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Why Is My Dog Leaking Urine When Lying Down? Canine Biology Explained

Kristin Hitchcock

By Kristin Hitchcock

Golden retriever lying on light floor

If you’ve noticed wet spots on your dog’s bed, they could be leaking urine. Even if it is just a little bit, you probably shouldn’t overlook this sign of a health issue. It is common in older dogs, as they often lose urination control as they age. However, there are many things that a vet can do to help, even if the cause is due to aging.

Medically speaking, leaking urine is referred to as “urinary incontinence.” It is a common signs of certain medical conditions and aging in general. Dogs with incontinence don’t have substantial control of their bladder, which leads to leakage. This can occur while they are lying down (when it is often the most noticeable) and when the dog is standing up.

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How Can I Tell if My Dog Is Leaking Urine When Lying Down?

Most dog owners first notice that their dog is leaking urine when the dog is lying down or relaxing. You may notice small wet spots or full pools. The amount of urine lost doesn’t necessarily indicate the seriousness of the problem, but more likely, it has to do with how full your dog’s bladder is!

If you’ve noticed these spots, your dog may be leaking when standing up and moving as well. It is simply more challenging to notice in these situations.

You may see some leakage when standing behind your dog, though. This occurs most frequently on walks. The dog will usually seem unaware that this happens. Sometimes, they will notice and clean themselves up. However, it’s typically evident that they aren’t in control of the leakage.

urine residue on a bed_cunaplus_shutterstock
Image Credit: cunaplus, Shutterstock

How Common Is Urine Leakage?

This problem is quite common among all dogs, especially as they age. Spayed females seem to be most at risk. However, just because your dog doesn’t fall into this category doesn’t mean they won’t be affected.

As many as 20% of spayed females may experience urinary incontinence, sometimes after their surgery. Many of them are affected at a later age. Larger dogs seem to be more at risk than smaller dogs by about double. If your dog is over 45 pounds, they may be twice as likely to leak urine than a smaller dog.

For one reason or another, Boxers are most likely to leak urine. As much as 65% of female Boxers experience this problem at some point.

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What Causes Urine Leakage?

Urine leakage is usually a signs of the problem, not the problem itself. Therefore, we highly recommend visiting the vet when you first notice this issue.

The cause may be severe and require quick veterinary treatment, or it could mean that nothing is wrong. It is always better to get it checked out rather than ignore it, though.

Image Credit: jaminriverside, Pixabay

Neurological Causes

Nerve problems can cause issues with the bladder. If the nerves can’t communicate with the bladder and urinary system effectively, then the dog can’t control it. It’s that simple.

Many specific neurological conditions can damage the nerves leading to the bladder. Any spinal injury falls into this category. The nerves that leave the spinal cord and go to the bladder are low, so an injury anywhere along the spinal column can usually cause urine leakage.

Brain tumors and lesions can affect the bladder if they occur in the correct spot on the brain. Disruptions of the nerves after they leave the spinal column can also cause urinary incontinence.

In other words, if the nervous system gets disrupted anywhere between the brain and the bladder, urine leakage can happen.

Bladder Storage Problems

Other times, the problem is with how the bladder stores urine. Sometimes, the bladder contracts independently without the dog knowing, which can lead to urine leakage. This condition is known as hypercontractility.

Urethral Disorders

The problem doesn’t always have to do with the bladder itself. Sometimes, the muscles that close the bladder are the problem. If the muscles don’t stop the urine all the way, urine can leak through.

Urinary tract infections, inflammation, and hormone problems can all lead to this sort of leakage. Usually, this is the sort of problem that older dogs deal with. Their muscles simply aren’t as strong as they once were!

old pug lying on the carpet
Image Credit: Michelle Scott, Pixabay

Bladder Tumors

Tumors on the bladder may compress it and push urine through involuntarily. The bladder is not designed to withstand the extra pressure from a tumor.

Urine Retention

Sometimes, dogs won’t urinate for one reason or another. They may associate something harmful with the spot where they usually use the bathroom. For instance, if they get attacked by another dog when in their yard, they may be too stressed to urinate in that area anymore.

However, they know that they aren’t supposed to go inside, so they may decide not to go at all!

After enough time, this can lead to urine leakage. The bladder just isn’t made to hold much urine for that long. Often, these dogs will have large accidents, sometimes in their sleep.

Anatomic Problems

Occasionally, puppies can be born with defects that make urine leakage a part of life. Injuries and surgeries can also cause immediate problems to the urinary system, leading to urinary incontinence.

The problem doesn’t necessarily have to be with the urinary system itself. Sometimes, a nearby organ may form slightly incorrectly, leading to excess pressure on the bladder.

Image Credit: nadisja, Shutterstock

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Can You Treat Urine Leakage in Dogs?

The course of treatment will depend on why your dog is leaking urine. Behavioral therapy may correct the problem and ultimately stop the urine leakage if it’s due to a behavioral reason.

Other times, medication can help. If your dog’s sphincter isn’t strong enough, certain medicines can help. Imipramine is commonly prescribed. Hormone replacements can also be utilized, as they may help improve the strength of the urinary tract. Medications can be used alone or in combination with others. It depends on your dog’s exact diagnosis.

About 70% of all dogs respond well to medication. It may be enough to stop urinary leakage completely, especially if your dog is losing muscle tone due to age.

If your dog’s urinary incontinence is a sign of an underlying issue, that problem will need to be treated. Tumors will need to be removed, for instance, and back problems will need treatment.

Sometimes, you can’t wholly cure a dog’s urine leakage problem. If the underlying condition is not treatable, there may be little that your vet can do to stop the leakage.

Bulldog lying on the floor
Image Credit: Pitsch, Pixabay

Will the Urine Leakage Ever Stop?

It is difficult to comment on this problem without knowing the specifics of the situation and the dog. However, many dogs respond well to medication. If the problem is simply one of muscle tone, the odds are likely in your favor.

When it comes to other underlying conditions, though, the odds are a bit more complicated. It depends on whether the condition is treatable. Medications to help muscle tone are not helpful for a dog with a tumor, for instance.

Why Does My Dog Only Leak Urine at Night?

When a dog sleeps, they are relaxed. If they have any underlying problems, they may leak urine during this time. Dogs also go the longest without a potty break at night, and the increased urine in their bladder can cause urine leakage.

When your dog leaks urine isn’t necessarily a sign of why they are leaking. Lack of muscle tone is usually the most common cause, but there could be other underlying conditions.

If you notice that your dog is leaking urine, it is essential to seek veterinary care. It can be a sign of an underlying condition. But even if it isn’t, certain medications can still help.

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Final Thoughts

There are dozens of underlying medical conditions that can make a dog leak urine when they are lying down. Sleeping is when a dog’s muscles are most relaxed, so it only makes sense that it would also be the most common time for urine leakage. It is also the most noticeable period. Dog owners will often notice wet spots on a dog’s bed but may not see any leakage when the dog is up and moving.

Just because you only notice leakage when your dog is lying down doesn’t mean they only leak at those moments. Luckily, many medications can help. Muscle tone problems are the most common reasons that dogs leak. They may be physically unable to hold in their urine.

If your dog has an underlying condition, it will need to be taken care of. Usually, the urine leakage stops after the condition is treated, though this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, medication to improve muscle tone is necessary after the underlying problem is taken care of.

Either way, urine leakage calls for a trip to the vet. Sometimes, urine leakage is a problem on its own, but it can also be a sign of a more significant issue.

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