Symptoms and Treatment for Ectopic Ureters in Dogs

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Symptoms and Treatment for Ectopic Ureters in Dogs

An ectopic ureter is a congenital condition, which means that the anatomical defect is already present at birth. Affected dogs have ureters that are not attached to their normal location in the urinary bladder. A dog suffering from urinary incontinence that is not responding to treatment may have ectopic ureters. Continue reading to learn more about this condition, including how to recognize the symptoms and care for a dog with ectopic ureters.

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What are ectopic ureters?

To better understand this condition, an explanation of the urinary system should first be made.

The parts of the urinary system include a pair of kidneys, ureters, urinary bladder, and urethra. Each ureter is connected to a kidney. The ureters are the passageway of urine from the kidneys to the urinary bladder where they are stored. During urination, urine passes through the urethra to the outside of the body.

Normally, each ureter is attached to a specific spot on the urinary bladder. If these ureters don’t enter the bladder at the normal location, such as what happens with ectopic ureters, the urine may drain into the urethra or even the vagina of female dogs. This can significantly affect the normal function of the urinary bladder when it comes to urine retention.

Causes of Ectopic Ureters in Dogs

The anatomical defect occurs when there is an abnormal development of the embryonic ducts while the puppy is still in the mother’s womb. The embryonic ducts are the ones that will develop into ureters. When they fail to develop in the normal location, the puppy is born with ectopic ureter(s).

Some dog breeds appear to have a hereditary predisposition to developing ectopic ureters. A stronger genetic link has been observed in the following breeds:

  • Labrador Retriever
  • Golden Retriever
  • Poodle
  • Siberian Husky
  • Terrier breeds
  • Newfoundland
  • Entlebucher Mountain Dog

Young female dogs are also more commonly affected compared to their male counterparts. Female dogs are known to be 20X more likely to be diagnosed with ectopic ureters than males.

Symptoms of Ectopic Ureters in Dogs

Urinary incontinence is the most common symptom exhibited by dogs with ectopic ureters. The symptom is often noticed soon after affected puppies are weaned. However, some dogs don’t show symptoms until they become adults. Urine dribbling in dogs with ectopic ureters may be constant or intermittent.

Urine leakage causes affected dogs to frequently lick their genitals. The hair around their genital area may also be discolored as a result of urine staining.

Ectopic ureters can increase a dog’s risk for recurrent urinary tract infection (UTI). With the ureters bypassing the bladder, bacteria can easily ascend into the urinary tract.

Dogs with UTIs exhibit frequent voiding of small amounts of urine, straining during urination, and a painful or tender abdomen. Ectopic ureters are not primary considerations in dogs with recurrent UTIs. However, when it occurs in a young female dog, the veterinarian may deem it necessary to check for anatomical problems in any part of the urinary tract.

How Ectopic Ureters are Diagnosed

Rarely, an ultrasound can diagnose the presence of ectopic ureters in young puppies. Several tests will be performed by the vet in addition to a complete physical exam and medical history.

1. Urinalysis

A urinalysis is always the first laboratory test to be performed on dogs with urinary issues. The test will assess the following important information about the dog’s urine:

  • Chemical composition
  • Urine concentration
  • Acidity
  • Protein levels
  • Levels of various chemical substances

Microscopic examination of the urine sample can also reveal whether red blood cells, white blood cells, and/or urine crystals are present. When infection or inflammation is present, red and white blood cells are usually detected in the urine.

2. Urine Culture and Sensitivity

This can help identify the type of bacteria or other pathogens that are causing the infection and what antibiotics they’re sensitive to.

3. Abdominal X-rays

Radiographs can help rule out bladder stones as the potential cause of the dog’s urinary problems.

4. Abdominal Ultrasound

An ultrasound of the dog’s abdomen can help check the bladder for any abnormalities, like bladder stones. It can also help evaluate for any abnormal flow of urine. The results of an abdominal ultrasound do not necessarily lead to a definitive diagnosis but may warrant the need for further tests.

5. Cystoscopy

This is the most accurate procedure for diagnosing ectopic ureters in female dogs. The dog has to be sedated or anesthetized before a probe with a small camera is inserted in the dog’s urethra or bladder. With the images generated by the camera, the veterinarian can see where the ureter enters, whether it’s in the urinary bladder or urethra.

6. Computed Tomography (CT scan)

This is the most accurate diagnostic test for male dogs. The patient is placed under general anesthesia so the veterinarian can trace where the ureters enter.

Treatment Options for Dogs with Ectopic Ureters

Ectopic ureters can be relocated from their abnormal location to where they should be normally located. This can be accomplished in two ways - open abdominal surgery or a laser procedure (which can be performed during cystoscopy). Both procedures have been associated with a favorable prognosis.

The best treatment option for your pet will be determined by your veterinarian based on the results of the tests and procedures that have been performed. However, not all cases of ectopic ureters can be completely resolved with surgery. Urinary incontinence may persist. Even with surgical intervention and medical management, 25-70% of female patients may still have persistent urinary incontinence. When this happens, medications may be prescribed by your vet to manage the dog’s incontinence.

A retrospective study of dogs with ectopic ureters showed that the prognosis after surgery is fair, with a success rate of 72% and a complication rate of 26%.

Care and Management for Dogs with Ectopic Ureters

The aftercare of a dog that has undergone treatment for ectopic ureters depends on the treatment regimen. If an open abdomen surgery is performed, there will be a 2-week restriction of the dog’s activity. Instructions will also be given by your vet concerning proper wound care and administration of medications.

Patients that underwent cystoscopy may return to their normal activities within a shorter period.

Whatever the procedure that has been employed, patients will have to undergo a series of urinalysis and urine cultures to assess the success of the treatment.

Read more:

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Published: 4/27/2022
Dr. Sheena Haney, Veterinarian

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