If you are dealing with a dog UTI, home remedies are not the easy “go-to” that they are for other dog ailments.
Don’t get me wrong, there are many supplemental home remedies for dog UTIs (to use in conjunction with antibiotics) that I will be discussing in this article. These diet changes and supplements are used to balance the dog’s pH, strengthen the immune system, reduce bladder irritation, and prevent the UTI from reoccurring.
As I researched holistic vet articles, it became increasingly apparent that treating the infection itself is a much more delicate issue, and requires the involvement and expertise of a veterinarian.
This is one of those holistic treatment areas where doing the wrong thing can result in just as many, if not more, issues than your dog is currently experiencing.
Read on to learn about what causes a dog UTI, home remedies that may help resolve the underlying issues causing your dog’s UTI, and why an accurate diagnosis is critical to prevent damage to your dog’s kidneys, scar tissue formation in the urinary tract, and other serious medical issues.
Important Disclaimer: I am not a vet. Not even close. I’m just sharing my own personal experience and information I have read. If you think you want to try something you read about here, talk to your vet! But first read this and many more articles to empower yourself for a good discussion in which you can ask your vet great questions about what you want to try.
Knowledge is power – never forget that!
What is a UTI?
UTI stands for urinary tract infection. A UTI is an infection in any part of your dog’s urinary system: kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. Most infections involve the lower urinary tract – the bladder and urethra. Another common term you will hear people use is bladder infection.
The kidneys filter your dog’s blood, producing urine that is stored in the bladder before being excreted. If your dog has a UTI, the urine will contain bacteria or white blood cells – both signs of infection.
Both male and female dogs can get UTIs, but they are most common in female dogs.
What are the Symptoms of Dog UTIs?
I volunteer for a dog rescue, and I can’t begin to count the number of dogs I see turned in because they started peeing in the house. Their owner assumes the dog is just being spiteful and gets rid of them.
UTIs even fool experienced dog people. Over the years I’ve seen multiple young dogs that are partially housetrained regress while in foster care. The fosters are told to take the dog outside more and crate the dog when unsupervised to reduce accidents. When the accidents continue and the dog finally goes to the vet, guess what? They have a UTI.
The moral of the story? Housetraining will have its ups and downs, but when you see a definitive regression that is more than one or two out-of-the-ordinary accidents, take your dog to the vet to check for a possible UTI.
Symptoms of dog UTIs can vary from dog to dog. Here is a list of possible signs you may see:
- More frequent urination, or trying to pee again right after they finish peeing
- Waking you up in the night to go outside
- Urinating in inappropriate places (ie the house, crate, etc)
- Straining to urinate
- Blood in the urine (hematuria) – check this by putting a paper towel under your dog’s urine stream
- Strong smelling urine
- Increased thirst
- Urine leakage
- Excessively licking the vulva or penis
If you see lethargy, fever, or loss of appetite, your dog may have a more systemic infection that needs to be diagnosed.
According to an in-depth article on dog urine issues by holistic veterinarian Dr. Nancy Scanlan, these symptoms can also be signs of chronic bladder inflammation – without infection.
This fact is critical dog-owner knowledge. In order to find out if your dog has a bladder infection or bladder inflammation – or neither – you have to take your dog to the vet for a urinalysis.
How to Determine if Your Dog has a UTI
Some dog health issues are easy to observe and treat at home. This isn’t one of them!
There are multiple reasons to take your dog to a vet when your dog is displaying some of the above symptoms. The main reason is that you can’t tell the difference between a bladder infection and bladder irritation at home. It’s impossible. Just because you are observing symptoms of a dog UTI doesn’t mean your dog has one.
Rose’s Bladder Inflammation
My dog had recovered from a UTI after antibiotic treatment. About a month later, some of her symptoms returned: more frequent elimination and licking her privates.
A visit to the vet and urinalysis showed she did NOT have a UTI. She had urinary tract inflammation, which was causing her discomfort.
We added cranberry and apple cider vinegar (using pH strips to this day to monitor her pH so it doesn’t become too acidic) and made other adjustments to her diet, and the symptoms disappeared.
If you want to determine if your dog is dealing with a bladder infection vs. chronic bladder inflammation without an infection, you need your vet to obtain a “sterile urine culture.”
