this is all translating to a lot of urinary tract infections in pets. I will never understand why, but drastic season changes always bump up the number of urinary issues that we see. The strangest part is that many of these are in indoor-only cats, who don’t have to deal with braving the weather at all! Regardless of the nebulous “why’s,” now I’ll talk about how to spot a urinary issue, and some that are common.
Urinary tract infection
This is the most common and often is simple to fix. Those are famous last words, of course. While this is most common in female animals, any pets can suffer from them. While there is often not an exact cause we can put our finger on, they can be caused by decreased drinking, diabetes, improper vulvar conformation, inability to clean after urination (seen in our more rotund companions) and conditions which change urine concentration. And, for whatever reason, season changes are included on this list. Generally, these are cleared up by a course of appropriate antibiotics. A physical examination can help your veterinarian pin-point causes in some cases, which can help prevent recurrence.
We diagnose these by looking at a urine sample under the microscope. Things that we might see which point toward infection are bacteria, crystals, or blood cells. The amount of blood cells and bacteria that worry us depends on how the sample was collected. We can also look at the type of bacteria in a broad sense to get an idea of whether an infection is run-of-the-mill or more complicated.
Complicated urinary tract infections involve different types of bacteria or failure to clear up after a course of appropriate antibiotics. In these cases, we take a sterile urine sample and send it out for a culture, which tells us exactly what type of bacteria is present and which antibiotics it responds to.
Crystals and stones
In most cases, crystals in the urine can be a result of infection. However, some pets form them due to metabolic issues. These pets usually need to be on a special veterinary diet to dissolve crystals and prevent stone formation. Crystals can cause pets to become blocked and unable to urinate. This can lead to very serious heart and kidney issues, and even death. It is especially important in male cats, since their urethra, or the tube that passes urine, is much smaller than in other animals.
Once stones have formed in the bladder it is often a surgical resolution. Depending on the case, stones can also be dissolved with special food. This is something that your veterinarian will decide, based on their size and if they are able to be passed safely. The sooner we can find and treat these issues, the less risk of secondary complications.
Loss of muscle control
Urination is controlled by sphincters, which are circles of muscle bands that act as valves. These often lose tone as animals age, which is especially common in older, spayed female dogs. The cause of this is mainly hormonal. Instead of posturing to pee, this results in leaked urine, most often on beds while pets sleep. There are several treatments for this, and, like always, early treatment is better. The longer a pet goes with improper control, the easier it is for bacteria to make their way into the bladder. Their urine also tends to pool, which makes them more prone to skin sores.
Any time your pet has a change in urination, you should check in with your veterinarian. Changes in color, frequency, housetraining habits/litter-box habits, and routine of urination are causes for concern and should be addressed.