Saturday, July 2, 2011

Whats In The Urine? (Part I: What You Can Notice On Your Own)

“One man's trash is another man's treasure.”

To a dog, urine isn't just waste, it is a precious commodity. I'm always fascinated by how carefully Jasmine selects just the right spot worthy of her deposit.

I'm sure that you have noticed your dog's fascination with urine markings. It is imperative that every tree, every pole and every hydrant gets carefully examined.


You might think that dogs can't read but they can!

Only their required reading isn't written in words.

“If reading scents is, for dogs, the equivalent of reading a written message, then the canine equivalent of ink is urine.”
—Stanley Coren, How to Speak Dog

Leaving urine markings, to dogs, is like sending out a resume.

Such a stereotype

If dogs get so much information from urine, could we?

Indeed, we can!

Examining a dog's urine can provide a great deal of information about their physical condition and health.

Urine contains compounds produced by the body and monitoring them can provide valuable diagnostic clues. Changes in urination and urine quality can not only indicate problems within the urinary tract itself, but also systemic disease.

If you notice any of the following, you want to have your dog examined by a veterinarian.

1) Be aware of urination frequency, painful urination or loss of the ability to hold urine.

Excessive urination (polyuria), usually combined with excessive drinking (polydipsia), is an important symptom that can signal a number of health problems, such as diabetes, Cushing's disease, Addison's disease, kidney or liver failure, and infection. (Bladder infections rarely cause true polyuria, however, kidney infections can)

Straining to urinate (dysuria)  can be caused by urinary tract obstruction, tumors, bladder stones or prostate disease (in males). The number one cause of dysuria is probably bladder infection.

Urinary track obstruction (not being able to pass urine despite straining) is an emergency situation and requires immediate veterinary care.

Urinary incontinence, is a condition most often seen in older dogs but it can happen at any age. It is most common in spayed females, though it can affect male dogs also. It is usually caused by hormonal deficiencies and/or loss of control of the urethral sphincter (the muscle that closes the bladder). However, anatomical, structural or neurological abnormalities of the urinary tract can be responsible also.

Your dog might also be unable to hold their urine as a result of excessive drinking (see above), or a urinary tract infection.

It is important to distinguish between polyuria, dysuria and urinary incontinence because each symptom has its own set of potential causes.

  • With polyuria, your dog will produce large volumes of urine and may urinate quite frequently. Dogs suffering from polyuria may not be able to hold their urine for long periods of time. Polyuria is often accompanied by polydipsia (increased water consumption.) Dogs with polyuria also usually produce very dilute urine which may be clear or have a very light yellow coloration.
  • By contrast, dogs suffering from dysuria generally urinate quite frequently but produce only small amounts of urine each time. In some cases, blood may be observed, depending on the cause of the dysuria.
  • Dogs with urinary incontinence lose the ability to be able to control their urinary habits. They urinate involuntarily and sometimes unknowingly. Frequently these dogs will leave wet spots where they have been sleeping or resting. They may also dribble urine while awake. Often, the dog is totally unaware that the urination is happening.

Differentiating between these symptoms can sometimes be difficult. It may not be possible to tell for certain at home exactly what is happening. 

If you see or suspect any of these symptoms, your dog should be examined by your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can help determine whether your dog is suffering from polyuria, dysuria or urinary incontinence by asking you questions and performing a physical examination and a urinalysis.

2) What's in the color?

Normal urine should be clear and light yellow to light amber in color.

Pale or clear urine could mean over-hydration, but it can also indicate kidney disease or other conditions that interfere with urine concentration.

A single episode of pale or clear urine is usually not significant, particularly if your dog just “tanked up” from the water bowl. However, a persistently pale or clear color usually indicates dilute urine and may be due to the kidney’s inability to concentrate the urine for a variety of causes. This is especially true if dilute urine is accompanied by greater than normal desire to drink water.

Dark yellow usually signals dehydration. Again, a single episode of dark yellow urine may not be significant, but persistently dark urine may indicate a problem and warrants a trip to the veterinarian.

Dark yellow urine particularly when accompanied by other symptoms of illness such as a lack of appetite, lethargy, vomiting or diarrhea is a cause for concern and will require a veterinary visit.

Urine that has a color other than shades of yellow is always bad news. Red, orange or brown discoloration can be a sign of bleeding into the urinary tract, damage to red blood cells, liver disease or the breakdown of muscle fibers.

Your dog may have blood in his or her urine for many different reasons. Bladder infections can cause bloody urine as can bladder stones, tumors and other diseases.