If you collect your dog’s urine as they pee, the urine will collect bacteria and debris as it exits the body. In the time it takes to bring the sample to the vet, crystals will start to form in the urine.
The only way for the vet to see if there are bacteria or crystals in the bladder is to insert a small needle right into your dog’s bladder, a procedure called cystocentesis.
Don’t freak out. I know it might make you shudder or feel sorry for your dog, but it’s not as bad as it sounds. I actually found a really good article describing the author’s experience when her dog needed cystocentesis. It will ease your mind, but better yet – it is HILARIOUS! I seriously burst out laughing multiple times reading it, this person is a “real” dog owner and owns her squeamishness.
I will be the first to admit that until writing this article, I would always push to collect a pee sample at home and bring it in. It was easier for my dog, easier on my pocketbook, and my vet was fine with it. Then a new vet started working there and wouldn’t let me bring in a sample anymore. Now I know why.
Between reading the above article and understanding Dr. Scanlan’s explanation of why it’s needed, I won’t hesitate to do it next time my dog is showing UTI symptoms.
What Else Will Your Vet Check Before Deciding if Your Dog has a Bladder Infection?
After your vet gets a sterile urine sample, they will look at the sample to see if it has crystals, bacteria, yeast cells, parasites, protein, and red or white blood cells. It’s important they look at all of these so they not only determine if a UTI is present, but also determine if any underlying health issues are causing infection or irritation.
It gets complicated. For example, your vet will look at the pH of your dog’s urine. Normal pH for dog urine is between 6 and 6.5. If the dog’s pH is above 7, it’s too alkaline. If it’s below the normal range it’s considered too acidic.
Here is the tricky part: a high pH can make a dog more prone to a UTI – but the high pH can also be caused by the UTI. So did the high pH cause the UTI, or did the UTI cause the high pH?
This is another good reason to have your dog checked out by a vet. They will look for the core issue; if they see a pH that is out of whack it may alert them to other issues that are caused by unbalanced pH levels.
Unbalanced pH levels can cause kidney stones, bladder stones, and crystals in the urine so it’s important to have the vet interpret the results and decide on a good treatment plan.
Crystals are formed when minerals bind together. If a dog has too many crystals in their urine, the flow of urine can be completely or partially blocked. This obviously can be very dangerous for the dog. If your dog has crystals your holistic vet will determine what kind of crystals, and then help you modify the dog’s diet in order to prevent these crystals from forming.
Your vet will also check the urine sample to see how diluted or concentrated the urine is. If the urine is too concentrated your vet will give you some ideas that encourage more fluid intake, which in turn dilutes the urine and flushes bacteria out of the bladder.
Dog UTI Treatments: Do You Need Antibiotics for Dog UTIs?
Dog UTI treatments can be approached two ways. The dog UTI treatment can focus on eliminating the infection, or it can have a dual focus of eliminating the infection and addressing the underlying cause of the infection.
Most, if not all, conventional vets will prescribe antibiotics for dog UTIs, do a recheck to be sure the infection is gone, and stop there.
At a holistic vet, they will treat the infection and do a recheck, but also work with you to identify imbalances that may have caused the infection and discuss how you can address those imbalances.
The majority of articles I read that were written by holistic vets were in agreement that antibiotics are necessary for most dog UTI treatments.
Dr. Scanlan did a great job of explaining why:
“It’s critical to give the animal antibiotics as soon as possible when they have an infection. This will help prevent the formation of struvite crystals, as well as reduce the odds of the dog developing scar tissue in the urinary tract. Scar tissue does leave a dog more susceptible to more infections, for two reasons. One is that if there is a lot of scar tissue then often they cannot fully contract the bladder, so it will not empty all the way, and leftover urine in the bladder gives bacteria a perfect medium for growth. Also, scar tissue creates little nooks and crannies where bacteria can grow.”
Antibiotic treatment also prevents the formation of bladder stones and the spread of infection to the kidneys or bloodstream
As natural dog owners we all like to avoid using antibiotics whenever possible. When dealing with a dog UTI, antibiotics are necessary and important. But we can use our natural approach to prevent recurrent infections.
Your vet will recommend ways to support your dog’s intestines while they are on the antibiotics. Giving probiotics, spaced out between antibiotic doses (antibiotics kill the probiotic’s good bacteria), is helpful.
