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Felix Adamo/ The Californian

Columnist Sherry Davis.

Before my inbox is pummeled with mail accusing me of trying to scare pet owners out of spaying their female dogs, let's make something perfectly clear. I'm 100 percent in support of efforts to develop a viable spay and neuter program that will reduce the number of dogs euthanized each year.

I'm writing this column in response to frustrated people who periodically contact me about what they think are their female dog's housebreaking mistakes, but which turn out not to be about housebreaking at all. These dogs' "mistakes" are the result of urinary leaking following a spay.

And because there is so much confusion and so many owners don't even know this condition exists, I was glad to see an update on the topic in the January-February issue of AKC Family Dog.

According to Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald, staff veterinarian at Alameda East Veterinary Hospital in Denver and easily recognized from his regular appearances on "Animal Planet," urine leaking in spayed dogs while sleeping or lying down is common. It occurs in about 20 percent of dogs spayed between their first and second heat, on average three years after the procedure. According to Fitzgerald, one study has shown that in dogs spayed before their first heat, the incidence of urinary incontinence is 9.7 percent, with females spayed before three months of age having twice the risk of displaying urinary incontinence before six years of age compared to females spayed after six months.

Urinary incontinence is not specific to any breed and can occur in mixed-breeds as well, but it is more common in large dogs over 25 pounds. They are four times as likely to develop urinary problems post-spaying than dogs under 25 pounds.

Dr. Fitzgerald says that although some dogs with this form of urinary incontinence may have bladder issues as well, dogs with urine leakage generally don't show signs of lower urinary tract distress such as increased urgency, frequency, strain or pain and that the condition known as "primary sphincter mechanism incompetence" is caused by low urethral closure pressure. Urethral closure pressure has been demonstrated to decrease within 12 to 18 months following spaying and it is thought to continue to decrease as the dog ages.

Treatment of the condition has traditionally been with the drug phenylpropanolamine. It is used to promote urethral tone and restoration of urinary continence in dogs and has been shown to provide improvement in nearly all affected dogs. But caution must be used as it is dangerous if given to dogs with kidney or cardiac problems or dogs with high blood-pressure. Estrogen treatment has also been used successfully as an alternative and effective therapy, but as with phenylpropanolamine, it has side effects and should only be given under veterinary supervision.

It's important to note that the majority of female dogs undergo the spay procedure with no resulting incontinence problems whatsoever, so fear of urinary incontinence should not be a reason to avoid spaying your dog.

Your veterinarian will be happy to discuss your concerns and recommend the safest and most appropriate time to spay your female dog.


Monday and Tuesday night millions of dog lovers will be glued to their TVs to watch another kind of Super Bowl, the 138th Annual Westminster Kennel Club all-breed dog show. While this year's entry is the largest since 1990 with 187 breeds represented from all 50 states and 13 foreign countries, that's not the only big news.

Saturday, The Masters Agility Championship at Westminster finals, featuring 225 pure-bred and mixed-breed dogs (All American dogs), will be televised on Fox Sports 1. This inclusion of mixed breeds is especially significant, bringing non-purebred dogs to a Westminster event for the first time since the very earliest days of its show. May the best dog win!

Sherry Davis is a dog trainer/owner of CSI 4 K9s. Email her at These are her opinions, not necessarily The Californian's.