Treating Canine Incontinence - McDowell's Herbal Treatments

A great proportion of companion dogs live indoors and any signs of wetting accidents should be checked out immediately. Dribbles or puddles on floors or carpets, wet bedding or damp fur around the rear end are obvious signs. Other early signs include increased frequency of urination, straining to go but seemingly unable to pass more than a little, and blood in the urine. If left untreated, indoor wetting (incontinence) can result in the dog being banned from inside. Wetting in the open is one thing, wetting in the house is a totally different matter.

Other changes in urinary patterns can be early signs of other more serious problems.

The first thing to do is to properly diagnose the condition.

Infective incontinence

In a case where incontinence appears suddenly, urinary tract infection and/or stones is usually the first suspect. Dark colored urine, smelly urine, seeing your dog trying to pass water and managing only a little, are all early signs.

Elevated temperatures, restlessness, dull eye and blood in the urine are all signs that infection is more serious. Normally, by this stage, your Vet will have diagnosed the problem and recommended antibiotic therapy.

The important next step is to understand what were the causal factors and to do something to remedy these, to prevent the problem becoming more serious.


There are a number of possible underlying causes, the most common of which is probably an increase in what is called the 'residual volume'.

When the bladder empties there is some urine left behind. If the amount left behind increases, the normal cleansing wash-out process is compromised. This can result over time in irritation or inflammation within the bladder itself, or the urethra (the tube that lead from the bladder to the outside). Such irritation or inflammation will weaken the mucous lining of these structures and thereby the dog's defense against external infective agents entering via the urethra.

Stones are the most common cause of blockage but cancerous or other growths could be involved. Any other history or factors compromising the immune system should be considered, along with diseases such as Cushings Syndrome, Diabetes and Renal Failure.

As with all infections, one must first ask why the body's natural defenses have failed? The first aim of any holistic treatment is to remedy these deficiencies, as part of the treatment program, rather than just attempt to identify the 'bad bugs' and kill them, which does nothing toward a long term solution.

Herbal Treatment:

Urinary Tract Infections (U.T.I's) have been commonplace throughout history and there are numerous herbs, which support healing the various aspects of this condition. All the same herbs traditionally used for human treatments are suitable for treating dogs (and cats).

A typical mix which I might prescribe would contain the following herbal ingredients, whose primary actions are shown and whose secondary actions overlap, as in all good herbal formulations.

Garlic: As a natural antibiotic.
Echinacea: To assist in the removal of residual products of infection.
Rosehips: As a primary Kidney tonic and a high source of Iron and Vitamin C.
Buchu: As a specific UTI treatment and blood cleanser.
Alfalfa: To balance urine acidity, reducing irritation to mucosal linings.
Uva Ursi: Primarily to sooth and support healing of mucosal linings.
Yarrow: As a blood and nervous system tonic to address vitality.

As with all herbal treatments it is important to see the process of the illness, in all its parts and to address all aspects. It is in this manner that herbal treatments support and educate the body's own systems and produce a completely robust and permanent recovery. Exactly the same herbs can be used as a preventative, an early treatment and to resolve chronic infective incontinence. Therefore a formulation containing the above herbs can be used either as a treatment in support of and to follow, antibiotic therapy or as a stand-alone treatment, especially if infection is identified early (or even suspected) in a case of incontinence. Urinary Tract Infection Treatment

Structural Incontinence:

Structural incontinence is a term I have chosen to describe the lack of physical control over the bladder other than that produced through a current infection as described above or a nervous episode described below.

The underlying problem is usually the fact that the sphincter controlling the release of urine through the urethra is physically unable to hold back the flow against normal amounts of pressure caused by the bladder filling.

There are cases to be found at birth due to anatomical malformations such as ectopic ureter. In these cases urine produced in the kidneys essentially bypasses the normal channel through the bladder and empties directly into the urethra or even the vagina and surgery is the only option.

The most common cause of structural incontinence, which develops in a bitch which had not previously had problems. is spay incontinence. This can develop from few months to years after spaying. Otherwise for both sexes, it would be structural changes resulting from a history of severe urinary tract infections.

Most other reasons will be based around trauma or old age, which affects either the nerve supply to the sphincter and bladder or which causes muscle wastage in the area generally.

Stress incontinence, commonly found in female humans due to pressure on the bladder by the uterus either in pregnancy or after multiple births, is not a cause in the female dog. Anatomically, the uterus is not located above the bladder and is not subject to such distortion or loss of tone as in the case of humans since the canine uterus functions to expel puppies one at a time, but not to host the individual puppies during their growth.

Herbal Treatment:

Structural incontinence was another condition common throughout the ages, especially with larger families, and there are very specific herbs which support and improve the muscle tone of the sphincter. There are others which can rehabilitate to some extent, nerve and muscle wastage generally.

All the same herbs traditionally used for human stress incontinence are suitable for dogs even through the cause of the sphincter weakness may be different. A typical mix would include the following herbs;

Couch Grass: Specific for sphincter rehabilitation.
Horsetail: Assists in strengthening wasted or damaged tissue.
Elecampane: Speeds up healing even of old trauma.
Mugwort: Supports repair of nerve fibers along with the herbs above.
Saw Palmetto: Specific for muscle wastage and lack of tone.

An initial course of three months of such a mix will often be enough to reverse completely a structural incontinence problem if identified early. Longer-term maintenance doses may be required to maintain the result in more serious cases. Canine Incontinence Mix

Reduce the chance of Spay Incontinence:

There have been studies done specifically to try to quantify the percentage of bitches which become incontinent sometime after spaying. It seems that this percentage may be somewhere between 10% and 20%, perhaps with 10% occurring in the year or so after the operation and the higher figure in older age.

I am not suggesting that you don't spay your bitches, as unwanted pregnancies are a more serious problem generally. The best advice is to reduce your own bitch's chances of joining the high risk group. This is best done by choosing an experienced Veterinary Surgeon to perform the operation and by preparing and treating your bitch before and after surgery using the appropriate herbal medications.

The structural incontinence formulation above can be used in conjunction with a pre and post-operative formula to minimise the shock effects of the procedure and speed recovery. Pre/ Post Operative Mix

Other Canine Incontinence or Wetting:

1. Other illnesses such as kidney failure, Cushing's Syndrome, diabetes and liver disease can cause a dog to be excessively thirsty which can result in very frequent urination and their being caught short at times and unable to hold on long enough to empty outside. These diseases need to be treated separately as the wetting is just a symptom of more serious problems.

2. Geriatric Incontinence caused by senility, reduced bladder capacity or reduced control does show up in older aged dogs. Severe arthritis can also restrict a dog's movement and may cause it to be caught short.

3. Abnormal wetting patterns in Racing Greyhounds are often due to electrolyte abuse and to nervousness and over adrenalisation in this breed. This specific problem I have discussed in a separate article. Greyhound Wetting Problems

4. Other dogs will wet when over-excited, fearful or when being punished and have accidents indoors at such times. It is worth noting in puppy training, that over-excited wetting is best ignored. Stay calm, don't punish and put the puppy outside so they don't see you cleaning up the mess. They will usually quickly grow out of it.

We must always remember that our companion dogs are by nature very clean animals and do not soil their nest (or your house) if they are properly trained and can possibly avoid it.

A change in wetting patterns from a previously clean dog is always a reason to look further into the problem.

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McDowell's staff Herbalists can not diagnose your disease or illness. What they can do is offer a herbal program to assist with healing, after you have had advice from your doctor or specialist. If you have unexplained pain or symptoms, seek medical advice.

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