It’s important that you finish the entire course of antibiotics and check a new urine sample after finishing to confirm the infection is gone.
Chronic Bladder Irritation in Dogs
What if you observe classic symptoms of a dog UTI but the vet says there is no infection in the urine sample?
This is a sign of chronic urinary tract irritation. Dogs with irritation may exhibit symptoms such as frequent urination and licking their privates, so the only way to know is to have the vet check.
Your holistic vet will check the pH; many times dogs with chronic irritation have neutral to alkaline urine. If this is the case the vet will direct you to use cranberry extract capsules or apple cider vinegar to slightly increase the pH.
If oxalate crystals are an issue your vet will want to closely monitor the pH and make sure it doesn’t get too acidic, creating an environment conducive to crystal formation.
Supplemental Home Remedies: How to Prevent UTIs in Dogs
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In addition to using antibiotics to get rid of the bacterial infection, a holistic vet will add supplemental home remedies aimed at treating the underlying issues that may have caused your dog’s UTI.
Dog UTI home remedies focus on the secondary tasks of preventing chronic bladder infections, boosting the dog’s immune system, and creating an inhospitable environment for bacteria in the bladder.
Why use home remedies to prevent UTIs in dogs? Here’s a perfect example:
Jax the Cat and His Recurring UTIs and Crystals
OK, I know this is a cat story, but bear with me, because the point is important for dog and cat owners alike.
When my cat, Jax, was about 8 years old, he suddenly developed a urinary blockage (read: I found him straining on a piece of plastic but only a few drops came out, a classic symptom).
A visit to the ER vet (these things only occur on evenings and weekends in my world) revealed he had urinary crystals blocking the ureter and a raging UTI. He needed an emergency catheterization and an IV to administer fluids to flush his bladder out. $500 later I brought him home and thought that was the end of it – I was in my 20’s and hadn’t discovered holistic health yet.
2 weeks later, it happened again (and yes, in the middle of the night, AGAIN). And 2 weeks later? Yep, again. On Christmas day. We shall call this my “holistic awakening.”
After a bunch of research online, I found an incredible article written by Dr. Lisa Pierson on her website about how dry cat food could cause urine crystals. I proceeded to do a consult with her, and she helped me find a canned food (more moisture) that had a nutritional makeup that would help prevent crystal formation.
Jax never had a problem again. 11 years later, he is a healthy 19 year old cat, thriving because of the information Dr. Pierson taught me on the importance of diet in avoiding UTIs and crystals.
Here are some dietary changes and additions to consider if your dog is prone to UTIs:
Cranberry extract is an excellent supplement for dogs prone to chronic UTIs. Certain molecules found in cranberries, proanthocyanidins (PACs), prevent bacteria from attaching to the bladder wall and decrease the strength of the bacteria. Cranberry extract can slightly raise the acidity of the dog’s urine as well.
Do not give cranberry extract to a dog who has highly acidic urine (under 6.0). It will further increase the acidity which can result in other health issues.
Multiple sources recommend using cranberry extract capsules – juice is too dilute. I would recommend finding organic cranberry extract, the fewer herbicides or chemicals in it the better.
Some dogs may only need to take cranberry when they begin to show the beginning signs of infection. Others do better on a low maintenance dose all the time.
Dr. Scanlan recommended ½ of a 300 mg capsule twice a day for small dogs (under 35 lbs), and a full capsule twice a day for larger dogs. She says to maintain this dosage until the dog’s UTI is gone, then reduce it to a maintenance dose or stop giving it.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is another home remedy that can change your dog’s pH. In human circles it is talked about as a good way to restore a body’s acid-alkaline balance.
Dr. Scanlan recommends apple cider vinegar as an alternative to cranberry extract for slightly increasing the acidity of the urine. She recommends one teaspoon to one tablespoon 2x/day for a 50 lb. dog).
Testing Your Dog’s Urinary pH
You will want to monitor your dog’s urine pH once you know they are prone to UTIs.
Because urinary pH varies throughout the day, you want to consistently do your testing at the same time. Most vets recommend testing the first urine each morning.
I find it easiest to use a shallow Tupperware container, I slide it under while my dog is peeing to catch some urine, then dip my strip in the urine I collected.
