Q: I have a 7 year old female, half Rottweiler half German Sheppard. For the last week, she has been leaking urine when lying down. What can I do? Is this a bladder infection?
A: Most likely this is a case of urinary incontinence, which is fairly common in middle-aged to older female dogs. A urinary tract infection should be considered a possibility as well. Ideally, you should take your dog to your veterinarian so a sterile urine sample can be collected. The usual method for sterile urine collection is cystocentesis, where a needle is guided into the bladder and a sample is collected. This prevents in the introduction of bacteria to the sample. Even though this procedure sounds invasive and painful, most dogs don’t even notice.
If a urinary tract infection is ruled out with a urinalysis, you can probably assume it is incontinence due to a leaking urinary sphincter. As female dogs age, their estrogen levels decrease which can often resulting in a loss of muscle tone. The urinary sphincter is a ring of muscle around the urethral opening that controls urination and as it weakens due to decreases in estrogen, it can result in urinary leakage. Most often this leakage is seen after a dog has been laying down or sleeping.
Fortunately, there is a good treatment available. Phenylpropanolamine is very effective in restoring urethral sphincter tone and limiting or eliminating incontinence. It is available by prescription only (brand name PROIN) from your veterinarian. Until about 7-8 years ago, it was available as part of an over-the-counter diet pill known as Dexatrim, which was pulled from the market because it caused heart problems in humans. In dogs, it has shown to be fairly safe. If the phenylpropanolamine doesn’t work, talk to your veterinarian about other possible treatments, or further diagnostic tests such as an X-Rays or an ultrasound. Other possibilities could include a bladder stone or bladder tumor, although both are much less likely.