Most dog owners out there have probably confronted themselves with one pretty common issue: dog incontinence. However, the reasons why this happens are very different, and it’s also important to know that in some cases the issue will probably solve itself, while in other cases the only solution is extensive medical treatment or even surgery.
We’ll give you an idea of the most frequent situations when dogs become incontinent, as well as some advice and remedies you can try to improve this unpleasant condition, which can become a very stringent source of discomfort both for you and your four-legged friend.
Sometimes, dogs seem to lose control of their bladder or bowel activity, either because there’s something wrong with them, or because an obstruction may appear somewhere inside the pelvic area. Middle aged dogs or older dogs are more prone to develop this condition, because incontinence in dogs as well as in humans is generally an age related problem.
The symptoms can indicate the seriousness of this affliction, as well as the necessary course of treatment that will follow.
Involuntary urination or defecation – Noticing this symptom is the most efficient way of diagnosing your dog’s incontinence. Don’t confuse involuntary urination though with submissive urination. This is generally what very young dogs do when they want to show they’re docile – but they usually roll on their backs to urinate, uncovering their bellies.
Wetness or poop stains on your dog’s bum – If you have an outdoor dog and you can’t really see the moment when he loses control over his bladder or his bowels, the next best indicator is if his fur around the back area is usually moist or dirty altogether. That can give you a valuable insight that something is not functioning properly, because when they pee or poop, dogs don’t get themselves dirty.
Inflamed genitalia – Inflammation in the genital area is always a sign of concern, unless you notice it in the mating season. If your dog has problems with his genitals, that might affect his ability to hold his pee in. However, your dog can be incontinent even if his genitalia aren’t visibly more protruding, sore or red. But if they are, they might lead to your dog’s involuntary urine leakages.
Pee puddles or poop in the sleeping area – This is another good indicator that your dog is incontinent, provided that these appear all of a sudden. If it has happened before, you can perhaps consider that your dog wasn’t properly house trained, or has forgotten his training and you have to teach him again. Pee puddles around the house can mean that your male dog is marking his territory, but if they happen around his sleeping area, that should give you legitimate cause for concern.
Taken separately, each of these symptoms may indicate some other possible condition apart from incontinence, and you should consider every possibility. Nevertheless, if you notice all or most of the above symptoms together, you can ascertain that your dog is, without much doubt, incontinent.
You can notice that frequency of urination is not listed as a symptom, because it’s not one. Many owners may fear that they have an incontinent dog because he always seems to pee. On the other hand, incontinence is just lack of bladder control and even if it is associated with an increased number of peeing episodes, they aren’t a symptom unless they’re involuntary occurrences.
There are a number of reasons why your dog can suffer from incontinence, and they generally relate to an affection of the:
- Urethra (a tube which links the bladder to the outside)
- Brain part which controls the urinary/ fecal function
- Spinal cord
Therefore, damage or illness of many parts of the body can determine the beginning of incontinence in dogs. Among the most frequent causes of your dog not being able to help himself when he needs to go, you can find:
#1 Old age
Apart from urinary incontinence, senior dogs can also suffer from fecal incontinence, which means they can’t hold their poop inside anymore. The worst part is that they don’t seem to realize they’re wetting themselves, not even when they’re sleeping.
However, it’s not old age itself that causes dogs to have a decreased control over their bladder or bowels, but other conditions related to age, such as:
- Endocrine problems. Decrease in estrogen levels for female dogs and the decrease of testosterone levels for male dogs can cause your dog to become urinary incontinent.
- Kidney disease. If the kidneys don’t work properly, then the urine isn’t forming the right way. It can be too diluted, it can be produced too fast or too slow, but the urine flow can also become irregular because of a kidney stone.
- Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. The human equivalent of Alzheimer’s, this is a brain problem that causes your dog’s brain to lose neurons. It can affect your dog’s cognitive abilities, like knowing when or where it’s ok to pee or poop, but it can also affect the brain region responsible to actively controlling the bladder or the intestines.
Urinary tract infections make dogs feel an increasing need to eliminate urine more frequently than usual. Apart from this, the whole urination process can become very difficult, as your dog will sometimes strain very hard just too produce a drop or two of urine, while other times he won’t be able to help himself. Not to mention the itching and burning sensations that usually accompanies UTIs.
Bladder infections can also be included in this category. They are more frequently seen in female dogs, and age is not an influencing factor. The strong need to urinate can be caused by a prolonged bladder infection, which actually scars the bladder. That means it deters it from holding urine normally, determining this unpleasant urinating urge in weird places or very often. Incontinent dogs are usually checked to see if they have a bladder infection as well.
Parasitic infections in the rectum that have gone untreated for longer periods of time can damage your dog’s bowels and rectum, making it harder for him to hold the poop in.
