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Ectopic Ureters in Dogs

By: Dr. David Diamond

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A ureter is the tube through which the urine passes from the kidney to the bladder. Ectopic ureter is an abnormally placed opening of the ureter, either into the urinary bladder or at another site in the lower genitourinary tract.

Urine traveling in the ureters normally enters the bladder in a region called the trigone near the narrow tip of the bladder where the urethra carries urine out. Animals with ectopic ureters have abnormal ureteral openings at the trigone, or the ureters bypass the bladder and open directly into the urethra, uterus or vagina. Regardless of the actual anatomic abnormality, the muscles of the urethra often function improperly and the urine is poorly contained. This results in the urinary incontinence or dribbling that prompts the owner to seek veterinary help. Some animals may have partial urethral muscle function allowing them to retain their urine, urinate normally at times and only dribble occasionally.

Ectopic ureter is a developmental abnormality that occurs early in fetal life. An underlying cause for the anomaly is not known but other developmental abnormalities of the urogenital system are often present in the same animal.

It is not known why some breeds are more commonly affected with this condition than others; genetic factors are suspected in some family lines. Siberian huskies, golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers and miniature poodles are the commonly affected breeds with this condition.

Ectopic ureters are diagnosed much more frequently in females than in males. It is believed that because of the relatively long length of the male urethra, males infrequently experience urinary incontinence when ectopic ureters are present. Although the true occurrence of ectopic ureters is not known in males, it is likely that it happens as often as it does in females.

Young puppies are usually adopted just after weaning from their mothers. Urinary incontinence or dribbling urine may be tolerated in the beginning by an owner believing that the animal is simply difficult to house train. But when the dribbling continues even after a recent urination outside on a walk, owners usually realize that something is not right and bring the problems to the attention of their veterinarian.

The aberrant location of the ureteral openings and malfunctioning of the urethral sphincter muscles can allow bacteria to gain access into the bladder or even up into the kidneys. Bladder infections (cystitis) may exacerbate these animals' urinary symptoms by causing frequent and painful urinations, and bloody urine. Infections in the kidneys (pyelonephritis) can severely damage the kidneys and lead to systemic illness.

As many of these animals also have malfunctioning of their urethral sphincter muscles, urinary incontinence may persist after surgical correction. Some medications may help to strengthen the urethral muscle, but if the incontinence continues, many owners opt for euthanasia.

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