Health & Wellness
It might be confusing if your potty-trained pup starts having accidents in the house. They spent weeks learning how and where to properly relieve themselves — since then, you’ve never had to worry about them going to the bathroom inside.
If your dog is potty trained and has no control over when they go to the bathroom, they could be incontinent. But before running out to grab potty pads and roll up all the rugs in your house, you’ll want to learn how to talk to your veterinarian about treatment and more.
Unfortunately, incontinent dogs don’t have enough control over their bladder or bowels and can’t hold it in even if they’re potty trained. Some pups might even urinate or defecate on themselves in their sleep without realizing, Dr. Emily Singler, VMD, Fetch’s on-staff veterinarian, explains.
If you’re worried that means your dog will spend their life in diapers, fear not — we’ll do a deep dive into the types of incontinence, the causes and the different treatment options.
And remember: Because incontinence is an uncontrollable condition, it’s important to never scold your pup for going to the bathroom inside.
When a dog loses voluntary control of when they urinate, it usually means they have urinary incontinence, also called urethral incontinence. So, for example, if you feel a wet spot where your dog is lying or sleeping, it’s likely that they have urinary incontinence. (Older female pups who haven’t been spayed are most likely to experience this.)
According to Dr. Singler, urinary incontinence is often caused by old age, spaying large-breed female dogs before they're 6 months old, conditions that affect the spinal cord and nerves and ectopic ureter and other anatomic abnormalities.
Because there are so many causes of incontinence, you’ll want to take your dog to the vet’s office to determine the root cause. The examination will likely start with a look at your pup’s urine under a microscope to rule out a urinary tract infection (UTI) and an ultrasound to view their bladder.
Dogs with fecal incontinence (or bowel incontinence) lose the ability to control their bowel movements. You can spot this if your pup starts pooping around the house, dribbles feces while walking or goes to the bathroom in unusual places.
Like urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence can have several potential causes, including colon, rectum, anal sphincter or prostate gland diseases or injuries. But cancer, inflammation, autoimmune diseases, neurological problems (like diseases affecting dogs’ spinal cords and nerves) and trauma can also cause incontinence. Take your pup to the vet’s office if they can't control when they go to the bathroom.
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As your pup ages, it’s normal for them to lose control. If you have an older pet at home, keep an eye on them for any signs of incontinence and let your veterinarian know if you spot anything unusual.
Whatever is causing your pup’s condition will determine the most appropriate treatment. For example, for urinary incontinence, it’s common to prescribe medications or hormones that increase tone in the urethral sphincter, aka the muscle that regulates urine flow. Most dogs respond well to these medications.
Fecal incontinence is a little more challenging to treat. Again, the underlying cause will determine if the best treatment is medication, surgical intervention or management.
Treatment might not always be an option, but there are ways to manage incontinence. Ask your vet about feeding your dog a prescription diet that’s more digestible to reduce stool, providing more opportunities to go potty outside, using diapers and/or pads to collect fecal material and cleaning their skin area carefully if they soil themselves.
The Dig, Fetch's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.
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Photo by Misael Moreno on Unsplash