Ectopic Ureters

Site Search by PicoSearch. Help

Article Written by Dr. Daniel A. Degner, Board-certified Veterinary Surgeon (DACVS)

Key Points

Ectopic ureter is an abnormally located terminal portion of the ureter.  Instead of the ureter opening in  the bladder, it opens in the urethra, vagina, or uterus.  The result is constant dribbling of urine.

Surgical intervention is required to treat this condition

Prognosis is variable and but surgery could be curative

Medical therapy may also need to be provided after surgery if continued incontinence is present


  • The kidney is made of a many very small filters called nephrons
  • The final filtrate from the nephrons ultimately becomes urine
  • The nephrons drain into a collecting chamber in the kidney called the renal pelvis
  • The tube that carries urine from the kidney to the bladder is called the ureter
  • The tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside is called the urethra




  • Ectopic ureter is an abnormally located terminal portion of the ureter.  Instead of the ureter opening in  the bladder, it opens in the urethra, vagina, or uterus.  The result is constant dribbling of urine.


Signs of an ectopic ureter

  • Urinary incontinence (leakage of urine)
  • Blood tinged urine if bladder infections are also present
  • Frequent urination
  • More common in large breed dogs such as Labrador Retrievers; very rare condition in cats
  • Almost exclusively diagnosed in females


Urinary incontinence (leakage of urine) and ectopic ureters

  • In a dog that has an ectopic ureter, urine flows down the ureter directly into the urethra instead of the bladder (see illustration below). As a result, these pets typically drip urine constantly. Because this condition is congenital, most of these dogs are incontinent when they are born. The problem may be first noticed after the puppy has been weaned from its mother, because she may constantly clean the puppy.
  • Urinary continence is also maintained by a valve at the neck of the bladder called the urinary sphincter. About 50% of the dogs that have an ectopic ureter have an abnormally weak urinary sphincter, and are also incontinent due to this (urinary sphincter mechanism incontinence).


Diagnostic testing prior to surgery

  • Complete blood cell count
  • Biochemical profile to make sure that the kidneys and other internal organs are healthy
  • Urinalysis and urine culture to check for infection of the bladder and or kidney
  • Abdominal ultrasound to evaluate the structure of the kidneys; the ureters usually cannot be seen with ultrasound unless they are dilated
  • An excretory urogram involves giving the pet a type of dye or contrast media through an intravenous catheter. The dye is excreted into the urine. As the dye passes through the ureters they may be seen with radiographs (x-rays)
  • CT scan is the best diagnostic tool used to diagnose ectopic ureters. This scan is performed if the excretory urogram does not provide a definitive diagnosis. Below is a CT scan image (this cross-section is through the lower part of the bladder at the level of the green arrow in the illustration above) of a normal ureter (labeled N) entering the bladder (labeled B) and a dilated ectopic  ureter (labeled E).


  • The CT scan below shows a dilated ectopic ureter (labeled E) located within the urethral wall (this cross-section is at the level of the red arrow in the illustration above); also take note of the the smaller ectopic ureter labeled with an arrow   




  • An incision is made along the midline of the abdomen
  • The urinary system is examined and the abnormal ureter identified
  • An incision is made in the bladder and first part of the urethra in order to perform the intricate work
  • The ectopic ureter is dissected out of the wall of the urethra (see below) and sutured into the bladder


  • The region where the ureter was dissected out of the urethra is sutured, which tightens the valve of the bladder.  In the photo below the new opening of the ureter is sutured in the bladder


  • A colposuspension surgery is performed in order to improve the tone of the valve of the bladder; this involves creating a sling around the urethra by suturing the front part of the vagina to the body wall, around the urethra.
  • In the event the kidney belonging to the ectopic ureter is nonfunctional, it will be removed. This should not affect the lifespan of your pet, providing that the other kidney is normal



  • Anesthetic death
  • Allergic reaction to the dye
  • Bladder infection
  • Abdominal infection
  • Continued incontinence
  • Straining to urinate due to irritation of the bladder (resolves within the first 2 weeks)
  • Obstruction of the urethra due to swelling, which may require temporary catheterization



  • In our experience, about 75% of the dogs will have normal urinary continence after this surgery; the literature reports a lower success rate, however, these reports do not include cases that received the triad of surgeries discussed above:  ureteral replantation, urethroplasty, and colposuspension
  • In some cases medication (phenylpropanolamine) may be required after surgery to achieve complete urinary continence

Frequently Asked Questions After Surgery

When should my dog have the first bowel movement after surgery?

