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Treating Chronic Urinary Tract Infections in Older Dogs

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I enjoy being a mom and also cherish every moment my family still has with our aging Weimaraner, Titan.

Learn how to help your aging dog with recurring UTIs.

Learn how to help your aging dog with recurring UTIs.

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 our dog 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.

Contact Your Veterinarian First!

Review the symptoms of canine UTIs in the sources at the end of this article. If you believe your dog may have a UTI, immediately contact your veterinarian to schedule a diagnostic. You don't want to let this infection linger any longer than necessary!

When Are UTIs Considered Chronic?

UTIs are diagnosed as chronic in dogs if they have three or more episodes in one year or two in a six-month period. So Titan fits the criteria. Chronic UTIs can affect young dogs too, but usually for different reasons.

With older dogs, UTIs 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 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 24 hours 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. E.Coli causes most UTIs in dogs, 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 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 UTIs due to retained urine.

Unfortunately, the veterinarian felt Titan was not a surgical candidate due to his age to have the stones removed. This is due at least in part to the fact that anesthetic death risk increases as much as seven times for dogs older than 12. That’s when we started to discuss chronic antibiotic therapy. Apparently, preventing UTIs by using this particular antibiotic would also decrease any pain caused by the stones.

However, I have my own theory about Titan’s recurrent UTIs. Titan has a progressive central nervous system issue secondary to aging. I think Titan retains urine because he either doesn’t know he has a full bladder or voids only some of his full bladder because he may have lost sensation in this organ. For either cause, chronic antibiotics would be the option in Titan’s case.

Titan, at age 13, enjoying a bone.

Titan, at age 13, enjoying a bone.

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 UTIs. But in the case of chronic infections that are chronically treated with antibiotics, it is inevitable that at some point, the bacteria causing the infection will become resistant. This is usually the only option in older dogs with some obstructive or neurological issues that 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.

Titan at age 10, full of energy and mud!

Titan at age 10, full of energy and mud!

Older dogs are more susceptible to UTIs than younger dogs, with spayed females and non-neutered males most at risk. ( 2019)

Chronic UTIs 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;
  • it's just chronic UTIs 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.

Sources and Further Reading

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

Question: What is the central nervous issue Titan has, and what are the symptoms of this? My dog is having similar symptoms.

Answer: 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.

Question: My dog is 14 yrs old and has drops of blood in his urine as well as an off odour. What can I give him at home?

Answer: In this case, the odour may indicate something metabolic such as diabetes or an infection of the urinary tract. I am not a veterinarian so please get the underlying reason diagnosed as treatment varies depending on the cause. I will keep you and your 14 year old dog in my thoughts and hopefully, we'll hear back from you soon. You can ask your vet at that time about a cranberry regime or probiotics for your senior pooch if the doggy doctor thinks that would be appropriate to start.

© 2013 Yuliss

Share Your Story of a Senior Dog

Yuliss (author) on October 05, 2018:

Marlene, Thanks for sharing your story. My thoughts are with you. You have my support as you navigate the most difficult path in a dog owner's journey. Feel free to reconnect here as needed. Wishing you and your American Staffordshire many carefree moments to remember in this bitter sweet time, as I am sure you are spend most of your time looking for answers and seeking closure. Take care Marlene.

MARLENE on October 04, 2018:

It was as if I wrote the above experience. My 10 year old American Staffordshire is going through the same thing! He has been on antibiotics for 3 months now and most recently we took him off of it and his UTI returned. I’m still looking for answers because he now has other health issues such as hair loss, skin rash/irritation and most recently weakness in his left hind leg. I’m at a loss for words right now and it is effecting me financially. I will do everything I can until there is no solution even if that means keeping him on recurrent antibiotics. I wish you the best in your journey and please continue to share your progress so that others like myself can learn how to help other fur babies out there!

Yuliss (author) on July 16, 2018:

Thanks for sharing your experience. It's wonderful that you have cared for and support your little Maxine so well over the years! Good luck finding any holistic treatments, I'd like to hear back from you if you find a treatment you like. You may have some luck with cranberries, if you haven't already tried that. Check with a professional about adding cranberry to her food or giving cranberry supplementation. Best of luck! And take good care of yourself too while you do so well for Maxine:)

Donna on July 16, 2018:

My 7 year old English Bulldog Maxine was born with Spina Bifida. Poor baby girl has so many issues but the one I am devastated by is her chronic UTI's. We have been to three vets and a million antibiotics and finally found out she has a resistance to every single one except a human one but she cannot tolerate it. So I am waiting for the sign that I dread and that she needs to be put down. Her bacteria issaphlococcus Pseudintermediate. Not sure I spelled it correctly but close enough. I am trying to find something holistic to maybe slow it down due to the fact it has already infected one of her kidneys. I am desparate.

Dorene on July 24, 2014:

Hi my little 4lb, 13 year old ( Vali Girl )

Had blood in her urine. Took her to the Vet and had a number of urinanalysis,blood test and x-rays..

We found out she had a bladder stone and we had it removed. She was on antibiotics after the surgery. For about a month she had no blood in the urine. Than it started again. We took her to the vet again with all the testing also again with antibiotics and antibiotic injection. Now it's brownish/yellow somedays and others small trace of blood. Can someone please help on what I should do ? Please email me at: