Cystitis and urinary tract infections (UTI’s) in canines are no less uncomfortable for dogs than for humans, and as with humans, infections require prompt treatment. If you have not ever had the unpleasant experience of such an infection, one of the initial symptoms is a burning sensation during urination. Left untreated, the infection can spread into the remainder of the urinary tract, the bladder and even the kidneys, producing additional pain and potentially worse problems. Cystitis is caused by bacteria; as the bacteria multiply, the symptoms become more pronounced.
Unlike humans, dogs do not have the capacity to say “Yow! My privates burn when I go potty!” Often, dog owners first realize there is a problem when the dog whines in discomfort, starts to urinate but stops suddenly, and tries to urinate frequently with very little output. Sometimes this affects the dog’s “housebroken” status; the dog goes outside, may try to urinate, stops when the pain starts, and then comes back in, with the bladder still nearly full. If the dog then drinks more water, it is quite possible the dog will not make it outside in time – especially if the owner’s initial response is “What? You just came in from outside! I’m not getting up every ten minutes to let you go in or out. You can wait until the next commercial.”
Sooner or later, however, the owner realizes something is wrong, glances down as the dog is urinating, and notices that the urine seems abnormally dark. This darkening effect of the urine is a result of the bacteria and/or the blood in the urine. As cystitis generally begins towards the exit point of the urine and works its way further up the urinary system, into the bladder and then the kidneys, the amount of blood often reflects the severity of the infection. The darker the urine is, the worse the infection is.
Female dogs are more likely to be affected by cystitis than male dogs, which is unfortunate – female dogs instinctively squat when urinating, making it more difficult for the owner to see the urine stream. The causes of cystitis vary, just as it does in humans. Possible causes of cystitis include a variety of bladder and kidney diseases; bladder and kidney stones; Cushings’ disease; adverse effects of some medications; and withholding or backing up of urine, such as might be caused when the urethra is too narrow or when a dog has neurological problems affecting the urinary process. Dogs with compromised immune systems, as well as those on certain types of antibiotics, are at a greater risk to develop cystitis.
If you suspect your dog has, or is developing, a cystitis infection, it is important to contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. Your veterinarian will be able to examine your dog to determine if a cystitis infection is present. Some veterinarians may ask you to try to collect an untouched sample of your dog’s urine by catching it in a sterile plastic cup as the dog squats. This can be difficult to achieve, as some dogs will immediately stop urinating as soon as you try to place the cup to catch the urine. Other veterinarians may opt to collect a clean urine sample by other means, such as by catheterization or by cystocentesis. As with any medical procedure, there are always some risks involved, so be sure to ask your veterinarian about his or her preferred collection method.
With a clean urine sample, your veterinarian (or the lab your veterinarian’s office uses) may “culture” the sample, in an effort to determine which particular bacterial strain is causing the cystitis. Knowing the particular strain will allow your veterinarian to choose the most appropriate antibiotic. It is absolutely critical to follow the veterinarian’s prescribed dosing regimen and to complete the entire prescription.
Often, the most obvious symptoms will be alleviated relatively quickly during the early phase of a course of antibiotics, but some of the bacteria remain. Stopping the antibiotics before scheduled will allow the remaining bacteria to multiply again, causing another round of cystitis. It is also helpful to ensure that your dog always has easy access to plenty of clean, fresh water, to encourage the dog in urinating. Take your dog out often, so that bacteria in the urinary system are flushed out more frequently.