Urine Burn and Your Senior Dog

Urine Burn and Your Senior Dog

Urine Burn and Your Senior DogWhen it comes to urine burn and your senior dog there is much more to think about than the grass in your yard.

What do I mean?

As your dog gets older they may experience urinary incontinence. They may also experience backend weakness which causes your dog to inadvertently urinate on their feet.

Why does this matter? Because urine burns!

So what do you need to know?

What You Need to Know About Urine Burn and Your Senior Dog

Urine Burn and Your Senior Dog

The term “urine burn” or “urine scald” is most often associated with the browning of grass due to dog urine. This isn’t the only application of the term, however.

If you have ever cared for a paralyzed dog or a dog with a spinal injury, then you may also be familiar with urine burn in another capacity. If you haven’t, then you will want to read on because this is the same concept that applies to senior dogs.

What is Urine Burn?

Urine burn is a painful rash that develops on the skin when it is exposed to urine for any period of time. For example, a paralyzed dog that does not have their bladder expressed regularly may experience bladder overflow which can result in dribbling. This dribbling of urine can cause urine to come into contact with the dog’s skin and cause irritation, rash, and burning.

Another commonly seen example of urine burn is the backyard breeder environment, hoarding environment or the unsanitary kennel environment. In this instance, dogs are frequently left to sit or lie in their own waste which can cause urine burn (as well as a number of other horrendous problems).

How Does Urine Burn Apply to My Well Cared For, Non-Paralyzed Dog?

So why should you care about urine burn if you don’t have a paralyzed or spinal injury dog?

Because senior dogs can experience urine burn too!

Often older dogs may experience regular urinary incontinence which can cause urine to come into contact with their skin on a regular basis. Even if this does not happen, senior dogs can also frequently urinate on their back feet when using the bathroom outside because their hind end isn’t strong enough to allow them to lift their leg or crouch as low as they once did. Once again, this causes the skin to come into contact with urine and opens up the possibility for urine burn.

What Does Urine Burn Look Like?

Urine burn or urine scald can range in appearance from a diaper rash appearance to a severe raw red rash with open sores. The more severe cases of urine burn are almost always the result of failure to treat a dog when they first show signs of urine burn.

Why Does Urine Burn Happen?

Ammonia Molecule

There are a few factors that contribute to the development of urine burn.

Ammonia / Urea

Ammonia is a byproduct produced in the body when protein is broken down during digestion. Ammonia is toxic to the body, however, so it must be removed from the bloodstream. This removal process involves the liver combining two ammonia molecules with one carbon dioxide molecule to create urea. Not only is this urea mostly neutral, but it is soluble in water which allows for it to dissolve in the blood, be taken to the kidneys and excreted in the urine.

Although urea is mostly neutral, over time the water molecules in urine will displace the ammonia derivatives in the urea and result in the production of ammonia once again.

This means that if urine is permitted to sit, it will not only become more odorous, but it will also become more caustic to your pet’s skin. This results in burns as well as irritation or the skin.


The burn from ammonia exacerbated by the presence of moisture.

As your dog sits in urine or when their skin is constantly exposed to urine, their skin will become waterlogged. When waterlogged, skin becomes much more prone to tearing even from the lightest touch.

This fragility of skin combined with the burn of ammonia can lead to very painful open sores.


The exposure to moisture and ammonia burns caused by urine can then lead to dermatitis.

Dermatitis, or the irritation and eventual breakdown of skin tissue, in individuals with incontinence is often referred to as diaper rash.

When left untreated, dermatitis will lead to open wounds which leave the body open to infection.


When the skin is warm and damp it creates the perfect host for fungal and bacterial infection. Add in the bacteria already present from waste products and your pup’s skin is in pretty significant trouble.

Left untreated infection will lead to tissue decay, possible systemic infection, and possible death.

So Is Your Senior Dog Going to Die From Incontinence?


While urine burn and it’s associated symptoms can certainly cause death if severe and untreated, it takes a while for things to get this bad. This means that the average senior dog who is well cared for won’t experience anywhere near such severe symptoms.

What it does mean, however, is that it’s crucial to treat urine leaks or accidents as soon as they happen.

How Do You Prevent Urine Burn in Senior Dogs?

Urine Burn in Senior Dogs

Most importantly, if your dog is incontinent, stay on top of hygiene. Change diapers regularly, bathe your dog regularly and place diaper pads where you dog lays so that urine is absorbed away from the skin.

If your senior dog urinates on their feet or legs when using the bathroom outdoors, clean their skin immediately – we keep baby wipes by the door since this happens regularly for Jet.

If you do notice that your dog has signs of irritation or burn from exposure to urine, make sure to keep them clean with a mild shampoo, thoroughly dry them after cleaning, and apply a dog-friendly soothing salve to help the skin to heal. DO NOT use baby diaper rash ointment as it contains zinc oxide which is toxic if ingested.

Lastly, talk to your vet. Ask if there is anything that can be done to help your pet to hold their urine or to prevent urine burn from happening again in the future.

If your dog has signs of urine burn that aren’t healing, signs of infection, or severe rash or open sores, make sure to visit your vet and ask about antibiotics. Infection can make healing difficult and cause irritation to return.

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