Horse Health: Urination problems, Common Causes & What To Do

Urination is a normal part of the functioning of a healthy horse. In fact, if your horse isn’t urinating, or is having difficulty urinating, this is considered a moderate to severe, or even life-threatening emergency that requires immediate attention.

Facts about Pee

Mare Urinary Tract System (source Merck's Veterinary Manual)

Mare Urinary Tract System (source Merck's Veterinary Manual)

Urine is a process that allows the body to eliminate waste, and the urinary tract, consisting of kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra, also play an important function in electrolyte balance, blood volume and regulation of blood pressure.

The kidneys filter waste (byproducts of metabolism, excess nutrients and excess minerals) from the bloodstream, forming urine, and pass it through the ureters into the bladder, where it is stored until it released via the urethras (the process of urination). The urinary tract system is very similar in both male and female horses, with the predominant difference only in the length and width of the urethra.

Your horses’ pee is an amazing indicator of potential health issues, not just in the bladder but also the rest of the body as well. Therefore, abnormalities are important to pay attention to.

Stallion Urinary Tract (source Mercks Veterinary Manual)

Stallion Urinary Tract (source Mercks Veterinary Manual)

Normal urine should be clear, yellow or cloudy yellow, with minimal odour. Urine should be passed easily in a fairly steady stream. The number of times a horse urinates in a single day varies dependent on many factors – water ingestion, weather, exercise and age or size, to name a few.

Horses, as they are herbivores, have a naturally alkaline urine, usually between pH 7-8.

Interesting fact: Horse urine changes colour after being exposed to oxygen for a period of time. In the snow, it can sometimes appear red or brown, which would normally be a concerning indicator – however if the urine was initially passed yellow, your horse is likely to be ok (of course, if there are multiple symptoms that indicate abnormalities, check in with your veterinarian, just to be sure!).

What is in your horse’s first aid kit?

Click here to access your free checklist

An unhealthy urinary tract

Symptoms that could indicate a problem with the urinary tract include:

·        Frequent urination

·        Small urine quantities when peeing

·        Straining to urinate

·        Dribbling urine

·        Posturing to urinate, but unable to

·        Blood in urine (red or tea coloured urine)

·        Pus in urine

·        Clots in urine

·        Small stones  or sediment in the urine

Your horse may exhibit changes to their behaviour, become restless, lethargic, painful or resist palpitation/handling.

some causes of urinary tract problems or urine changes

Stones:

Yep. Stones in the urinary tract. These are impressive to see in real life and can become rather large – Guinness World Record has a equine bladder stone that measured 17.9x 12.7x 9.5cm, weighing almost 2kg! Imagine carrying that baby in your bladder - ouch!

Stones can form in the bladder or the kidneys, and may navigate to or lodge within the ureter or urethra. Stones can cause infections, inflammation, pain and even block urine output, which is life-threatening. Your vet may need to perform urine test, blood tests, imaging (radiographs or ultrasounds), and this may lead to surgical procedures to correct.

Urinary tract infection:

Bacterial infections are not as common in horses as other animals, and more likely in mares than geldings or stallions. Bacterial infections tend to ‘ascend’ – that is, they start externally and infiltrate the bladder. Infection in the bladder is uncomfortable, but if the infection ascends to the kidneys, it can be extremely painful and potentially life threatening. Urinary tract infections require veterinary diagnosis via urine tests with or without blood tests, and should never be treated with antibiotics without a diagnosis from a veterinarian, as it can be mistaken for many other problems and may increase bacterial resistance.

What is in your horse’s first aid kit?

Click here to access your free checklist

Sheath Beans:

These funny little plugs of mucus and debris can form a small, slightly squishy pellet or ‘bean’ inside the penis sheath, or prepuce. While not an infection and actually a normal occurrence in stallions and geldings, it can partially block the prepuce or lodge just inside the sheath, making urination difficult, uncomfortable and ‘dribbley’. Sheath beans can be manually removed or may be passed out naturally, but contact your vet if you need assistance.

Kidney Problems:

Urine changes can indicate changes to kidney function, particularly changes to the ability to concentrate or increase in protein. More workup is required to confirm kidney problems or disease, but if you notice an increase in thirst and frequency of urination, lethargy and pain around the back region, contact your vet.

Less common causes of urinary tract problems or changes:

·        Idiopathic Bladder Paralysis Syndrome (incontinence)

·        Cancer

Abnormal urination is a symptom that should not be taken lightly and may indicate a problem with your horses’ urinary tract. If you notice these symptoms or have any questions about some causes of urinary tract problems, we advise you contact your veterinarian.

What to do if your horse is having issues with urination

  1. Document the symptoms your are seeing and report to your vet:

    • The frequency of urination

    • The quantity of urine voided (little amounts frequently, normal quantity, or more than usual quantity PER voiding)

    • Colour and clarity of the sample (may mean collecting a sample of urine)

    • Any noted blood or pus?

    • Does the urine smell abnormal?

    • Any changes to the flow (dribbling or spurting?)

    • Temperature, heart rate and respiration rate (click each to see our articles on how to take these)

    • Any symptoms of pain, lethargy, changes to feed intake, changes to drinking

  2. If your vet asks you for a urine sample:

    • Ask if they would prefer a sterile sample or if they are happy for a general sample

    • If they require a sterile sample, you can collect a sterile specimen jar from any vet clinic or chemist

    • If they are happy for a general sample, select a VERY CLEAN container, like a plastic takeaway container, that wont leach any contaminants

    • Get the sample to your vet as quickly as possible. Samples that are not tested within 30 minutes MAY provide false readings

    • If you cannot get the sample to your vet immediately, ask your vet for storage recommendations

  3. Keep your horse as relaxed and rested as possible, and ensure they have plenty of access to water. If your horse is dehydrated, you may need to syringe some water in orally or get your vet out immediately!

  4. Most urinary tract issues are not contagious, so you probably won’t need to quarantine them unless they are displaying other symptoms, such as discharge from the eyes or nose, diarrhoea or extreme lethargy. If unsure, ask your vet for a recommendation.

  5. Do not medicate your horse with any new medications unless advised by a vet. This may mask symptoms or provide false results.

Has your horse had a bladder issue? Share your experience by commenting below!