  • Many dogs will not have a bowel movement for the first 4 to 5 days after surgery
  • Reasons that a dog will not have regular bowel movements after surgery include:
    • The dog has been fasted prior to surgery
    • Dogs do not eat well during the hospital stay
    • They frequently do not eat well when they go home
    • They are fed highly digestible food that produces little stool
    • Pain medication that contain narcotics (such as morphine, fentanyl patches, and tramadol) can be constipating
  • If a pet does not have a bowel movement on the 5th day of being home, a stool softener such as metamucil can be fed
    • Dose of metamucil is 1 tsp per 25 Kg mixed in with each meal (canned dog food); feed immediately after mixing, as the metamucil will gel the food and may make it less palatable

My pet had surgery and will not eat.  What can be done?

  • Dogs
    • Most pets will not eat their regular dog food after surgery, especially if it is kibble.
    • Offer a cooked diet having a 1:1 ratio of a protein source and carbohydrate source.  The protein source can be any meat (example: chicken breast, turkey breast, lean hamburger) that is low in fat and should be cooked (drain off all fat after the meat has been cooked).   The carbohydrate can be pasta, potato or white rice.
    • Try canned dog food; to enhance the flavor sprinkle a very small amount of garlic powder or chicken or beef broth (Chicken-in-a- MugTM or Beef-in-a-MugTM products)
    • Try Gerber strained meats for babies such as the chicken, beef, turkey, or veal
    • Try Hill's A/D diet available at most veterinary hospitals
    • Hand feeding: place a small amount of food in the mouth so that your dog gets the flavor
    • Warm the food slightly in a microwave, as the food will be more aromatic; stir the food before feeding and test the temperature on the bottom side of your wrist; it should only be luke warm.
    • Remember that most pets will not eat the first day or two after they get home from surgery
  • Cats
    • Offer smelly foods that contain fish such as tuna or smelly cat foods
    • Try Gerber strained meats for babies such as the chicken, beef, turkey or veal
    • Hand feeding:  with your finger place a small amount of food on the roof of your cat's mouth; use a syringe to get soft food into the mouth
    • Warm the food slightly in a microwave as the food will be more aromatic; remember to stir the food before feeding and test the temperature; it should be only luke-warm
    • Some cats will only eat dry food, try kibble if your cat normally has been fed that food
    • Petting and stroking your cat frequently will help to stimulate appetite
    • Remember that most pets will not eat the first day or two after they get home from surgery
    • Appetite stimulants such as cyproheptadine may be helpful
    • If your cat refuses to eat anything for 7 days a stomach tube or nasogastric tube should be placed to provide nutrition so that a serious liver problem (hepatic lipidosis) does not develop

My pet is vomiting.  What can be done?

  • The first thing for you to discern is whether your pet is vomiting or regurgitating.  Both will result in fluid or food being brought up.  Vomiting always will have heaving or retching of the abdomen prior to expulsion of the vomitus.  Regurgitation is not associated with heaving and the pet usually just opens the mouth and fluid or food will be expelled.  Usually the regurgited material will be clear or brown colored fluid. 
  • Next is to identify the cause of the vomiting or regurgitation.
  • Causes and treatment of vomiting after surgery
    • When some pets return home after a stay in the hospital they may drink excessive amounts of water at one time and then vomit; if this appears to be the case, the water should be limited to frequent smaller amounts.
    • Medications such as antibiotics, narcotics or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication commonly cause vomiting after surgery.  In order to see which medication is causing the problem, the administration of each drug should be separated 2 hours apart.  Usually the pet will vomit or appear nauseated (drooling and sick look) within 1 hour of administration of the medication that they are sensitive to.  The antibiotic in some cases may be changed to a different one, or may be discontinued. 
    • Stomach upset from anesthesia is a potential cause of vomiting and will pass within a couple of days. 
    • An uncommon cause of vomiting after surgery is internal organ failure.  Blood testing will confirm this problem. For this reason vomiting should not be ignored if it persists for more than 24 hours.
    • If your pet had surgery of the bowels or stomach, vomiting is always a concern, as it may indicate that infection of the abdominal cavity, called peritonitis, is present.  Do not ignore this sign.
    • Symptomatic treatment of vomiting involves withholding food for 12 to 24 hours, then introducing small amounts of bland food such as rice and lean cooked hamburger, if your pet does not vomit after that then gradually wean him/her back onto the regular diet after 3 days.  In order to decrease the acidity of the stomach, Pepcid AC 0.5 mg/kg can be given by mouth twice daily for 5 days.  Metoclopramide and Cerenia are good anti-vomiting medications for dogs and cats.  You should always consult a veterinary healthcare professional before administering medication.
  • Causes and treatment of regurgitation after surgery
    • The most common cause of regurgitation is reflux of acid from the stomach into the esophagus while your pet is under anesthesia.  Acidic fluid from the stomach can cause a chemical burn of the esophagus and result in a bad case of heart burn, called esophagitis.  This results in poor motility of the esophagus, therefore water and food will accumulate in this structure.  In most cases, esphagitis is self-eliminating and will resolve within two or three days. 
    • If the esophagitis is severe the esophagus may develop one or more strictures.  A stricture is a narrowing or stenosis of the esophagus and does not allow passage of food down the esophagus, in regurgitation that lasts longer than one week.  This problem should be brought to the attention of your pet's doctor within the first two weeks so that it can be treated by ballooning the stricture (minimally invasive procedure, as it is done with the aide of an endoscope).  If an esophageal stricture is chronic surgery is needed.
    • Symptomatic treatment of regurgitation caused by esophagitis includes feeding bland food, and administering a coating agent (sucralfate) and an acid blocker (omeprazole or other).  Consult a veterinary health care professional if the regurgitation continues for more than a couple of days.

