Urinary Incontinence in Cats and Dogs

Information to help pets with symptoms of urinary incontinence.

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  1. What is Urinary Incontinence in Pets?
  2. What are the symptoms of Urinary 
  3. What Causes Urinary Incontinence in Pets?
  4. Help for Urinary Incontinence

What is Urinary Incontinence in Pets?

Urinary incontinence is involuntary leaking of urine from the dog or cat’s bladder.

What are the symptoms of Urinary Incontinence?

If your pet is suffering from bladder leakage, puddles of urine will appear without your pet being in the normal position for urination. Urine may also leak when your pet jumps or gets up from lying down. Your pet will be unaware of this inappropriate urination.

Urinary incontinence is not a behavioral issue. This type of bladder control problem is different from submissive urination.

Signs associated with bladder control problems in pets can include:

  • Drinking excessively
  • Free-flowing urine or urine that stops and starts
  • Blood in the urine
  • Pain when urinating
  • Dribbling while moving around
  • Leaking when settled in bed
  • Passing a large amount of urine

Contact your vet if you notice the following signs:

  • Blood in the urine or a foul smell, which can signal a urinary tract infection (UTI).
  • Leaking of urine from a cat or dog who doesn’t usually leak urine
  • Urination dramatically decreases or stops—this could be a medical emergency such as a urinary tract blockage, so call your vet right away

What Causes Urinary Incontinence in Cats and Dogs?

Urinary incontinence in pets is most often due to inadequate closure of the urethral sphincter, a circle of muscles that normally contract and stop urine from flowing out of the bladder. It is most common in spayed female dogs, especially large breeds, with up to 20% of dogs in this category developing the condition.

In addition to spayed females, incontinence may also be seen in intact (unspayed) female dogs, male dogs and cats. Bladder control problems may develop following spinal injury due to damage to the bladder nerve supply. Cystitis, bladder stones, tumors of the bladder and arthritis or other chronic pain conditions can also cause leaking urine. Pets with this issue are sometimes described as having a “weak bladder” or overactive bladder.

Pet medications that increase urine production can also cause urinary incontinence. Common medications that increase urine production in pets are prednisone, phenobarbital, spironolactone, furosemide, dexamethasone and triamcinolone.

Spaying and canine incontinence

Canine incontinence can occur in females after spaying (surgery to remove the uterus and ovaries called ovariohysterectomy). After spaying, the levels of estradiol decrease in the dog’s body. The decrease in estradiol causes the tissues of the urogenital system to shrink. This change causes the urethral sphincter to not close as tightly as it would otherwise. The result of this change in pelvic floor muscles is leakage of urine from the bladder and urethra. Research shows the impact of spaying seems to be greater on a young dog than on a middle-aged dog.

Feline incontinence

In cats, there can be many causes for incontinence:

  • Age-related causes, such as chronic pain that affects mobility
  • Senility
  • Injury to the spinal column
  • Birth defects or birth injury
  • Urinary tract deterioration or renal disease
  • Manx syndrome, a spinal column malformation related to nerves and rear-end deformities

Treatment for Urinary Incontinence

Treatment depends on the cause and type of inadvertent urination. If there is an underlying disease, treating that issue may resolve the problem. Inappropriate urination caused by behavioral problems can be corrected with training and behavior modification.

If a specific cause can’t be determined, your vet may prescribe medication that acts on the muscles of the urethral sphincter. Some drugs that are used for this include estrogen, ephedrine and phenylpropanolamine. These medications improve tone in the muscles that hold urine in the bladder. About 90% of patients respond to medication.

When a pet’s bladder control problem is due to low levels of estradiol, hormone supplements such as diethylstilbestrol (DES) may be used for treatment. Side effects are a concern with drug treatment. DES causes marked suppression of bone marrow, and other drugs may affect the heart, cause hypertension and lead to restlessness and anorexia.

There may be some trial and error involved with specific drugs and dosages. Because of potential side effects, low doses are typically tried first.

Remember that each pet is unique. Some need only minimal care, while others may leak urine often and need more hands-on help.

Natural ways to help

By adopting a holistic approach to your pet’s condition, you not only address current symptoms but also confront the root cause of the problem.


  1. “Caring for an Incontinent Cat.” Best Friends. Accessed October 5, 2019. https://resources.bestfriends.org/article/caring-incontinent-cat
  2. “Incontinence in Senior Dogs: What to Do and How to Help.” PetMD. Accessed October 5, 2019. https://www.petmd.com/dog/general-health/incontinence-senior-dogs-what-do-and-how-help
  3. “My Dog is Leaking.” University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne College of Veterinary Medicine. Accessed October 5, 2019. https://vetmed.illinois.edu/pet_column/urinary-incontinence-dogs/
  4. “Urinary Incontinence.” Washington State University. Accessed October 5, 2019. https://www.vetmed.wsu.edu/outreach/Pet-Health-Topics/categories/common-problems/urinary-incontinence
  5. Byron, Julie. “Canine Urinary Incontinence.” American Veterinarian. Accessed October 5, 2019. https://www.americanveterinarian.com/journals/amvet/2018/july2018/canine-urinary-incontinence
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