Treating Chronic Urinary Tract Infections in Older Dogs
Urinary Tract Infections in Dogs
The first time your dog gets a urinary tract infection, it can really be scary for the owner. The symptoms may occur suddenly and progress quickly.
We first noticed Titan had increased urinary frequency and urgency, to the point that he was severely incontinent of urine when he was totally continent the day before. As we tried to get our heads around why he was so suddenly incontinent, we quickly noticed other troubling symptoms. After a few urgent urinations, the urine started to have a remarkable odor, and once you smell it, you can never forget that pungent odor of bacterial overgrowth in the urine.
Only a couple of hours after the urine started to smell, it also started to look red, and blood-tinged. At the time, with Titan’s advanced age and increasing health issues, we assumed it would be all the worst things. A urinary tract infection, or UTI as it is referred to medically, was the least of our worries, and easily treatable . . . or so we thought.
When Are UTI's Considered Chronic?
UTI’s are diagnosed as chronic in dogs if they have two or more in a month. So Titan fits the criteria. Chronic UTI’s can affect young dogs too, but usually for different reasons. With older dogs, UTI’s are more common in spayed female dogs and regardless of gender, are usually related to secondary symptoms of a primary health issue such as diabetes, kidney disease, weakened immunity, obstructive processes in the urinary system, and central nervous issues.
Diagnosis and Treatment
We were relieved at the diagnosis of this seemly mild health issue. We were even more relieved when after twenty-four hours of treatment we started to see great improvement. Titan was continent again, his urine did not smell, and it was amber yellow, not red. So we kept up with the two-week course of antibiotics as our veterinarian had ordered.
However, only days after finishing the two weeks of antibiotics, Titan started to develop the symptoms again, just as he did the first time. It was a very sudden and quick progression. I called the veterinarian and let him know what we were observing. He asked us to wait for a 24-hour period so that the antibiotics were cleared completely from his system, and then we proceeded with a urine culture and sensitivity test. A culture and sensitivity test is when the veterinarian collects absolutely sterile urine from the dog and sends it to a lab. The results tell the vet what bacteria is causing the infection and what antibiotics will be effective. Most UTI’s in dogs are caused by E.Coli, and so was Titan’s. The antibiotics he was on were shown to be effective. Even though he had minimal levels of bacteria in the culture, the veterinarian felt that we should do another two-week course of antibiotics because he was symptomatic. So we did.
At this point, Titan was better for up to almost two weeks before he started getting symptoms a third time. Once again, we saw the vet. The veterinarian now thinks that Titan may have kidney stones that are obstructing his urinary system and preventing him from voiding fully, and therefore, getting repeat UTI’s due to retained urine. Unfortunately, the veterinarian felt Titan is not a surgical candidate due to his age to have the stones removed. That’s when we started to discuss chronic antibiotic therapy. Apparently, preventing the UTI’s by using this particular antibiotic would also decrease any pain caused by the stones.
However, I have my own theory about Titan’s recurrent UTI’s. Titan has a progressive central nervous system issue secondary to aging. I think Titan retains urine because he doesn’t know he has a full bladder, or voids only some of the full void because he may have lost sensation in his bladder. For either cause, chronic antibiotics would be the option in Titan’s case.
Titan passed away August 2014
Are UTI's Common in Aging Dogs?
Has Your Senior Dog Had a UTI?
Chronic Antibiotic Use
We have all heard the lecture on how taking antibiotics improperly leads to antibiotic resistance; the same is true for dogs when treating UTI’s. But in the case of a chronic infection that chronic antibiotics are being used for, it is inevitable that at some point, the bacteria causing the infection will become resistant. This is usually the only option in older dogs who have some obstructive issue or a neurological issue who are not fit for surgery due to advanced age and co-morbidities. In cases where the dog’s quality of life is still good, daily antibiotics will prevent infection and even decrease discomfort. The veterinarian can provide you with options and provide their professional opinion regarding your dog’s individual circumstances.
Older dogs are more susceptible to UTI's than younger dogs, with spayed females and non-neutered males most at risk. (Pedegree.com 2019)
Chronic UTI's in Senior Dogs
- Can be suddenly symptomatic and progress rapidly.
- Usually occurs because of underlying health issues; diabetes, weakened immunity, obstructive processes due to aging, or central nervous issues due to aging.
- Treatment options may be limited due to advanced age.
Adding Up the "It's Just . . . "
For Titan, we chose to trail him on chronic antibiotic therapy to see if we could achieve symptom management. Evaluation would include increased urinary continence, and visible relief from discomfort. At this point it seems to be working as Titan is able to hold his urine well until he gets outside, and he no longer is restless in the house or frequently licking himself.
However, the overall bigger picture remains. Too many instances of it's just . . . it’s just congestive heart failure, treated with medication, it’s just severe hip and hind leg weakness, treated with weekly swimming, now it’s just chronic UTI’s being treated with chronic antibiotics.
Every situation is different and changes fluctuate daily. There are many fancy charts designed to help owners score their dog’s quality of life, but when it comes down to it, they are not that effective because there are too many individual variations of each dog’s circumstance.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
What is the central nervous issue Titan has, and what are the symptoms of this? My dog is having similar symptoms.
Titan had a “bilateral proprioceptive stall”. It is it a progressive illness acquired usually from aging. It affects the nerve innervation to the spine and the dog will get a weak gait in the back legs, that worsens over time. As the illness progresses the dog becomes incontinent, first of stool than eventually urine also. The dog remains oriented, and acts normal, just has physical challenges. Although the gait issues look terrible because of hind leg weakness, it is not usually painful for the dog.Helpful 8
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