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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.

  • The Serious Benefits of Play

    dog carrying a frisbee in its mouth

    Playing and having fun helps to eliminate stress from your life—and the same holds true for your dog. In fact, incorporating various forms of play into your dog's daily routine is vital to helping him develop a healthy, loving personality.

    The benefits of play

    Here are some of the ways that playing and having fun is important:

    • Physical health. Active play helps keep your dog's heart healthy, keeps the joints lubricated, and improves his overall balance and coordination.
    • Mental health. Games with rules force your dog to use his brain, not just his body. This can help keep his mind sharp and focused.
    • Social skills. When your dog plays with other dogs and other people, it helps improve his overall social skills. He learns basic rules and how to play by them.
    • Bonding. Even if it's only for a few minutes a day, playing with your dog helps strengthen the bond between you.
    • Your health. What better way to alleviate the stress of a busy workday and get a bit of exercise than to come home and play with your dog? It's a win-win for both of you.

    How to play with your dog

    There are right ways—and wrong ways—to play. The most important thing to remember is that you're the boss. You decide what games should be played and you set the rules. This helps establish your credibility as the pack leader. It also helps keep your dog from getting overly excited and out of control while you play. If your dog does become difficult to manage, simply put a stop to the game until he calms down again.

    When you're teaching your dog a new game, reward him when he does well. Remember, rewards don't have to be just treats. You can also reward him with his favorite toys or lots of hugs and praise.

    When you start out teaching your dog a new game, keep it simple and go through the game slowly, until your dog fully grasps the rules. Also, wait until he fully understands one game before you teach him a new one, otherwise it will end up confusing him.

    Playtime tips

    • Avoid games like keep away, wrestling, or tug-of-war. Those games encourage biting or dominant, aggressive behavior.
    • Stay in control of the game at all times. Show your dog that you're the pack leader, not just another member of the pack. Retrieval games are good at teaching control.
    • Don't include your body or clothing as part of any game.
    • Incorporate the SIT or DOWN and STAY commands in every game.
    • You decide when it's time to end the game, not your dog. The best time to stop the game is when your dog is still eager to play.
    • If, for some reason, your dog doesn't seem to understand the game at some point, go back to the beginning, or simply leave it and try again a few days later. Don't get angry if you're dog isn't "getting it" right away. Remember it's supposed to be a fun experience for both of you!

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