Weimaraners, especially females, can be prone to simple and recurrent urinary tract infections (UTI’s), or “bacterial cystitis” in veterinary circles. While I am no expert, I’m an ICU nurse in my “real” job, and I had a young dog succumb to a UTI that resulted in septic shock, organ failure, and death. This is a topic close to my heart.
Before we discuss the rest, an anatomy lesson is due. The urinary tract includes your dog’s ureters, external genitalia, urethra, kidneys, and bladder. An upper UTI generally involves your Weim’s kidneys, while a lower UTI–the most common type–likely refers to urethra, bladder, and ureters. The bladder and urinary tract are designed to be sterile, so UTIs are the result of bacteria migrating up the urethra (and potentially into the bladder, up the ureters, and into the kidneys, causing major problems!). So not surprisingly, your dog’s urethra, which connects her bladder to the outside world, is key. Producing enough urine helps flush the urethra, as does acidic (low pH) urine. The whole system can get gunked up by bacteria, stones, or dysfunction at any level of the urinary tract. Your Weim needs a trip to the vet, regardless.
What are the Symptoms?
- Frequent or difficult urination. Your Weim will squat (or lift his leg) frequently, often passing only a few drops or pee. He may appear to strain.
- Blood in urine. There is often obvious blood on grass after your dog goes potty, but not always.
- Painful urination. Weims have a different pain tolerance, but I have seen Weims groan or yelp when they begin to urinate.
- Any change in her normal urinary habits. For example, your older dog begins to have accidents inside, or your puppy begins to urinate outside, then immediately squats inside.
- Stinky or cloudy pee. Need I say more?
- Dribbling, or poor urine stream. (This can also be due to prostate issues in the boys.)
- If your Weim has an upper UTI, you will typically see signs of general illness like lethargy. Your normally upbeat Weim won’t feel like going for her usual romp.
- “Polyuria and polydypsia,” which means peeing a lot and drinking a lot in English.
- Walking “hunched up, pain over kidneys, abdominal tenderness.
- Lack of appetite — You know it’s major when your Weim refuses to eat!
Diagnosis requires a simple urine specimen, and the vet will run a urinalysis (UA) from their urine. This of course means you need to collect a urine sample. I’ve had the best luck by using a shallow bowl, and putting it under the urine stream midway through our dog’s potty break. Plasticware made for sandwiches is ideal, since you can just pop the lid on and go to the vet, although anything from a frisbee to an aluminum pie plate will do in a pinch. Make sure that whatever you use is clean! Fresh urine is much more useful to a vet, so grab that specimen and go! Only 1-2 tablespoons of urine are required.
Initially your vet will be looking at color, clarity, and whether there are things like ketones, protein, white blood cells, pH, specific gravity, and other cellular byproducts (myoglobin, hemoglobin, casts, etc) in the urine. All of these things are hints as to what could be going on.
If your vet suspects a more serious issue based on those results, they will run a UA with culture and sensitivity. This can usually be run off the same urine that they use for a simple UA, but this one will tell your vet which bacterial species are growing in your Weim’s urinary tract. Just because your dog has white blood cells in her urine (+ leukocyte esterase) does not mean that she has a UTI, although she certainly could. Do not allow your vet to put your Weim on antibiotics simply because the urine has white cells in it. It is possible to have white cells without infection so make sure that a culture is run to see if she does indeed have an infection.
A basic metabolic panel (a blood test) might also be checked to rule out dehydration or kidney involvement. X-ray or ultrasound may also be required, depending on your dog’s clinical picture, to assess whether her kidneys are affected.
Puppy Vaginitis is Not a UTI!
Puppy vaginitis is different from a true UTI. In this case, your pup often has a yellow to white discharge, or stringy clear mucous most commonly after urination. She won’t have any other symptoms of a UTI. Do NOT allow your vet to put your pup on antibiotics to treat vaginitis. This can set up a vicious cycle of true UTIs as her vaginal pH is unable to regulate itself due to the antibiotics.
