Fecal Incontinence in Dogs

Posted on in Geriatric care, Non-surgical Therapy, Nutrition 82 Comments

Faecal Incontinence in Old Dogs


Incontinence in dogs: a common complaint I hear from the owners of old dogs is fecal incontinence – normal looking bowel movement or stool “accidents” that get left somewhere in the house by a dog who knows better, and who didn’t do it on purpose.  Often the owner finds them where the dog sleeps, or they see them come out when the dog first struggles to stand after a nap.  But is this really dog incontinence?

What Causes Incontinence in Dogs?


In most cases, this is not true incontinence.  True incontinence in dogs stems from a lack of anal sphincter control, and I think in most cases that is only a small part of the problem.

I know this picture has nothing to do with the article, but really... who wants to see a picture of a geriatric dog straining to defecate?

I know this picture has nothing to do with incontinence in dogs, but really… who wants to see a picture of a geriatric dog straining to defecate?

This problem seems to almost exclusively affect dogs with very weak or debilitated hind ends.  These dogs have difficulty standing, and most importantly, they have difficulty assuming a proper “defecation posture”. Although these dogs may have a weaker than normal sphincter, in most cases it is still strong enough to prevent incontinence as long as the colon is not overfull.

However, because these dogs lack the strength to comfortably squat and defecate, they do what I refer to as the “walk & drop” – rather than crouch, they keep stepping forward while defecating.

Presumably, because defecating is so awkward and potentially uncomfortable for these dogs, they never fully evacuate their colon; they seem to defecate just enough to relieve any immediate urge, but not much more.  As a result, they spend most of their day with a mostly full colon.

Sometimes this catches up with them when they sleep, when a mostly full colon becomes an over full colon.  Combine that with the reduced muscle tone of a deep sleep and suddenly you have the recipe for a soiled bed.  Alternatively, as they engage their abdominal muscles to stand, pressure in the abdomen increases, causing them to have an accident while first getting up from a nap.

 What can I do to help?


Sometimes increasing the amount of non-digestible fibre in the diet helps (1 ice cream scoop of canned pumpkin with each meal for a large sized dog).  There are prescription medications available that improve colon motility, but I’ve not found them particularly effective.  Giving plenty of opportunity to defecate outside before bedtime is definitely helpful.

Another random picture that has nothing to do with the article.

Another random picture that has nothing to do with incontinence in dogs.

The treatment with which I have seen the best results is to address the underlying lower back pain – increase the dog’s comfort and hind end strength so that it can hold a better defecation posture and therefore better evacuate its colon.  Using combined acupuncture and manual therapy (CAMT), as well as a comprehensive arthritis treatment protocol, yields the best results.  Manual therapy is an umbrella term for chiropractic and/or physiotherapy style adjustments and mobilizations, as well as massage techniques. This protocol has an excellent prognosis for improving quality of life, and in most cases reduced the number of “accidents” as well.

Having said that, by the time the dog is at the “walk & drop” stage, they are usually quite debilitated, and the more advanced a condition is, the harder it is to turn around.  But by being aware of earlier signs and responding when you first see them, the chance of preventing this problem in the first place is much better.

 Some of the more common earlier signs include:
  • Hesitation or reduced ability to jump up (e.g.: into the car)
  • Body shakes that don’t reach from head to tail
  • Stiffness or difficulty standing (e.g.: pulling from front legs instead of pushing from the back)
  • Fatiguing earlier on walks
  • Stumbling or scuffing hind feet
  • Altered head, back or tail posture


What about urinary incontinence?


Although that is a blog topic unto itself, lower back pain is a common cause of dogs leaking urine in their sleep. Treating that underlying pain often resolves urine leakage issues. Resolving back pain can be a effective treatment for both urinary and fecal incontinence, but is also an important goal unto itself.  Less pain is a good thing.

Assessing Puppy Weight

Posted on in Nutrition, Prevention, Puppy Care, weight control Comments Off on Assessing Puppy Weight

How to Assess Puppy Weight

Now that we realize how bad it is to have an overweight puppy (, and no one wants to feed their puppy too little, the next question becomes “How do I tell if my puppy is the right weight?”

Ideal puppy weight

Ripley is an ideal weight. Because he is a boxer, it is normal to see his ribs like this.

