If your dog has ever had a urinary tract infection, or UTI, you noticed how uncomfortable and unsettled they appear to be. These infections aren't easy to detect until it's obvious your pet has difficulty passing urine or has blood in their urine. Your dog can't tell you when things start to pain before those symptoms are noticeable, so it's essential to try to prevent illness where possible. It appears that one way of preventing urinary tract infections is by giving dogs cranberry extracts.
Urinary tract infections occur when bacteria enter the urinary tract through the urethra – the tube leading from the bladder to outside the body. Because the female urethra is shorter than that in the males, UTI's are more common in girls. Symptoms can include frequent urination or passing just small amounts of urine or even blood in the urine. Diagnosis involves a combination of evaluating a dog's symptoms, a thorough physical examination, and urine tests. If a dog is suffering from an uncomplicated infection then antibiotics are usually prescribed.
In people, cranberries have been evaluated as a means of reducing the incidence of UTIs and the results have been somewhat promising. It's not well understood how they do this but they appear to prevent bacteria from adhering to the lining of the urinary tract and this inhibits infection. The chemicals in cranberries interfere with the filaments on the surface of bacteria that allow them to stick to urinary tract cells. Studies in people show a reduced incidence of infections over the course of a year and less likelihood of recurrence. However, a 2016 study of women in nursing homes showed no benefit when compared to a placebo. Interestingly, cranberries are not effective in treating existing infections. The challenges associated with the use of cranberries in controlling UTIs in people include a lack of a specific dose rate and the cost of cranberry products.
Dogs and humans are alike in many ways, so it's not surprising that scientists have started to look at whether cranberries will prevent UTIs in dogs. Taiwanese researchers have published the results of their evaluation into the use of cranberry supplements in dogs with recurrent infections. They also tested the supplements in a laboratory to assess their effect on bacterial adhesion to canine kidney cells. Their findings showed that the supplements reduced bacterial adhesion to the urinary tract, and none of the dogs developed an infection during the six-month trial. The laboratory results also supported the theory that cranberries stop bacteria from sticking to the urinary tract lining.
This is a promising study but there are limitations. The number of dogs in the trial was very small, so it's not possible to be sure that the effects would be similar in a study with more canine participants. However, given these results, it is well worth considering the use of cranberries and their extracts in the prevention of urinary tract infections in dogs. They won't do any harm and may even have a positive effect on a dog's well-being. It's important to remember that before you give your pet such a supplement, chat to your veterinarian regarding its appropriateness and whether there are any interactions with their current medication.