Friday, January 16, 2015

Why is my pet peeing in the house? Submissive Urination

My cat Wren, she plays I work,
how is that fair?
None of us get to the place where fear cripples our ability to function normally without having had a road of choices behind us. Trying to remind and convince my clients that an unwanted behavior is simply the accumulation of missed opportunities along the way is every pet parents responsibility and one of my biggest challenges.

I am not sure if these behavior questions are the result of not understanding the failings and mistakes we humans have made along the way, or, our want of absence and accountability when forced to take to look in the mirror and face our part in the problem, or, being so caught in the fast pace of our lives that we think we can get a quick-fix for everything. But, I get asked about one behavior problem more than any other.. I get asked it a lot,,, and I cringe every single time.

My pups, Charlie and Jekyll

Here is the BIG dilemma for behavior problems;
  1. They took a while to get there, therefore, 
  2. You have to assume that it is going to take a while to get back to where you went astray, and,
  3. You are in all likelihood responsible for some part of the problem. 
Here is the good news, things can get better. Pets are trainable and there are people who can help.

One of the most common problems I get asked to help with is the proverbial 
"peeing in the house" pet.

I answer this question from two perspectives.
  • First, as a veterinarian, and, 
  • Second, as a behaviorist.

My happy cat finds a sunny spot.
No worries with this kid..

When I am discussing any problem with a client in the clinic I always start with a talk about what is going on?, What is "acceptable" versus "unacceptable" in the clients eyes? The length of time it has been going on, and what environmental factors might be contributing to the problem? This is a discovery process which requires an open honest dialogue. It also requires trying to understand the world through your pets eyes. We reason with a humans perspective, but, when trying to solve a pets problem,  we need to be tackling the issue with the pets perception and life in mind.

Behavior problem resolution is about three things;

  1. Understanding what the parents problem is,
  2. Understanding why the pet believes what they are doing is necessary.
  3. Convincing both parties that they can help each other and return back to harmony.

The first place to start with every pet problem is your vet. Here's why,, assuming that it is a behavioral problem and not looking for a medical problem could worsen the medical condition and possibly cause additional behavior problems.

The question I was recently asked was about a submissive urination in a young dog who had been raised in a household with a lot of yelling. Her fearful urination persisted for years and has progressed to now urinating even when getting praise and treats.

Here was my advice;

See your vet first. Your vet will look for any possible complicating or compounding issues, especially when it has been such a longstanding problem. I know it sounds like a long shot, but I have found many, many medical issues when we were focused on what we believed to be simply a behavioral issue. These included underlying kidney and liver issues, underlying bladder stones, bladder infection, and even anatomical disorders that can cause leakage or inability to hold urine. This examination and work up should include a thorough examination, including looking at the urinary anatomy and palpation of the bladder. I would also recommend blood work to include a CBC, chemistry and urinalysis. At my clinic this would cost about $170.

After these we address any possible behavioral issues. These can include stress, anxiety, fear, changes to the environment, etc. Another possibility (dogs) is spay incontinence. More information about this disease is here.

I also advise seeking help from a trained, reputable, and experienced behaviorist or trainer who can come to your home and understand the scope of the issues. In this case it sounded like any emotional interaction would elicit urination,, therefore, the goal is to minimize all interactions from being surrounded by emotion, or with the possibility of causing an emotional response. This is not to say that you don't interact and provide exercise, attention, and training, BUT, you don't use emotions to provide them. You provide care and attention just not treats, praise, or commands that are with baby talk or harshness (i.e. emotionally driven). Too may people try to re-wire their pet with soft, silly, baby talk which is almost as anxiety ridden as yelling or demanding. Be a confident, quiet, example of composure, love, and dedication to helping your pet on the road to re-wiring an re-training.

Never, ever yell, never scold, and never reprimand their behavior in a negative fashion. Usually, we suggest that you train with praise and reward, but for these guys it can cause submission and subsequent urination. Your job is to create an environment and atmosphere of self-esteem, confidence and love, not a place where your pet is submissive to anyone else.

For example, re-inforce housebreaking with the tips here, but all interactions should be without words. Try using minimal hand signals or body language also. Instead approach him without words, place a leash on him, and go for a walk. I would also recommend that you minimize the interactions with other people as they will not understand his specific training needs. Pets with submission issues should be walked without talking or without you being anything other than a calm, patient, dog walker. Learn and teach them to how respond with hand signals and minimize showing your emotions. A little bit of gentle calm training with your pet will be reflected in their confidence with dealing with the world, and from these baby steps you can move forward without pee on the floor at every meet and greet.

I wish you the very best of luck!

My Jitterbug gives a head butt and a hug.
Related blogs; Submissive Urination

There are lots of pet questions being answered every day about all sorts of pet topics. Please join us in helping pets and their people at We are open and free to everyone who loves pets.

You can also find me on Twitter @FreePetAdvice, or at the clinic, Jarrettsville Vet, in Jarrettsville Maryland.

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