#3 Weak sphincters
If your dog can’t hold it in anymore, it could have something to do with his bladder sphincter or his anal sphincter. These are like doors that either connect the bladder to the urethra, either the rectum to the outside. If they don’t close properly, they will let the urine flow or feces burst out without very much notice.
The sphincters can become weak because of various conditions:
- Age. The neuro-receptors become more damaged with age. That means your dog’s brain will have increasing problems when it comes to controlling all the body parts and it will probably concentrate the effort on directing the work of the more important organs, disregarding “insignificant” parts like the sphincters.
- Estrogen problems. Estrogens play a very important role as neuro-transmitters, which should basically convey to the dog’s bladder sphincter when it needs to close. If the estrogen levels are low, then that message doesn’t find its way through to the correct destination, leaving the sphincter poorly closed.
- Spaying. A decreased level of estrogen can also be caused by spaying. However, the effects in this case are only temporary, as with the right medication this hormone levels will go up. Spaying is a medical-induced cause of hormonal variations, which means it should be a more predictable and therefore controllable issue.
#4 Spinal cord disease
The problems of the spine, including the deficient alignment of the vertebrae or other disc issues can cause neurological problems which interfere with the proper functions of the urinary tract and the intestines.
A herniated disc can cause unwanted pressure which accentuates or provokes incontinence in dogs. Apart from this, problems with the spinal nerves can affect the brain functioning and not allow for the proper signals to be sent, which let the bladder know when it’s full, or the sphincters know when they’re supposed to open.
These spinal conditions become more visible with old age, but younger dogs can develop them too, since they can also be caused by an injury or by a genetic malformation.
#5 Excessive water intake
Your dog can simply drink more water than his bladder can hold in, which may in turn determine urinary incontinence.
The main reasons dog drink huge amounts of water usually are:
- Excessive heat
- Cushing’s disease
- Kidney failure
- Bladder infection
Drinking too much water will cause the bladder to stretch a lot, which can determine ruptures and strains. These injuries will make it very hard for the bladder to hold the urine as it’s supposed to, causing your dog to pee even in places or at times he doesn’t want too.
Obesity influences incontinence in two ways. First, it’s a determining factor for diseases like diabetes, kidney failure and kidney stones which cause an increased water intake. Obesity is also a risk factor for messing up the hormone levels in your dog’s body, which act like neuro transmitters and tell the bladder when it’s full. Apart from this, obesity is also correlated with an increased risk of infections that are directly linked to incontinence.
Secondly, obesity in itself causes the internal organs to collapse on themselves being surrounded by a thick layer of fat. Consequently, the bladder and the intestines will become more crammed, will have less space and therefore will cease proper functioning. They’ll be under constant pressure and thus your dog will feel an increased need to urinate or defecate more.
Obesity is also associated with higher insulin levels and lowered calcium levels, which can cause involuntary contractions of the urethra, thus determining involuntary urine leakages.
Neutering can cause urinary incontinence because it messes up the hormonal levels in your dog’s body. However, with the proper medication, they will soon get back to normal.
Apart from this, neutering is also an important cause for UTI’s, especially if your dog had a bladder catheter during the surgery. When this catheter is pulled out, micro-lesions may develop and that provides a great environment for bacterial cultures to grow in.
#8 Overactive bladder syndrome
An overactive bladder generally occurs because the bladder’s muscles have lost their strength and can’t contribute to holding the urine inside.
Muscles tend to lose their vigor with age, but it’s also a problem for female dogs who have been especially bred and their pelvic floor muscles have become more lax.
Bladder stones can cause the overactive bladder syndrome too, because they are crystallized mineral deposits which can’t pass through the urinary tract. They form because the urine is too concentrated – which means your dog probably drinks less water than normal.
An overactive bladder is usually confused with urinary incontinence, probably because it’s one of the most common causes for incontinence, but the two concepts aren’t equivalent.
#9 An obstructing mass
If your dog has a bladder stone stuck on the urethra, or if he has an actual tumor in his pelvic area, these may become causes for incontinence. In the first case, the urine flow becomes completely obstructed by the stone, while in the second case the tumor may put unwanted pressure on the bladder or on the intestines, causing an increasing need to urinate/ defecate.
A bladder stone blocking the urine flow, or a tumor blocking the feces are very dangerous, because the excrements will be sent back, making the bladder or the intestines increase. When they can’t hold the excrements inside anymore, the pressure accumulated will determine some of them to leak around the stone or the tumor, but this obstruction generally results in death after a few days.
#10 Birth defect
The ureters are the tubes which link the kidneys to the bladder. One of the most frequent birth defects seen with urinary incontinence is that either one or both of the ureters don’t end up in the bladder, but in nearing regions like the urethra or the vagina.
The dogs that are born this way will definitely experience urine leakage, especially if neither of their ureters are connected with the bladder. However, if only one of them is ectopic, then the dog can urinate normally at times, while being incontinent at others.