  • Bladder infections, particularly if recurrent or not responsive to treatment, may be a symptom of a larger problem.
  • Bladder stones (also known as cystic calculi or uroliths) come in several different types. Struvite stones are most often associated with infection and are not likely to resolve until the infection is controlled and the stones are dissolved with special foods or medications to acidify the urine. Calcium oxalate stones are sometimes seen when the pH of urine is higher than normal. In Dalmatians, urate stones are common. Stones of mixed composition may be seen in some dogs. Identification of the type of stone present is important in order to choose the correct treatment option (e.g., surgery versus medical dissolution) and prevention plan.

If your dog's urine is red, orange or brown you want to see your veterinarian as soon as possible. 

Orange or brown colored urine can be caused by bilirubin or myoglobin in the urine. Bilirubin may be present in the urine if your dog’s liver is not functioning normally or if your dog is suffering from the widespread destruction of red blood cells, such as is seen is autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA). Myoglobin is released from muscles when they are severely damaged as can occur in cases of heat stroke.

Cloudy urine likely signals bladder infection. However, bladder infections might not always cause cloudiness. A foul or musty odor may sometimes, but not always, be detected in the urine in cases of urinary tract infections also. Cloudiness can also be caused by the abnormal presence of sugar, protein, fat or crystals in the urine.

Foamy urine can be a sign of excess protein in the urine which is sometimes symptom of kidney failure.

Most owners try to have as little to do with their dog’s urine as possible, but looking for changes in urinary habits and urine characteristics is actually an excellent way to monitor your dog’s health.

Think like a dog and learn to read the pee!

It's your dog's health!

Many thanks to Dr. Lorie Huston for helping with this article!

Further reading:
Interpreting Unusually Colored Dog Urine
Blood in Dog Urine
Blood in Urine
Why Pets Pee: Recognizing a Problem and Promoting a Healthy Urinary Tract 
What's the Differential Diagnosis of Polydipsia and Polyuria in Dogs and Cats? 

Related articles:
What's In The Urine? (Part II: Urinalysis)
Excessive Drinking
Bad Odor
Excessive Panting
Bad Breath (Halitosis)
Where There Is Smoke, There Is Fire: A Symptom Is Your Friend!
When Is It An Emergency?


  1. Great info! My young puppy is going into her first heat... our first warning was her slightly brownish urine! (Also, we noticed that because she started having accidents in the house... another sign.)

    I always try to monitor their urination and bowel movements... it's not cute, but they tell you so much! Well, I monitor my own, too--ever notice how you seem compelled to examine what you leave in the toilet, even if it's just a brief moment? That's an instinct meant to monitor our health!

  2. Hi Serissime, yes, it's not exactly cute, but brings valuable information. Very non-invasive and quite helpful.

    Interesting about the signs of heat, I don't have any experience with that, thank you for sharing.

  3. Hi Y'all,

    I'm smiling because at the beginning of the article, where you say "if a dog can...indeed we can"...I momentarily had a vision of people crawling around sniffing bushes.


    It is a very informative article. Thank you for the info.

    BrownDog's Human

  4. Hi Hawk,

    LOL I'm sure it would make our dogs very happy if we did! There is a mention of that in At The Other End of the Leash :-)

  5. Really great tips... thank you!

  6. I hate talking Social Media, but your ranking for this article on Google is pretty darn high! You're in the first page of results. I saw it and went !!!!! =B It was really cool. And more informative than the other articles I read.... =] Go figure.

  7. WOW, really? Cool! I do think this article is one of its kind - the reason I know that is because I was trying to do a research for it. At the end I had to have Lorie helping, because I couldn't find enough sources to verify what I believed. And it's not even really about incontinence per se.


    1. Hi Judson.

      Did it just start in the same location she always peed with no foam, or is this a new location? Or did you just notice?

      Question is whether it's the urine what is foamy or the mud that makes it do so. It is my experience that some dirt will foam even when straight water is poured on it.

      There are two ways of testing this. Take a watering can (or something similar) or a hose (if in your yard) and pour water on that particular dirt to see if it will foam as well.

      See whether the urine foams in another area, such as on a lawn.

      When in doubt, have your vet do analysis of your dog's urine.

    2. PS: regular blood testing and urinalysis should be done at least once a year; twice a year for senior dogs.

  9. On long hikes (several miles & several hours), I observe that when out of urine, my dog will still attempt to mark, but blood comes out.
    This resolves with rest & replenishment.
    Only happens on long hikes, no other behavior changes, no UTI.

    1. I find it normal that a dog will attempt marking, even when out of urine. But blood should not be coming out. Please mention that to your vet.


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