If your perfectly housetrained, spayed pit bull girl wakes up in a puddle of urine one morning, chances are high that she is suffering from estrogen related incontinence, also known as spay incontinence.
What Is Spay Incontinence?
Spay incontinence is the most common cause of involuntary urination in canines, affecting almost 20% of spayed females, with medium to large breed dogs being the most susceptible. It usually begins around 3 years after spaying, but can start anywhere from almost immediately afterwards to ten years later. Some studies indicate that spaying before the first heat cuts the incidence of incontinence in half, but unfortunately makes the problem worse when it does occur.
As the name implies, low estrogen levels weaken the sphincter to the bladder, causing urine to leak out. This can happen at any time but occurs most commonly when the dog is resting but not in a deep sleep. It can happen throughout the day or only once or twice a week. The amount of leakage ranges from a few drops to the aforementioned puddle.
While spay incontinence is by far the most likely reason your spayed pit bull girl has suddenly started to leak urine, it is important to rule out other possible causes, such as urinary tract infections, kidney stones, and neurological disorders, as they may require a completely different course of treatment.
There is also a structural defect called an ectopic ureter that can result in incontinence. If additional symptoms such as blood in the urine, frequent urination, or discomfort during urination are present, look for UTIs or kidney stones. And if the dog begins stumbling, seems uncoordinated or weak in her back legs, check for neurological problems. Age and being overweight can also cause incontinence.
The most common treatment for canine incontinence is the medication phenylpropanolamine, usually referred to as PPA. PPA is a nonhormonal drug that was commonly used as a decongestant in humans until 1999, when it was banned for over the counter use by the FDA because of a possible connection to strokes. While there are a number of reports of dogs having seizures while on PPA, it is generally considered safe for canines unless they have high blood pressure or heart disease.
PPA is normally prescribed for dogs under the brand name Proin, and it has proven highly effective in treating incontinence. It works by causing the sphincter muscle to tighten.
For many dogs, PPA works perfectly and without side effects, and most veterinarians consider it to be the least risky allopathic treatment. In other cases, however, PPA causes unpleasant personality changes, such as increased moodiness, hyperactivity and irritability. In these instances owners may wish to switch to alternative remedies.
Because estrogen deficiency causes spay incontinence, the synthetic estrogen replacement hormone diethylstilbestrol, also known as DES, is often prescribed (another synthetic hormone called estradiol is less commonly used). Only very small doses are given because larger doses may cause anemia that persists even after the medication is stopped. In small doses, this side effect is less common, and owners are encouraged to experiment and find the lowest possible dose that controls the incontinence.
A number of herbal treatments have shown promise in treating canine incontinence. The most commonly used is corn silk. Corn silk is given via tincture, tea or capsules. Capsules are easier to find, but tinctures and teas may be more effective.
Other herbs used include raspberry leaf, saw palmetto, horsetail, couch grass, nettle root, agrimony, uva ursi, plantain and marshmallow. Many people combine several of these herbs into a custom blend themselves, but there are also a number of commercial herbal formulas for treating incontinence.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) also combines herbs to control incontinence. However, one can't make a generic prescription of "use this particular TCM formula." In TCM, formulas are custom prescribed based on a variety of factors not limited to the specific symptom being treated.
Many people report controlling incontinence through nutritional modifications, in particular the removal of grains from the diet. In other cases, simply changing the dog to a home-prepared fresh food diet has eliminated the problem, even when grains are still included.
Some holistic veterinarians report success treating incontinence through acupuncture, and others have successfully employed chiropractic adjustment. Many people swear by homeopathic remedies.
With such a great variety of treatments available for incontinence, the odds of eventually finding an effective remedy are in the persistent dog owner's favor. Many people wind up combining more than one of these methods. While the search can grow frustrating if your first attempts don't work out, remember that most cases of canine incontinence can be successfully treated. Keep trying until you find what's right for your dog!