I tried sticking the pH strip directly in the urine flow and it was too hard to see if I was getting urine on the pH strip or not. Most times I would completely miss the strip and get it all over my fingers – not the greatest way to start my day.
Whether your dog’s urine is too acidic or too alkaline, the goal will be to use foods and supplements to bring your dog’s pH level between 6 and 6.5.
These pH strips are easy to use and will help you determine if your dog’s pH is in the desired range.
Marshmallow root is a soothing and anti-inflammatory agent that works wonderfully for urinary tract inflammation and irritation. It stimulates the immune system and attacks the infection-causing bacteria while reducing irritation and soothing the urinary tract.
Marshmallow root may decrease blood sugar and affect medication absorption so make sure to consult with your vet before using it.
Boost Your Dog’s Immune System
A low immune system can make it easier for bacteria to flourish in your dog’s body, so building your dog’s immune system is a good way to help prevent UTI recurrence. Bonus: in addition to preventing your dog’s UTIs, it will improve your dog’s health in numerous other ways as well!
Building the immune system will involve many factors: food, supplements, exercise, and more. Dr. Scanlan also mentions adding echinacea to support immune function and kill bacteria.
This comprehensive article about natural immune boosters for dogs will help you think about all facets of immune boosting and develop a comprehensive immune building plan.
Probiotics may indirectly help prevent bladder infections. The logic is, if you alter the bacteria population in the gut (by giving your dog beneficial probiotics), this will change the bacterial population in the dog’s feces. Since fecal microorganisms are responsible for some UTIs, altering the bacteria in the feces may have a beneficial effect.
Probiotics also strengthen a dog’s immunity as a whole, which reduces the likelihood of UTIs.
If you go to a conventional vet, they will most likely recommend a prescription dog food if your dog has a UTI. Holistic vets list the following problems with prescription foods:
- Many contain GMO corn as a top ingredient, which increases inflammation
- Soy, a common ingredient, is an allergen
- Most vitamins and minerals are synthetic
- Poor quality protein forms (by-products, no muscle meat)
- “Natural flavors” can mean MSG or other carcinogens, toxins, or allergens
- Cellulose = mostly indigestible fiber usually made from wood shavings or sawdust
A healthier approach is to change the dog’s diet to a more nutritious one that also contains more moisture. When your dog pees more often, it flushes out the bladder and any bacteria in the urine.
In Dr. Richard Pitcairn’s book Natural Health for Dogs & Cats, the first thing he recommends to address bladder problems is to change the diet. His book is a good resource that contains homeopathic and herbal remedies helpful for treating bladder issues.
Many natural websites recommend a raw food diet. If you aren’t comfortable feeding raw, there are many homemade recipes out there for dogs with UTIs. You will want to avoid asparagus, spinach, raw carrots, tomatoes, and dairy products as they are known to aggravate UTIs.
If homemade is too overwhelming, I found this article listing non-prescription commercial dog UTI foods.
Regardless of whether you choose homemade, raw, or commercial food, be sure to get the diet you choose OK’d by your holistic vet. They can confirm it’s nutritionally balanced and won’t create other health issues.
Adding Home Remedies For Dog UTI Treatments Can Prevent Recurrence
There are many health issues you can treat with home remedies, while others require conventional treatment methods. In most dog UTI cases, antibiotics are necessary. Dog UTI home remedies will be used in addition to antibiotic treatment.
If you catch a UTI in the very early stages, your holistic vet may be able to use home remedies to prevent a severe infection from developing. Most of us, however, don’t notice the signs until the infection has escalated and needs antibiotic treatment.
Once your dog has had a UTI, however, dog UTI home remedies can prevent recurrence. You will learn to be more sensitive to subtle changes in your dog’s urinary habits such as licking privates or urinary frequency. You will also keep closer tabs on your dog’s urine pH, allowing you to adjust before it gets too out of whack.
One important takeaway: regardless of your treatment choice, it is critical that you do not ignore symptoms of dog UTIs when you see them, and that you seek treatment of some form from your vet.
The other reason a vet visit is important is to have your vet determine if your dog has another health issue that is making them more prone to UTIs. Diabetes, bladder stones, and other metabolic diseases are all underlying issues the vet will investigate.
Have you used home remedies for dog UTI prevention? Share your story in the comments below to help others learn from your experiences.
Until next time-