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Common diseases in older dogs: Urinary incontinence

small light brown short hair dog standing looking forward

Urinary incontinence—the inability to hold urine in the bladder—is not an uncommon occurrence in older dogs. This is just one more example of how similar humans and dogs are as they age.

There are a number of factors that can lead to urinary incontinence. For some dogs, it only happens occasionally while they are sleeping. The urethral muscles aren't as strong as they used to be, so your dog has a harder time holding urine than he did when he was younger. For female dogs, it can be due to lower estrogen levels. Lower estrogen levels can also lead to a loss of muscle tone in the urethra, which can then result in what is referred to as 'spay incontinence.'

Urinary incontinence can also be a symptom of underlying conditions, like bladder infections and neurologic problems (ex. a disc bulge or rupture). Your dog can also appear to be unable to control his bladder when, in fact, he has an illness—such as such as diabetes and kidney disease—that is significantly increasing the amount of urine his kidneys produce.

Increased urine production can cause inappropriate urination, or urinating in areas where he typically doesn't urinate (ex. in the house). The increased urine results in a need to urinate more frequently and often with increased urgency. So your dog may not be able to 'hold it' through the night or when you are at work during the day. Urinating inappropriately can also be caused by behavioral problems. In any case, you should take your dog to the veterinarian to determine the exact cause.


Depending on the nature of your dog's incontinence, it can often be cured or, at the very least, controlled.

When you take your dog to the veterinarian, he or she may ask you a number of questions to determine the cause of your dog's incontinence. Be prepared to tell your vet:

  • When you first noticed your dog was incontinent.
  • When it usually occurs. For example, does it happens while your dog is asleep or awake and active?
  • If your dog is dribbling as he walks or where he sits or sleeps, or does he posture and urinate?
  • If his urine has an unusual color or odor.
  • If you've noticed that your dog has difficulty urinating.
  • If your dog has been drinking more water than usual.
  • If your dog has any other unusual symptoms.

Should your vet rule out any underlying disease or illness as being the cause of your dog's incontinence, he or she may decide to put your dog on medication. Many incontinence drugs that are given will help improve the tone of the muscles that hold urine in the bladder. Your vet will tell you which of these are most appropriate for your dog.

The most important thing is that you don't reprimand your dog when he has an accident due to incontinence. He certainly isn't doing it to spite you. And believe it or not, it's just as upsetting to your dog as it is to you.

  • When Should You Switch Your Senior Dog to Soft Food?

    smiling lab sitting in front of brick wall

    As your dog ages, you’ll likely notice changes in your best pal’s energy levels, routine and even muzzle. Older pets may require adjustments to help them get around, exercise and live their best life as a senior. One important aspect of caring for a dog entering their golden years is diet.

    When it comes to diet, every dog has unique, individual needs, regardless of age. So, there's no one easy answer to the question of soft food versus hard food. Both types of food can provide your dog with the nutrition they need — as long as you feed your dog a high-quality dog food that’s nutritionally balanced and complete.

    two dogs eating from two bowls

    Signs Your Senior Dog May Benefit from Wet Food

    If your dog has very specific health concerns, such as aging joints or weight issues, consult with your vet for more information about what type of food best addresses your dog's needs. That being said, there are a few reasons why you may consider switching your senior dog to soft food.

    fluffy brown dog yawning showing teeth

    Teeth Sensitivity

    As your dog gets older, their teeth may become more sensitive, which can make chewing kibble more difficult and even uncomfortable. Switching to a soft food can help to alleviate your pet’s oral discomfort when eating.

    However, if your dog is experiencing serious pain at mealtime from a condition like tooth decay or gingivitis, switching to soft food won't remedy the problem. Make sure you talk to your vet about oral care and dental treatment.

    Digestion Aid

    Digestion begins in the mouth with saliva, so if your dog has a tendency to scarf down meals, they may not be adequately chewing the food or adding enough saliva to it. Soft food can aid with digestion because it's more easily chewed.

    Hydration Help

    It’s no surprise that wet food has a higher moisture content when compared to dry kibble. If your senior pup is prone to urinary-tract issues or simply needs a little help staying hydrated, canned dog food may be a good choice.

    girl kissing older dog on the head

    Slower Metabolism

    Aging dogs tend to have a slower metabolic rate compared to their younger years, which puts them at a higher risk of becoming overweight or obese. Many nutritionally balanced wet dog foods offer high protein content with fewer carbs than dry food, which can benefit older dogs with slower metabolism. Always talk to your vet if you have concerns about your pup’s weight.

    Picky Eaters

    While wet food may be less than appetizing to humans, the opposite is true for dogs! If your aging best friend has started turning their snout up to dry food, wet food tends to be more appealing to picky eaters. Mixing wet food and kibble offers your pup a variety of flavors and textures; try adding wet food as a topper on dry food for a real treat!

    Whether you choose dry food, soft food  or a mix of both, ask your vet before making any transition. And when it's time to switch your dog's food, remember to do it slowly — even if it's the same brand and flavor — to help prevent stomach upset and allow your dog time to adjust.

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