Urinary tract infections (UTIs) in dogs are fairly common. But that doesn’t mean they should be ignored. Without targeted care, UTIs can get worse and cause damage to the kidneys, bladder, and urinary system.
Unfortunately, the treatment for UTIs offered at the vet rarely goes far enough to address the root of the problem. This means that the infections will continue to recur and cause inflammation and damage to tissues in the urinary tract.
If your dog is experiencing their first UTI or if they continue to get repeat infections, it’s time for you to understand what really causes urinary tract infections and how to treat them by supporting whole-body health.
Below, we'll look at 5 simple and effective home remedies for canine UTIs, as well as some important steps you can take to prevent your dog from suffering from this condition in the future.
Like in humans, UTIs are caused by an infection of bacteria or overgrowth of fungus in the kidneys, bladder, or urethra. In intact female dogs, uterine infections are also classified as UTIs and are often caused by the same issues discussed below.
In dogs, the most common cause of bacterial infections in the urinary tract is E. coli. Other common bacterial infections in this system include Enterobacteria bacteria species and Proteus bacteria species.
In most cases, this bacteria is introduced from the digestive tract and then makes its way up the urethra. Once in the bladder, the bacteria can multiply rapidly, especially if the acidity and natural microfauna of the environment are abnormal.
If left untreated, the bacteria can make their way to the kidneys and cause permanent damage.
Because the space between the anus and the urethral opening is so close in female dogs, they are much more likely to suffer from bacterial UTIs than male dogs. The urethra of females is also shorter, which means bacteria have to travel a shorter distance before reaching the bladder, further increasing the chances of infection in female dogs.
Some bacterial species responsible for UTIs can also be found on the skin of dogs. This is one way male dogs can end up with urinary tract infections.
Fungal UTIs are also common in both humans and dogs. Candida fungi are generally responsible for these infections, with Candida albicans the most likely species to overpopulate the urinary tract.
Candida exists throughout the body in healthy animals. But, when the system gets out of balance, these normally harmless single-celled organisms can begin to reproduce out of control. This overgrowth may take place in the urethra, the bladder, the kidneys, or all three.
Due to hormonal changes, candida infections are common in intact female dogs. These usually start in the vagina but can spread to the urinary tract if left untreated.
The overall health of a dog can also play a large role in its susceptibility to UTIs.
Pre-existing conditions known to make UTIs more likely, include:
- Urinary tract disease
- Renal failure
Older dogs are also more likely to experience UTIs due to a decrease in urine flow as the muscles around the bladder weaken. A strong flow of urine is vital to flushing pathogenic bacteria from the urethra.
Low-quality diets, including most commercial dry dog foods, can also contribute to UTI infections in dogs.
These foods are often filled with grains and carbohydrates that dogs’ systems are not well suited to digest. Poor digestion combined with greater glucose release into the blood and more starch in the gut quickly leads to an overgrowth of yeast and certain kinds of bacteria.
High-starch diets have also been found to change the pH of a dog's system. Both the urine and stomach pH of dogs on commercial kibble diets tend to be more basic than that of dogs on a raw meat diet. High acidity levels of stomach acid and urine are important for keeping pathogens in check.
Lastly, low-quality dog food is filled with preservatives and chemicals known to tax the kidneys. The extra work these organs have to do to filter out these toxins compromises the entire urinary tract.
Whether your dog is suffering from a fungal or bacterial urinary tract infection, their symptoms are likely to be similar. These include:
- Red tinge to the urine
- Blood spots in the urine
- Straining or whining during urination
- Excessive urination (not to be confused with marking behavior)
- Accidents in the house
- Waking up to urinate in the middle of the night
- Licking around the urethral opening
- Refusal to eat
It is difficult to differentiate between bladder, urethra, and kidney infections based on symptoms alone. In fact, even many diagnostic tools used by veterinarians, such as antibody coating testing, struggle to pinpoint the exact location of the infection.
Because infections that have already reached the kidneys can cause irreversible damage, it is important to have your dog examined by a vet if your initial attempts to relieve the infection are not successful.
The first steps to helping your dog overcome a UTI are to provide plenty of clean, fresh water and to assure they have free access to the outdoors to urinate as needed. Both dehydration and holding urine in the bladder can give the infection time to establish and travel farther up the urinary tract.
There are a number of natural supplements you can try at home to help your dog overcome a UTI. As we mentioned above, these are great to try at the first sign of a UTI. But, if the symptoms do not start to ease within a couple of days, or if they get worse, a trip to the vet may be necessary to avoid permanent kidney damage.
Unsweetened cranberry juice has long been used as a UTI treatment in humans. Many attribute its effectiveness to the fact that cranberry is a diuretic. But the truth is, this antioxidant-heavy berry does a lot more than increase urine output.
Cranberries contain flavonoids called A-type proanthocyanidins (PACs), which interfere with bacterias' ability to adhere to the bladder wall. This effect, combined with the diuretic effects, help move bacteria out of the urinary tract, effectively treating and preventing bacteria-caused UTIs.
For dogs, your best bet is to use cranberry capsules, which contain a concentrated amount of PACs. Small dogs should get about 100mg, medium dogs about 200mg, and large dogs up to 400mg (or 10 mg/lb per day). Also, make sure to follow the directions on the product label.
Word of caution: if your dog is on blood thinning drugs, it's best to check with your vet before giving him cranberry supplements.
D-Mannose is a sugar monomer found within glucose in the body and in many of the foods we eat, including cranberry. It can also be purchased as a supplement and has been touted as a UTI treatment by many.
