To pee or not to pee: recognizing and treating urinary disorders

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Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher

You know that feeling when you wake up in the middle of the night snuggled in your blankets and you have to pee? You know getting out of your blanket cocoon and putting your bare feet on the floor isn’t going to be pretty. You weigh the pros and cons and come to a decision. Imagine our dogs, who need to go outdoors to pee, walk on the snow (or through the snow) and freeze. Every bathroom trip for them is like going to an outhouse. Which leads me to the topic of the week — urine, and what can affect it.

Urine should have a specific pH, concentration, and levels of things like glucose and protein. Changes in these parameters can be either the cause or symptom of a urinary tract infection. An ideal bladder environment has a balanced pH level. Increasing or decreasing the acidity of urine can change the ability of bacteria to multiply. A normal drinking and urinating schedule help keep the pH and concentration of the urine where it should be.

Many UTIs are uncomplicated and will resolve with a simple course of antibiotics, while others require a specific identification of the type of bacteria or resolution of the underlying cause.

Some pets are more likely to get UTIs than others. Conformation of body parts, age, hydration level, diabetes and cleanliness all affect this. When dogs don’t want to go outside to pee they often hold their urine too long, drink less and develop infections. Luckily, most of these things can be remedied with simple intervention.

Urethral sphincter weakness

This is a fancy way of saying that the muscle that contracts to hold urine in becomes weaker and doesn’t work as well. Dogs that have developed urethral weakness are prone to leaking urine, which means that bacteria can move into the bladder from the outside more easily since the “guard wall” isn’t strong. This can happen in older dogs, especially females. A sign of this may be that when your dog gets up from sleeping, there is a urine spot left behind. Often they will not realize this happened and be completely asleep during the process. There are medications that can help improve this and your veterinarian can help you assess this.


Some pets are also predisposed to forming crystals in their urine. This is common for both cats and dogs (and even horses). Some crystals are breed-specific, some form in the face of an infection, and some form due to metabolism and diet. Pets that form crystals or stones can be maintained on special prescription foods. Crystals act almost like sand inside the bladder. They irritate the bladder wall which causes inflammation, blood in the urine, and acts to break down the barrier helping to protect against infection. Crystals eventually form into stones, which are uncomfortable and require surgery to remove once they get big enough. Even small amounts of crystals from an infection can lead to blockage and big issues, especially in male cats.


Overweight cats, especially, have difficulty grooming themselves adequately. This leads to infections that enter the urinary tract and creates infection. Overweight female dogs get a flap of skin that hangs over their vulva and traps bacteria. Both of these can be remedied with weight loss.


Like it or (usually) not, many dogs don’t love going out to pee when it is very cold. Some dogs like paths shoveled for them, and some adjust their timing. Often if you have a dog who wants to hold their urine, you must go out into the cold with them. Usually, after they realize that the sooner they pee, the sooner they get to go inside, they will speed up the routine.


When glucose in the blood gets too high, it spills over into the urine. Glucose in the urine makes it especially prone to developing infections, as it creates a warm sugar solution perfect for growing bacteria. Once diabetes is controlled, these signs should resolve.


Most of the symptoms that owners see are more drinking and peeing. You may notice that you are cleaning the litter box more often, or there is more urine than usual. Your house-trained dog may have an accident inside or ask to go outside at odd times of the day. Sometimes you realize that you are filling the water bowl more often, or see your pet drinking out of odd places. Straining or crying in the litter box, blood in urine, or dogs urinating small amounts frequently are all things that warrant a trip to your vet soon. As always, changes in your pet’s routine usually indicate a problem. Pay attention to and notify your veterinarian about these changes; we may be able to fix a problem before it leads to urine on your pillow or couch.

Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher

Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher is a veterinarian at All Points Animal Care in Rutland. Have a question on this or any animal health topic? E-MAIL:

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