Can You Diagnose Your Dog’s UTI at Home? The Answer May Surprise You.

What is a UTI in dogs?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection in any part of the urinary system, including the kidneys, ureters, bladder or urethra. It is caused by bacteria, most commonly E. coli, that enters the urinary tract and multiplies in the bladder (source).

Common symptoms of a UTI in dogs include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Straining or pain when urinating
  • Small amounts of urine
  • Cloudy, bloody or foul-smelling urine
  • Licking around the urinary opening

If left untreated, UTIs can spread to the kidneys and cause more serious conditions like kidney infections or kidney failure. It’s important to get prompt veterinary treatment for a suspected UTI (source).

a dog receiving affection from its owner.

When to suspect a UTI

There are several signs that may indicate your dog has a UTI. The most common symptoms are changes in urinary habits. This includes urinating more frequently, only passing small amounts of urine, and having accidents in the house even though they are house-trained. Your dog may also show signs of straining to urinate, even though little comes out when they try. You may notice blood in their urine, which could appear red, pink or brownish. Excessive licking of the genital area is another potential sign of a UTI. If your dog shows any of these symptoms, it’s a good idea to call your vet to have them checked for a possible UTI.


Diagnosing a UTI

If a urinary tract infection is suspected, the vet will start by performing a urinalysis to check for signs of infection. This involves collecting a urine sample and examining it under a microscope. The vet will look for an increased number of white blood cells, bacteria, and crystals, which can indicate inflammation or infection (VCA Animal Hospitals).

Another common diagnostic test is a urine culture, which identifies the specific bacteria causing the infection and the medication that will be most effective. The urine sample is incubated to allow any bacteria present to multiply. This helps identify even small numbers of bacteria that cause UTIs (VCA Animal Hospitals).

In some cases, the vet may also take radiographs (x-rays) of the abdomen and bladder. This allows them to check for bladder stones, tumors, or anatomical abnormalities that could be contributing to the UTI.

At-home urine tests

Pet owners can purchase over-the-counter urine test strips to screen for signs of a UTI at home. These test strips check for indicators like blood, protein, and leukocytes (white blood cells) in the urine, which may signal an infection.

One study evaluated the accuracy of two common at-home urine test strip brands in dogs and found they had approximately 90% sensitivity and specificity for detecting increased protein levels indicative of a UTI [1]. However, the strips may be less accurate at identifying other abnormalities associated with UTIs.

Limitations of at-home urine test strips include the potential for false positives and negatives. The strips provide limited information compared to a urinalysis at the vet’s office. They may miss a UTI if used incorrectly or if the urine sample is dilute. OTC test strips should not be used as a definitive diagnostic tool.

To collect a urine sample at home, it’s ideal to use a clean, dry container and collect the dog’s first morning urine before a walk. The sample should be tested with strips within 2 hours before the urine is altered. Carefully follow the test strip instructions.

a person using a urine test strip to check a dog's urine sample.

While home urine test strips can provide clues, they do not replace a veterinary urinalysis. Any positive test results should be followed up by promptly taking the dog to the vet for diagnosis and treatment.

Treating a UTI

Antibiotics are the usual treatment for UTIs in dogs. A vet will often prescribe an antibiotic that should be effective against most common bacteria to provide quick relief (source). Some common antibiotics used are amoxicillin, cephalexin, enrofloxacin, or trimethoprim-sulfa. The antibiotic course is usually 2-4 weeks. It’s important to finish the entire course as prescribed, even if symptoms improve, to prevent recurrence.

Along with antibiotics, vets often recommend supportive care to help soothe the bladder and urethra. This can include prescribing urinary acidifiers, antispasmodics, or anti-inflammatories (source). Encouraging the dog to drink more water helps flush bacteria from the urinary tract. Vets may recommend prescription urinary foods that are formulated to promote urinary health.

Some home remedies like unsweetened cranberry juice, vitamin C, probiotics, or herbs may help, but should not replace antibiotics prescribed by a vet. Only give home remedies under a vet’s supervision and ensure they do not interact with other medications. While some dog owners use homeopathic or natural remedies, there is limited evidence that these are effective treatments for UTIs on their own.

When to see a vet

If your dog’s UTI symptoms don’t improve within 1-2 days of home treatment, it’s important to see a vet. Lingering UTIs can lead to more serious kidney and bladder infections if left untreated.