Like PACs, D-mannose is thought to inhibit the adhesion of bacteria to the bladder wall. This interaction likely has something to do with the use of the alpha-D-mannose receptor by E. coli. If these receptors are filled with D-mannose monomers, then there will be fewer places on the bladder cells for E. coli and similar bacteria to gain hold.
D-mannose can be given to dogs at a ratio of ¼ tsp per 20lbs of body weight three times daily (source). Many cranberry supplements made for dogs and humans contain D-mannose already.
L-methionine is an amino acid naturally made by the body. Like our recommendations above, it appears to have anti-adherence effects on bacteria in the urinary tract.
One study in humans found a nearly 50% decrease in the number of bacteria adhered in the bladder during L-methionine treatment. Furthermore, no E. coli strains capable of infection were found in the bladder after L-methionine treatment.
L-methionine can be purchased as a supplement. Give 250mg per 10 pounds of body weight or twice daily or follow directions on the bottle (source) L-methionine appears to be especially effective at preventing reinfection in patients susceptible to recurrent UTIs.
Marshmallow root is an herb used to treat a number of health issues in people and pets.
Not only does it have pain-relieving and diuretic properties, but it has also been shown to reduce inflammation in the urinary system. Furthermore, it has antibacterial properties theorized to be useful in flushing out kidney and bladder infections.
Marshmallow root powder can be added to meals twice a day at a rate of ½ teaspoon to 1 teaspoon, depending on the dog’s size.
Marshmallow root tea can be especially helpful for UTIs. Brew at a ratio of 6 heaping tablespoons of crushed, dried root per 1 quart of fresh, cool water. Allow to steep for about 2 hours, then strain. Add ¼ cup to 1 cup, depending on the size of your dog, to their food up to 3 times a day. (source)
Caution: avoid this herb for dogs with diabetes and keep in mind that it can interfere with absorption of some medications.
Glucosamine is commonly used as a joint supplement for dogs. But this anti-inflammatory substance has a lot more uses than that.
N-acetyl-glucosamine (NAG) is a specific type of glucosamine that is used to build a protective layer in joints and in the membrane of the digestive and urinary tracts. This layer is shed every few days, which means your dog needs a constant supply to keep the membrane functioning properly.
Dogs that suffer from frequent UTIs may benefit from a NAG supplement to help rebuild the mucus layer in the bladder and urethra. This should be used alongside one or more of our recommendations above to help treat current infections.
There are many glucosamine supplements available specifically for pets. Be sure to look for one with only NAG or high amounts of NAG to use for treating UTIs. And follow the dosing instructions included on the package.
Many of the treatment options listed above can be used on a prophylactic basis to prevent future UTI infections. Once symptoms have subsided, slowly lower the dose to about half that given during treatment to provide coverage against repeat infections.
Additionally, be sure to always provide your dog access to fresh, clean water. And allow them plenty of opportunities to relieve themselves throughout the day and into the evening.
But even more important to preventing UTIs is to address the root of the problem. The body is built to deal with bacteria and fungi entering the urinary tract. When these pathogens establish an infection, the reason is not a matter of happenstance.
Infections take hold in the urinary tract due to the effects of a pre-existing condition or an imbalance in the system.
If your dog suffers from diabetes, kidney issues, or urinary flow problems, using a preventative like those outlined above can do wonders to reduce the occurrence of UTIs. For relatively healthy dogs suffering from UTIs, the problem is likely an imbalance in their microbiome.
The microbiome that exists in your dog's intestines controls nearly 70% of their immune function. In addition to working with and triggering white blood cells, these bacteria are also responsible for out-competing bad bacteria and yeast to prevent them from establishing infections.
What most people don’t know is that the microbiome inside your dog (and yourself) extends beyond the digestive tract. The skin, reproductive system, and urinary system all have their own specialized microbiome that helps balance pH, reduce pathogen levels, and prevent yeast overgrowth.
If there is an imbalance within any of these systems, yeast and bacterial growth will increase and potentially spread to the bladder or kidneys and cause a UTI.
The use of antibiotics, certain medications, and increased stress can all cause disruptions in the microbiomes inside your dog. To prevent these from leading to a UTI, it is important to use antibiotics only when absolutely necessary, to reduce stressful situations as much as possible, and to limit medications to only those that are needed.
Whether your dog is on medications, has a pre-existing condition, or is otherwise at risk for an imbalance, using a quality probiotic supplement can do wonders. Not only will these reduce the chances of a UTI, but they’ll also help balance the biomes throughout your dog's system for better overall health.
UTIs are not fun for anyone, dog or human. Luckily, identifying and treating them is easy once you know what to look for.
For early and minor UTIs, many home remedies exist that have proven effective. Cranberry supplements, D-mannose, L-methionine, and other natural treatments can all be given to treat current UTIs and prevent repeat infections from taking hold.
But the most important prevention for UTIs is to address the root of the problem. Whether your dog suffers from pre-existing conditions that make them more susceptible to infection or their internal microbiomes have just been thrown out of whack, a quality probiotic supplement and raw food diet can help them overcome the issue while improving their overall health.
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Sara Seitz worked in the pet industry for over a decade. In addition to being a certified dog trainer, Sara gained experience working as the general manager of a dog daycare and boarding facility, as the creator and manager of a pet sitting company, as a groomer, and as a dog behavior evaluator. She also has a bachelors in animal behavior from CSU. Currently, Sara works as a freelance writer specializing in blog, article and content writing.