How do I know that my dog is in pain following surgery?

  • Signs of pain include
    • crying
    • biting if you get near the surgical site
    • grimacing (lips are pulled back and the the dog looks anxious)
    • tragic facial expression
    • panting
    • restlessness and unable to sleep; pacing
    • if abdominal surgery was done the pet will not lie down on the incision, or will continually sit up in spite of appearing very tired
    • the worst pain will be for the first 2 to 3 days after surgery

What can I do to control my dog's pain?

  • Narcotic medications that control pain: tramadol, butorphanol, Duragesic (fentanyl patch)
  • Anti-inflammatories used to control pain: Deramaxx, Rimadyl, Previcox, or Etogesic
  • If an orthopedic surgery has been done cold packing the surgical site may be helpful
    • A cold pack may be a pack of frozen peas, crushed ice in a Ziploc bag, or a cold gel pack; place a thin barrier between the skin and the cold pack.  An alternative to a cold pack is to freeze water in a styrofoam cup; after frozen cut the bottom of the styrofoam cup out. Cool the surgical site around the incision by rubbing the exposed ice directly on the skin in a circular pattern.  Cooling the surgical site helps to numb the area.

How do I know that my cat is in pain following surgery?

  • Pain is more difficult to assess in cats versus dogs, as signs can be more subtle and they usually do not vocalize when in pain
  • Signs of pain in a cat include the following:
    • biting if you get near the surgical site
    • growling or deep cry
    • not wanting to eat
    • hiding and not wanting to be near owner (remember that this could also be caused by the cat just being upset about leaving home and coming back)

What can be done for pain at home for my cat?

  • Pain medication such as buprenorphine or a Duragesic (fentanyl) patch
  • Tylenol will kill a cat as they lack abundant glutathione enzyme in the liver
  • Anti-inflammatories can be used, but the dose is much less than dogs

Is it okay for my pet to lick the incision?

  • If a dog licks the incision, the healing process may be delayed.
  • Licking can remove stitches and cause the incision to open
  • Licking can become a severe habit that is difficult to break
  • Licking can cause infection as the mouth has many bacteria
  • Dogs will frequently lick the incision when the owner is not watching such as at night time; if the skin looks red or excoriated the most common cause is from licking.
  • To stop your pet from licking the following can be tried:
    • Elizabethan collar can be placed on the neck; this will not help stop your pet from scratching at the region
    • Cervical collar (bite not collar) is a less awkward device and can be effective at stopping a pet from licking the surgical site
    • A tee shirt can be used to cover an incision on the chest or front part of the abdomen; gather the waist of the shirt up over the dog's back and wrap an elastic band around this part of the shirt.
    • A bandage or sock can be used to cover an incision on a limb; fasten the top of the sock to the dog's limb with tape.
    • Bitter apple can be applied around the incision; many dogs will continue to lick  after application of this topical
    • Bitter Apple and Liquid HeetTM (obtain this from a is used for sore muscles) mixed in a 2:1 ratio can be applied around the skin incision
    • Antipsychotic medication in some cases is needed

Board-certification by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons

What does it mean?

  • Four years of advanced training in surgery beyond the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Degree

  • Experience in the development of new surgical treatments

  • Rigorous examination by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons to ensure competency in advanced surgical techniques

  • Assurance that a veterinarian is a surgical specialist

All information on this web site is copyright © 2004 Vet Surgery Central Inc. VCS Inc. will not be held liable for any information on this site that may be used for or against medical litigation.