Veterinarians can perform a urinalysis and urine culture to confirm the UTI diagnosis and identify the type of bacteria causing the infection. This allows them to prescribe the most effective antibiotic to target the specific bacteria.

Home remedies and over-the-counter UTI medications may provide some relief, but prescription antibiotics are necessary to fully clear up most UTIs. Only vets can prescribe the necessary antibiotics to cure the infection. Delaying vet care risks the infection worsening and spreading.

See a vet promptly if your dog strains to urinate, has bloody urine, cries out when urinating, loses control of bladder function, vomits, or shows lethargy. These signs can indicate advanced UTIs or other serious conditions requiring urgent veterinary attention.

Preventing UTIs

There are several ways to help prevent UTIs in dogs:

Increase water intake – Giving your dog more water, especially filtered or bottled water, can help flush bacteria from the urinary tract. Provide fresh, clean water daily and encourage your dog to drink more.

Urinate frequently – Take your dog out to urinate more often, at least 3-5 times per day. Holding urine allows bacteria to multiply in the bladder. Frequent urination flushes bacteria out.

Proper hygiene – Keep the genital area clean, wiping with a damp cloth after urination or defecation. Regular grooming and bathing, especially around the urinary opening, helps prevent bacteria buildup. [1]

Diet and supplements

Certain dietary supplements may help prevent UTIs in dogs. Two of the most commonly recommended are cranberry extract and vitamin C.

Cranberry extract contains proanthocyanidins that can prevent bacteria like E. coli from adhering to the lining of the bladder and urinary tract. Giving your dog cranberry extract supplements may reduce their risk of developing a UTI. Follow dosage recommendations on the product label or as directed by your veterinarian.

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is an antioxidant that can increase urine acidity, making the bladder environment less hospitable for bacteria. Talk to your vet about an appropriate vitamin C dosage for your dog. Too much can cause loose stool or gastrointestinal upset. Vitamin C supplements specifically formulated for dogs are available.

While cranberry and vitamin C may help, there is no substitute for veterinary oversight and prescribed medications if your dog has a UTI. Consult with your vet before giving any supplement. Make sure to finish the full course of any prescribed antibiotics as well.

Lifestyle changes

Making some changes to your dog’s lifestyle can help prevent UTIs from recurring. One important aspect is to avoid stress. Stress can negatively impact the immune system, making dogs more prone to infections. Minimize major changes to your dog’s routine and make sure they have a comfortable, low-stress environment.

a dog drinking fresh water from a bowl.

Moderate exercise is also recommended. Too little activity can cause bladder muscles to weaken and urine to pool. But overexertion and highly vigorous exercise may strain the urinary tract. Aim for relaxed leash walks and free playtime in a fenced area. Swimming is another good low-impact activity when supervised.

Ensuring adequate hydration is crucial as well. Make fresh water constantly available. Consider adding some low-sodium broth or ice cubes to encourage drinking. Limit water intake 2-3 hours before bedtime to avoid accidents overnight.

Good hygiene around the urethral opening helps prevent bacteria from entering the urinary tract. Gently wipe the area after urination or bowel movements using unscented baby wipes. Keep the hindquarters trimmed of any hair that may retain moisture or debris.

In addition, create a predictable schedule for potty breaks every 4-6 hours to completely empty the bladder each time. Consider disposable dog diapers or belly bands if your dog tends to dribble urine.

When to see a specialist

In some cases, a recurring or hard-to-treat UTI may require referral to a veterinary specialist. According to Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, seeing a specialist is recommended for dogs with recurring infections, kidney or bladder stones, anatomical defects, or other complicating conditions.

Recurring UTIs in dogs, defined as more than two infections in six months or three infections in one year, warrant further investigation. There are often underlying causes for repeat infections, such as bladder stones, anatomical abnormalities, or hormonal disorders. A specialist can perform additional diagnostic testing like cystoscopy or contrast radiography to identify any predisposing factors.

a veterinarian performing an ultrasound scan on a dog to check its bladder.

Bladder stones or kidney stones increase the risk of UTIs in dogs. Specialists can analyze the chemical composition of the stones to determine the optimal diet and prevention plan. They may recommend surgery to remove bladder stones if needed.

Other conditions like prostate disease, bladder cancer, diabetes, or nerve problems can also contribute to recurrent UTIs. A specialist can provide a more thorough evaluation to diagnose and manage any underlying disease processes.

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