The number on the scale is useful, but not nearly as useful as feeling your dog all over and assessing its body condition, paying particular attention to the ribs, shoulders, back and pelvis.

Remember that not all breeds are the same.  Different dogs have different amounts of muscling.  What may be acceptable for a Greyhound is not acceptable for a Bernese Mountain Dog.  For some breeds, it is acceptable to see the last few ribs, but for some it is not.

To make matters worse, overweight puppies have become so prevalent, that for some breeds it has become the new norm.  When that happens, it’s the dogs that are actually at a fit weight that look abnormal.  Every day in parks across this country, owners of overweight dogs scold the owners of fit dogs, accusing them of starving their pets.

ideal puppy weight

Rain is an English style black lab. Although you should be easily able to palpate each rib with no fat between the rib and skin, for her it is not normal to see the ribs.


Below is a list of general guidelines to help you decide if your puppy is the correct weight.  If you have any doubts, consult your veterinarian.


Shoulders:  Palpate the shoulders and feel for a bony ridge running up the shoulder blade.  It is normal to feel the top of the ridge, but the sides of the ridge should be buried in muscle.  If you can feel the sides of this ridge, your pet may be underweight.

Ribs: Palpate the last 3-4 ribs.  You should be able to feel them distinctly, bumping your finger over each rib and into the depression between.  If you can feel any softness between the skin and the last few ribs, then your puppy is too fat.  For some dogs (whippets, pitbulls, boxers, dobermans, pointers etc.) it is normal to see these last 2-3 ribs through the skin.

Spine: It is normal to feel the bony tips of each veterbrae down the middle of the back, but as your fingers roll to the side, the rest of the vertebrae should be buried in muscle.  If you can feel bony points along the sides of the vertebrae, you pet may be too skinny

Pelvis: You should be able to feel the tip of the hip bone, but not the spoon shaped bone behind it; once your fingers roll off the tip, they should encounter muscle.

Ideal Puppy Weight

Posted on in Dog Hip Dysplasia, Nutrition, Puppy Care Comments Off on Ideal Puppy Weight
Teaching the young grasshopper

Epic lectures his young protégée on metaphysics, and how to beg for cookies.


Maintaining the Ideal Puppy Weight


It is very important to monitor your puppy’s weight and keep your puppy lean.  Not only does excessive weight during puppyhood contributes to developmental orthopedic conditions like hip dysplasia and arthritis, but it can reduce life expectancy.

Experiments have demonstrated that puppies fed too much in do not live as long as other dogs.  Dogs that were kept lean lived 1.8 years longer than their chubbier counterparts.  In particular, the incidence of hip dysplasia and hip arthritis was reduced, as were the level of serum triglicerides, insulin, glucose and thyroid hormone.

The mighty retriever

Rain practises her retrieving skills on a stuffed duck.

The reason that orthopedic disease is more common in overweight puppies is simple to understand:

(1)   The more food a puppy has access to, the faster it grows.

(2)   The fastest growth rate is not the best growth rate.

Genetics is the underlying cause of diseases such as elbow or hip dysplasia, but maintaining optimal puppy weight helps reduce the chance of these diseases manifesting.

Another key way to prevent these diseases from expressing is to not over or under exercise your puppy.  For more information on puppy exercise, visit

Rain and Caligula

Rain is about to find out the hard way that toy ducks are much less fearsome than the real thing.


The bottom line?  Strive for feeding the perfect amount of food to your puppy, but if you had to make a mistake, it is better to see a temporary weight loss from too little food than it is to feed too much and have a overweight puppy that might suffer permanent damage as a result.

To learn what a proper puppy weight feels like, visit


Kealy, RD, et. al, Five-year longitudinal study on limited food consumption and development of osteoarthritis in coxofemoal joints of dogs, Journal of the American Veterianry Association, Vol 210, No. 2 , Jan 1997

Lawler, DF, et. al, Influence of lifetime food restriction on causes, time and predictors of death in dogs, Journal of the American Veterianry Association, Vol 226, No. 2 , Jan 2005

Kealy, RD, et. al, Effect of diet restriction on life span and age-related changes in dogs, Journal of the American Veterianry Association, Vol 220, No. 9 , May 2002

Kealy, RD, et. al, Effects of limited food consumption on the incidence of hip dysplasia in growing dogs, Journal of the American Veterianry Association, Vol 201, No. 6 , Sept 1992