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Latest health and behavior news and advice from the veterinarians at Tufts University.

Expert Advice September 2018 Issue

Dear Doctor: The Dog Can’t Urinate

Q. For the last day or two my dog has stopped urinating. He strains and maybe a few drops come out, but there’s no “stream” to speak of. I know that a dog will sometimes miss a bowel movement. Is this the same thing?

Patricia Angelo

Las Vegas, Nevada

Dear Ms. Angelo,

A. Get your dog to the veterinarian’s office — now. When a dog misses an expected bowel movement, it’s usually no big deal. He can make it up on the next bowel movement. Or he may have a tummy upset that will resolve on its own. But not being able to urinate is a whole other story. If a dog (or person) is not able to pass urine, toxins build up in his bloodstream, and he (or she) will become sick with lethargy, or vomiting, and could eventually die.

Severe straining to urinate (sometimes accompanied by blood in the urine) or complete inability to urinate can be caused by such illnesses as a tumor in the urethra or an enlarged prostate gland. But often, the case is a stone lodged in the urethra, a male dog problem, as is an enlarged prostate gland; the male urethra has narrow spaces that the female urethra does not. Such stones form when minerals precipitate out of the urine. They can end up in the kidneys; the ureters (the tubes through which urine flows on its way from the kidneys to the bladder); the bladder itself; or the urethra, where the urine flows just before leaving the body through the tip of the penis (or the vagina).

Most stones end up in the bladder, and while they need to be taken care of, they are not life-threatening. Even though straining may occur, the dog can still urinate “around” the stone. In the urethra, however, obstruction of urine flow can be complete rather than partial, which is why it has to be taken care of immediately.

There are a number of approaches, including flushing the stone back up into the bladder, where it’s easier to remove via a simple operating room procedure; performing an operation to remove the stone right from the urethra itself (often trickier to get at it that way); or lasering the stone into tiny bits and then flushing it up into the bladder for easy retrieval by a surgeon.

Whatever’s advised, this isn’t something you can afford to delay.

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