Puppy vaginitis is caused by a recessed vulva is sometimes called a tipped vulva. This is just means her vulva is an “innie” that causes bacteria to collect in the skin folds causing infection. Allowing your Weimaraner puppy to go through one heat cycle should solve the problem. Her vulva will swell during her heat cycle and will “pop” the vulva out. This along with her maturing immune system should stop the recurring issues.
Female Weim pups on both ends of the age spectrum (the oldies and the babies) are at an increased risk for UTIs. Their urethra is shorter than that of their male friends, and some girls squat reeaaallly low when they pee.
Estrogen seems to have some sort of protective effect, and so overweight females that squat low and who were spayed before their first heat cycle are the most at risk due to anatomy.
Older Weims are at risk for UTIs due to weakened urinary sphincters and because their bodies don’t fight bacterial invasion as effectively as young dogs can. You’re more likely to see systemic signs in an older dog. Housebreaking “accidents” or new onset urinating while asleep or dribbling when she gets up are more classic signs in an older dog.
There are also many conditions that can concurrently cause UTIs: Cushing’s disease, diabetes, obesity, or hypothyroidism. Kidney or prostate infections, stones, or tumors can also cause problems. Neurological issues, steroids, and congenital anomalies of the genitals are a less likely, but also possible cause of recurrent UTI.
Some Weims can be more prone to UTIs due to diet and genetics. Actual bladder stones are uncommon in Weims, but kidney stones are more common. Different types of stones are calcium oxalate, urate, struvite, and cysteine. The first two are more common in the breed.
A DNA test can tell you if your pup (or his parents!) are at risk for uric acid stones. One copy of the gene means your dog is a carrier, two means he is affected. If your pup is affected by any of the other types of stones, diet is key to avoiding that particular type. Your vet can help you out in that case!
If your pup is diagnosed with a UTI, she will be prescribed an antibiotic. This might be one of many types, depending on what species of bacteria is growing. It is your job to make sure that she takes ALL of her prescription! If you skip doses or don’t give her the whole prescription you will likely see her get another UTI, and you are contributing to drug resistant bacteria. Yuck!
If you do not see any improvement in her symptoms after 2-3 days, please return to the vet. Your dog’s life depends on it!
More holistic methods are often required if your dog has recurrent UTIs. Your dog may be diagnosed with this if she has more than 2-3 UTIs in a year. Multiple courses of antibiotics can cause this, for puppy vaginitis or ear infections, for example. High urine pH (caused by genes, antibiotics, or diet) is another factor to look at.
Some things to try:
- Increase your Weim’s water consumption by adding some water to their food, switching to raw, or adding canned food.
- Antibacterial wipes, especially for females. Wipe their girl-parts well after they urinate.
- Cranberry extracts or other urinary-tract supplements. These can help acidify the urine or add a biofilm to the urethra to protect from bacterial invasion.
- Probiotics: kefir, yogurt, or supplements specifically formulated for canine urinary tract health.
- Bladder antiseptics such as cranberry, pine bark, sandalwood, or celery for herbal extracts, or pyridium by prescription.
All dogs with recurrent UTI should have a urinalysis done every 3-4 months until resolved.
A Note About the Boys
You guys aren’t out of the woods! Male Weims can also be prone to UTIs, especially when they get older. An enlarged prostate or other functional abnormality can inhibit urine from draining, meaning that they are at a higher risk. When urine sits in the bladder it sets up a great place for bacteria to grow — warm, dark, and moist. Males more often acquire upper UTIs, or pyelonephritis. Most often you won’t see prostate problems in your boy until he is at least middle aged, or over 4-5. They are most common in seniors dogs.
Know What is Normal and What is Not
The most important thing to know is that ANY time your Weim has a change in urinary habits (new housebreaking accidents, leaking while sleeping or when getting up, suddenly peeing in her crate or peeing more often in her crate), you need a vet visit. Usually a simple course of antibiotics and some cautionary measures to prevent recurring problems should fix your Weim right up!
The requisite fine print: This is an informational article and should not be used to replace the diagnosis and treatment recommended by your veterinarian.