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wetting the bed: common causes of urinary incontinence

  • Dr. Kim
  • Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on
    Staff Veterinarian and Pet Health Writer of Petplan

Urinary accidents can occur from time to time, in even in the most well trained dog. But if you notice that your dog’s bed is damp more than it’s dry, urinary incontinence may be to blame.

When considering canine urinary incontinence, it’s important to differentiate it from a break in house training. If your pet is posturing, or getting into the stance for urination, she is not exhibiting incontinence. Urinary incontinence generally occurs unbeknownst to your dog, usually while she is relaxing or sleeping. 


If your young dog is waking up in a puddle, a condition called ectopic ureters may be to blame. Ureters are the structures that carry urine from the kidney to the bladder, and normal ureters enter the bladder well behind the sphincters that work to hold urine in the bladder. Ectopic ureters enter the bladder in front of the sphincters so that urine cannot be held in the bladder – it constantly flows instead. This is a congenital condition that will be noticeable in puppies, and may require surgical correction which can be greatly aided by a pet insurance policy that covers hereditary and congenital conditions, such as Petplan.


The most common form of urinary incontinence is called hormone responsive incontinence. Also known as “urethral sphincter mechanism incompetence,” this type of incontinence occurs in approximately 10% to 20% of spayed female dogs and the occasional male dog, as well as cats of both sexes. Decreased urethral tone, aging and abnormal positioning of the bladder or urethra can all contribute to hormone responsive incontinence.


Adult female, spayed dogs that present for incontinence are generally presumed to have hormone responsive incontinence. But it is important to rule out illness before a definitive diagnosis is made. A complete urinalysis and urine culture should be performed to make sure a urinary tract infection is not present. Pets that leak urine are prone to urinary tract infections. In addition, full blood work will rule out metabolic diseases that could contribute to incontinence. 


Treating hormone responsive incontinence can be relatively easy. Many cases will resolve with oral medications. Phenylpropanolamine (PPA) increases urethral tone and comes in a palatable beefy tablet. The downside of this medication is that it needs to be given at least two (but preferably three) times a day. Another option for oral medication is estrogen tablets, which are given one to three times a week instead. Both medications have potential side effects, so talk to your veterinarian about which option is best for your pet.

More severe cases may need to be addressed surgically if medical management is unsuccessful. If your female dog has sprung a leak, she may be one of the 10 to 20% percent to experience hormone responsive incontinence. Talk to your veterinarian about the options for your pet.

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Posted by Cali Trofimchuck
on September 27 2016 08:15

our 2 year spayed female English mastiff is having this issue but it only happens when she is sleeping and we couldn't figure out why.

Posted by Rachael Stollar
on December 05 2012 13:11

My boxer mix suffers from this condition which occured almost immediately after she was spayed. Some vets speculate that its from an early spay and that owner's should wait until the first heat cycle to have the procedure. I had no idea that this problem was common or even possible and it was pretty devastating. We are treating her now with Proin twice daily and things are under control for now. I wish that she could eventually be off the meds though :(

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