Is Inability to Urinate an Emergency?

If your dog cannot empty their bladder, it is an emergency. See a veterinarian asap.

What can cause the inability to urinate? The causes break down into two groups – urinary obstruction and urinary retention. In any case, though, your dog needs to see a veterinarian immediately.

Is Inability to Urinate an Emergency?

Urinary obstruction

Your dog can suffer urinary tract obstruction, either due to a blockage, inflammation, or compression of the urethra. Therefore, underlying causes include:

  • urinary tract stones
  • tumors
  • urinary disease
  • prostate disease in male dogs …

Urinary obstructions can be partial or complete. Your dog might take longer than normal to urinate or repeatedly pee in small amounts. The signs are similar to those of urinary tract infection (UTI). Naturally, the more serious is the obstruction, the more severe the symptoms, including collapse. Therefore, if your dog is not peeing normally, they need medical attention.

While male and female dogs can suffer from urinary obstructions, male dogs are at higher risk. It is because they are more likely to get complete obstructions due to their anatomy.

Symptoms of urinary obstruction in dogs include:
  • painful urination
  • frequent urination
  • straining to urinate with little or no urine coming out
  • bloody urine
  • vomiting
  • lethargy

Your veterinarian will take x-rays to look for stones. While some cancers show up on x-rays, but the best way to look for them is with ultrasound. At the same time, your dog will also need blood work to check electrolyte levels and kidney function. For example, dogs that cannot urinate can have dangerously high potassium levels, negatively impacting their hearts.

Unaddressed urinary obstruction can also lead to permanent kidney damage.

Is Inability to Urinate an Emergency? Kidney stones signs and symptoms
Signs and symptoms of kidney stones in dogs

Further reading: Urinary Obstruction in Dogs

Urinary retention

Urinary retention results from dysfunction rather than an obstruction. This can be neurologic or systemic in nature. It refers to incomplete voiding of pee from causes other than obstruction. It can happen as a complication of:

  • urinary tract infection (UTI)
  • injury to the bladder or urethra
  • or dysfunction of the muscles coordinating peeing
Systemic causes can include:
  • electrolyte disturbances
  • Cushing’s disease
Complications of urinary retention are typically result of a spreading UTI and include:
  • rupture of the bladder or urethra
  • permanent injury to the muscle that controls the movement of urine out of the bladder
Symptoms include:
  • abdominal distention
  • frequent, unsuccessful attempts to urinate
  • weak or interrupted urine stream
  • urine leakage
  • recurrent UTIs

Further reading: Functional Urinary Retention in Dogs

A dog unable to empty their bladder is an emergency

Balloon pop from overinflation. Image Science Amino

Other complications

Urine buildup can lead to kidney failure, electrolyte issues, or bladder rupture. All of these things can be fatal.

A dog straining to urinate might actually look like a constipated dog, hunching over while urinating.


Signs to watch for, other than difficulty urinating, include:

  • distended bladder
  • unproductive attempts to urinate
  • weak urine stream
  • urine leakage
  • blood in urine
  • loss of appetite
  • lethargy
  • vomiting
  • pain

Related articles:
Dog Symptoms: When Is It an Emergency?

Further reading:
Urinary Obstruction in Dogs
Inability to Urinate in Dogs

Categories: EmergenciesInability to urinateSymptoms

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Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

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