Female dogs are most affected by this genetic defect.
Diagnosing the problem
Going to the vet is one of the most important steps you need to take in order to treat your dog’s incontinence.
There are a series of questions that the vet will most certainly ask you before taking the necessary tests. To help you be more prepared, we’ve listed below some of the questions you can expect at the first consult:
- When did you first notice that your dog was incontinent?
- When does it usually happen, during his sleep or when he’s awake and active?
- Does your dog pee/ poop as he walks?
- Does your dog pee/ poop where he sits or sleeps?
- Does your dog posture and urinate?
- Do your dog’s pee/ poop have an unusual color or smell?
- Does your dog have difficulty urinating/ defecating?
- Has your dog been drinking more water than usual?
- Has your dog been eating less lately?
- Does your dog have any other unusual symptoms?
- Can your dog urinate/ defecate normally as well?
- Has your dog had previous surgeries?
- Is your dog on any medication, such as diuretics, anticonvulsants or prednisone?
- Does your dog seem comfortable when he urinates or defecates?
- Does your dog show signs of weakness and/ or seizures?
After these questions, the most common tests include:
- Blood tests
- Fecal tests
- X-rays or ultrasounds to look at different parts of the body/ internal organs
The course of treatment for incontinence is chosen depending on the cause that’s making your dog suffer from this condition. The most common treatments options include:
- Antibiotics – If your dog has a UTI, a bladder infection or parasites, the vet will most likely suggest a course of antibiotics. After a couple of weeks, you will be called in again to take more tests and make sure the infection has disappeared.
- Hormones – If your dog has been neutered or has developed urinary incontinence because of old age, your vet may recommend hormone replacements. Female dogs will have to take an estrogen supplement, such as diethylstilbestrol, while male dogs will have to take testosterone – in which case he may become more aggressive than usual.
- Alpha-Adrenergic Agonists – If your dog has very lax muscles in his bladder or in his rectum, your vet could have him take this medication, which strengthens the muscles and helps your dog hold the excrements inside and not go involuntarily.
- Surgical intervention – If your dog has ectopic ureters, if his rectum is severely damaged because of a parasitic infection, if his bladder isn’t positioned properly or if he has spinal cord issues, the vet can do a surgical intervention and solve these problems.
Living with an incontinent dog
If the worse has happened and Fido was diagnosed with incontinence, you will have to do some changes in both your lives.
- Dietary changes. If your dog has fecal incontinence, then upping his fiber intake can help make his stool more firm, and therefore help him control his bowel movements.
- Anti-inflammatory drugs. Your vet may prescribe these to keep your dog’s stomach more settled if he has fecal incontinence. If your dog has urinary incontinence, an anti-inflammatory lotion can be applied on his genitalia in case of soreness.
- Diapers. Doggie diapers are available at many different pet stores and they’re an efficient solution if you have an indoor incontinent dog.
- Padding. If your dog tends to urinate or defecate involuntarily while he’s sleeping, you can put more towels or padding around his bed, to absorb the moisture and make sure your floor stays clean.
- Hygiene. Your dog has to be kept clean at all times, because otherwise incontinence can quickly aggravate and complications may appear, such as infections which are more difficult to be treated.
- Walking. If you exercise your dog more, you can help an obese dog get back in shape. Apart from this, constant walking can help ease bladder or bowel movements.
- Limiting the water intake. If your dog has urinary incontinence, you can provide less water for him to drink. However, ask your vet first to know exactly how much your dog is supposed to drink per day.
- Monitoring. Careful attention is of the utmost importance in cases of incontinence, because sometimes it can escalate into a more serious condition.
Breeds prone to urinary incontinence
Spaniels, Old English Sheepdogs, Doberman Pinschers and Boxers are among the races more prone to develop a hormonal issue when they get older, particularly a decrease in their estrogen levels for female dogs, and in testosterone levels for male dogs.
This fluctuation in hormone levels is one of the most frequent causes for which dogs can become incontinent.
If your dog has a long body, then he’s prone to develop spinal problems like the Intervertebral disc disease.
The cushioning discs between the vertebrae tend to bulge, occupying the spinal cord space. Breeds like the Dachshund are more exposed to this type of issue.
At the opposite end, the short-legged Corgi can also develop spinal problems which may in turn affect bladder and bowel control. The spine isn’t getting very much support out of those small legs, and that’s why it can become damaged with age.
This issue is more frequently seen amongst these dog breeds:
- Miniature Poodle
- Labrador Retriever
- Welsh Corgi
- Wire-haired Fox Terrier
- West Highland White Terrier
All that being said, incontinence is a very serious problem for both dog owners and dogs alike. It can indeed be very difficult for you to clean up his messes, but remember that your dog is most likely confused and scared, relying on you to help him get through this tough time.
The good news is that incontinence can usually be treated with the proper medication, and if not, doggie diapers always work!