Veronica McSwiney, the well-known concert pianist, from Bray, County Wicklow was concerned when Tara, her ten year old spayed female Golden Retriever started to leave wet spots on the carpet Veronica has always loved playing the piano, and there is only one hitch with her chosen career: she is often away from home, performing for audiences overseas in places as far off as Japan, Australia and South America. When she comes back to Ireland, her pet dogs and cats rank amongst her greatest pleasures.
She has a particular soft spot for Golden Retrievers, adoring their good looks and easy-going temperament. Tara is always delighted to see Veronica when she returns, rushing to the door, wagging her tail and barking in pleasure. There are only two problems with the breed: dog hair and arthritis.
The dog hair issue is very practical. Veronica also owns Persian cats, which add another hairy dimension to the problem. When Veronica comes in after an evening’s performing, wearing the formal attire of a concert pianist, she needs to time her interaction with her pets carefully. A rapid change into informal gear is sensible, to avoid the hours that will otherwise need to be spent de-furring her performance outfits.
The arthritis problem of Golden Retrievers is a more serious medical issue that Veronica has had to deal with in several dogs over the years. Tara first showed signs of arthritis in her hips when she was only three years old. She began to be slow and creaky when she was getting up first thing in the morning. X-rays confirmed that her hips were the cause of the problem. The condition, particularly common in some breeds, is known as “Hip Dysplasia”, with affected animals being born with hips that are abnormally shaped, and prone to arthritis.
Tara’s problem has been well controlled over the years, with a combination of careful attention to weight control and regular anti-inflammatory pain-relieving tablets when she has had episodes of discomfort.
Six months ago, Tara developed a new problem that required a visit to the vet. She started to leave small wet patches on the carpet. It was not a house training issue – Tara was going outside to pass urine as normal. Instead, she seemed to be leaking in small amounts, and she was not aware that it was happening.
Urinary incontinence is common in older female dogs. The bladder sphincter tends to grow weak as animals age, and when the bladder is full, it is common for a small amount of urine to dribble out. If this is the cause, the problem often responds very well to a simple drug which tightens the bladder sphincter. A small dose of medication twice daily can be enough to permanently cure the condition.
In Tara’s case, there were a few other signs that suggested that she might have something more complicated than the common, simple mild incontinence. Firstly, the urine was more than just a few drops: she was passing small puddles. And secondly, she had started to drink more water than usual. This is often a sign of more serious underlying illness, and when this is noticed, it is always worth doing a work up to find out more about what is going on.
Blood and urine samples were collected and analysed. Everything was normal in the blood tests, ruling out a range of diseases including diabetes. The urine tests came up with more complex results: an abnormally high level of protein was present. Further investigations were warranted, so Tara was booked in for an ultrasound examination.
Ultrasound is used to provide a three-dimensional, moving image of the inside of the body. Most people are aware of its use to examine babies in the womb, but ultrasound is very useful in the investigation of a wide range of different illnesses. The technique allowed close scrutiny of Tara’s entire urinary tract. Subtle changes were found in the architecture of her kidneys that were suggestive of a long term, low grade bacterial infection.
A urine sample was collected directly from her bladder using a long needle under ultrasound guidance, and this was sent off for further analysis. The result provided the answer that was the key to curing the problem: her urine contained bacteria that were resistant to common antibiotics. Tara had a chronic urinary tract infection that required a long course of potent antibiotic treatment.
The response to treatment was dramatic. Within twenty four hours of the first antibiotic tablet, the wet patches had stopped. Tara also seemed to be much happier in herself, with more energy and cheerfulness. Veronica had thought that perhaps she had been growing slower because of her age, but she now wonders if the chronic infection had been the cause. Tara now seems like a younger dog again.
Chronic urinary tract infections can be difficult to diagnose, but in Tara’s case, the results of the tests were conclusive. She will need to stay on antibiotics for at least eight weeks, and even then, the saga will not be over. Repeated urine cultures will be needed to ensure that the infection has been completely cleared.
Tara is no longer leaving puddles on the carpet, but she is still shedding as much hair as usual. Veterinary science has not yet found that answer to that one!
- Urinary incontinence is common in older female dogs
- It is very important to make a correct diagnosis of the underlying cause
- Treatment is often highly effective, curing the problem completely