The urinary tract includes the kidneys, ureters (carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder), bladder, and urethra (carries urine from the bladder). Bacteria, such as E. coli, can travel up through the urethra, colonize in the bladder, and cause a urinary tract infection (UTI). Bacterial UTIs affect approximately 14% of dogs over their lifetime and are a very common canine disease.

Female dogs are prone to UTIs because their anatomy makes it easier for bacteria to travel up through the urethra. Dogs with diabetes mellitus are also susceptible to UTIs because diabetes reduces immune system function. In addition, dogs with bladder stones can experience recurrent UTIs.

Untreated UTIs can cause serious health consequences. For example, bacteria traveling up through the urinary tract can reach the kidneys, reducing the kidneys’ ability to filter out toxins from the blood; this can be life-threatening. Also, untreated UTIs can cause prostate problems in male dogs.

This article will describe UTI symptoms and how UTIs are diagnosed, treated, and prevented.

Symptoms
Classic UTI symptoms are as follows:
• Dripping urine
• Blood in the urine
• Straining to urinate
• Lapses in housetraining
• Frequently licking the genitals
• Pain and crying out during urination
• Frequently urinating small amounts

Notably, many dogs with UTIs don’t show any signs of the disease.

Diagnosis
Diagnosing a UTI requires analyzing the urine. Urinalysis results that indicate a possible UTI include the presence of blood or white blood cells. For dogs without symptoms, a UTI is diagnosed during a routine urinalysis as part of a wellness checkup.

If you think your dog has a UTI, consider using a home-testing urinalysis kit. This kit can provide useful information for your veterinarian, who would then perform a more detailed analysis. If you don’t feel comfortable doing a home test, your veterinarian can collect and analyze a urine sample.

Urinalysis results suggesting a UTI warrant a urine culture/sensitivity (C/S) test. A C/S test takes a few days and identifies which bacteria are present and which antibiotics will be most effective.

Treatment
To provide immediate relief, a veterinarian may begin treating a UTI empirically, meaning they will prescribe an antibiotic effective against bacteria commonly found in UTIs. Once the C/S results are in, the veterinarian may change antibiotics to ensure optimal treatment.

Treatment duration will depend on factors like disease severity and recurrence. The presence of bladder stones requires additional treatment, such as surgical removal or dissolution via diet. A urine culture is performed at the end of treatment to see if any bacteria are left.

If your dog has a UTI, follow treatment instructions carefully. Administer the entire course of antibiotics, even if your dog starts improving. Stopping treatment early might leave bacteria in the bladder and increase the risk of antibiotic resistance.

Prevention
Access to plenty of fresh water is the most important prevention tip. This will help prevent bacteria and stones from staying in the urinary tract and causing infections. Other prevention tips, such as supplementing your dog’s diet with cranberry concentrate or probiotics, can be discussed with your veterinarian.

UTIs can be very uncomfortable and painful for dogs. The sooner you recognize urinary problems in your dog, the sooner you can get your dog the treatment they need to feel better.