Q: My 10-year-old Westie has begun to urinate in the house. He has been house-trained for his entire life, so why would he all of a sudden do this?
A: Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon problem for many dog and cat owners to experience. I (Perry Jameson) have had pets for most of my life, and this is an issue I, too, have had to deal with.
The first thing to eliminate is a behavioral issue. Animals use urine to mark territory and can occasionally have an urge to do this inside of our homes. This is an uncommon problem to develop in a neutered male dog and rare in female. So if your dog is neutered, this is unlikely to be the cause.
There is more likely a medical condition resulting in your dog starting to urinate inside. This will occur from either more urine being produced than is normal or an increased urge to urinate.
If your dog is making more urine than normal, he will have to go more frequently. This will often start with them waking you up at night to go out when they used to be able to make it until the morning. You may come home from work to find wet spots. These puddles of urine will be large where the entire bladder was emptied in one spot. When an increased volume is the problem they will stand normally while urinating but take longer due to the increased volume. They should not be uncomfortable when urinating.
Dogs with an increased urge to urinate may also start waking you up at night and urinating during the day when historically they would not. When there is an increased urge to urinate, you may wake up or come home to find many small puddles of urine instead of one or two large ones. When observed urinating, rather than squatting normally and emptying their bladder, they will often have multiple short attempts to urinate. Small to no urine may be produced during the attempts and repeated straining is common. You are more likely to observe blood in the urine with these problems as well.
Diabetes mellitus, renal failure, elevated blood calcium levels and hormonal diseases are some of the more common conditions that will cause dogs to produce more urine than is normal. The kidneys are designed to retain water when urine is produced so we do not dehydrate. We have all been somewhere with nothing to drink all day and not had to urinate or, if we do, the urine is dark in color. These conditions prevent the kidneys from concentrating urine even when the dog is dehydrated.
An increased urge to urinate will result from issues of the urinary bladder, urethra and, in males, the prostate. These conditions will make your dog feel as if he has to go even if his bladder is empty. This is why he may strain with little to no urine being produced and try hourly throughout the day. Urinary tract infections, stones and tumors are the most common causes in dogs.
The first step to figuring out why your dog is urinating inside is to identify which behaviors he most matches. The next step is to check urine. If dilute, it is more likely a production issue. If concentrated normally, then it is probably an urgency issue. The urinalysis will often identify signs of infection or inflammation, which may help determine the cause.
When an increased volume of urine is identified, we next run blood tests looking for the underlying cause. Diabetes mellitus and hormonal diseases can often be controlled and the urinating decreased. When renal failure is the cause, it is hard to stop.
When urgency is suspected I often will culture the urine looking for a bacterial infection. The next step is radiographs and/or ultrasound looking for stones and tumors.
Dogs can develop tumors of the urinary bladder and, unfortunately, Westies are a breed we see these in more frequently than others. They also usually occur in a bad location, right where the urethra (which lets the bladder empty) and ureters (which take urine from the kidney to the bladder) attach. This makes surgery difficult, and sometimes impossible. If diagnosed, there is a medical therapy that will often improve the urgency for a while. Some dogs will respond to chemotherapy. Neither is a cure, however they will often improve your dog’s quality life if this is his problem.
Inappropriate urination is a frustrating problem for both you and your pet. Many times the situation can be reversed if we know the cause.
Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.