Fecal Incontinence in Dogs

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”.

Because they 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 a combination of manual therapy (chiropractic and/or physiotherapy style adjustments and mobilizations) with acupuncture, as well as a comprehensive arthritis treatment protocol, yields the best results.  I’ve seen countless patients whose quality of life was greatly improved with that protocol, and who have less “accidents” as a result.

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.

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

35 Responses to Fecal Incontinence in Dogs

  1. Britani

    This is the absolute FIRST thing that I have come across that seems to fit 100% of the problems that I am having with my 14 year old Australian Cattle dog. I have take her to the vet and have been told that it is more than likely exactly what you have described. She has been put on Prednisone to reduce swelling and Tramadol for pain. I am, however, still really struggling with getting this under control to where I can have her inside for extended periods of time without an ‘accident’. I am at a loss as far as where to go from here. Do you have any other suggestions?

     
    • Dave01

      Your best bet is to find a veterinarain with rehabilitation medicine training (CCRT) – you can look for one here: http://www.caninerehabinstitute.com/Find_A_Therapist.html, or chiropractic training – Canadian graduates can be found here, but other educational institutes have their own lists – http://www.veterinarychiropractic.ca/graduates.htm.

      It can be hard to find someone with all these skills in one spot, so many people end up finding a person for acupuncture, and someone else for either the chiro and rehab. I hope that helps.

       
  2. Barbara

    We are having this problem with our old dog, who is almost 14. The difference, though, is that her hips/back legs seem to be in pretty good condition. She weighs about 75 lbs, but is not overweight, and she still “dances” for breakfast and can get up on the loveseat with no problem. The description of the sleep/poop issues sounds like what’s happening with her, but without the pain/arthritis/joint issues. Most recently she came inside in the early evening, went into the kitchen to make sure I hadn’t dropped anything on the floor, and left a “gift” in there, and another one in the dining area as she was walking around. Could this be more related to canine cognitive disorder?

     
    • Dave01

      It can happen purely due to cognitive dysfunction. In my experience though, by the time they get to unnoticed defecations, there are many other signs of confusion and disorientation. Can she assume a proper defecatory posture? If not, then there is a physical issue, regardless of how good her mobility is otherwise. If she defecates in a normal position comfortably, then I would wonder more about CD, although it’s hard to say anything concrete without having examined her.

       
    • hava

      Thank you for this article. Even though my dog’s situation is somewhat different, there are many similarities.
      He is 8 y old on high doses of prednisone to control his insulinoma and hypoglycemia. He recently spent 3 days in the hospital and apparently was not emptying his bladder or bowels completely. First thing I notices was dribbling urine, but it went away quickly with the help of Flomax. The fecal nuggets started later and he is producing them in his sleep. His stool is rather loose, but the nuggets are totally firm. I already give him pumpkin and he is on Flagyl. Anything else I can do to help?

       
      • Dave01

        That case isn’t nearly so straight forward. Glucose dysregulation can cause neurologic side effects that are likely playing a big role. Bottom line is if you suspect lower back pain (flinching on palpation, decreased ability to jump up), consider having that treated. If there is nothing to suggest lower back pain, then the treatment I suggested in the article is unlikely to work.

         
  3. Allison

    Has any one seen this in puppies? I just got (Sunday) french bulldog puppy who seems to be having fecal incontinence with all the symptoms noted above, particularly while sleeping.

    Obviously if this is a spinal issue I am concerned at how to treat a 5 month old puppy. And am not sure I can commit to a lifetime of poo pellets stuck on my clothes, furniture, etc as leave behinds every time she sleeps (a problem now). I have started her on a diahrrea med, as a suggestion from my vet, but the pellets are not runny. I love this dog and deeply hope there is a solution.

     
    • Dave01

      Spinal cord issue is an obvious concern – did your vet do a neurological assessment? A neuro exam and x-rays would be the quickest way to find out what is going on, but if this is true incontinence then there is likely no easy solution.

       
  4. Renee Joseph

    Thank you for this great information! It applies completely to our 12 yr old Alaskan Malamute. I appreciate the accurate information.

     
  5. Jenny Case

    This sounds like my old guy Max. He’s an Akita, just turned 14. He was hit by a car when he was a year old and it broke his pelvis in several places and twisted his spine. He has become more and more feeble in the last year. He still has a lot of strength in his front end but none in his haunches. I feed Science diet JD and supplement with Longevity. He looks fabulous for an old guy. We walk 2-3 times a day and he has to sit almost completely down on his haunches when he poops. And he goes normally 2xs a day. But sometimes a chunk “falls out” when he’s in the house and especially in the middle of the night. It causes him much distress to poop in the house and he’ll immediately eat it unless I can get to it first. This just may be a fact of life for us at this point. He’s such a trooper and doesn’t act like he’s in pain, just weak. I’m wondering if the fillers in SD could be contributing to his inability to fully evacuate his bowels? I’d appreciate any advice here. Thank you

     
    • Dave01

      I can’t really be much help over the internet; I would have to see him to offer anything specific, except that if you haven’t yet seen a vet trained in rehab medicine (CCRT or DACVSMR), chiropractic, and/or acupuncture (ideally all 3), then please try to find one. There are lots of pharmaceutic options beyond just anti-inflammatories that can make him more comfortable. If you haven’t discussed them with your vet, then that is another avenue.

      Akitas will quietly absorb pain, so until he is examined for it, it is hard to say if he is in pain or not. If he has non-painful weakness in the hind end, then there is likely pressure on his spinal cord and acupuncture would be your best bet.

      Different diets work better with different patients, but this isn’t a dietary problem. If the J/D helped at all, it says that he has arthritic pain.

      I hope that helps

       
      • Jenny Case

        Thank you for your response. I’m trying to walk him closer to bedtime and that seems to help prevent the middle of the night accidents. I will chat with my vet again and look at some other options you’ve suggested. We’ve verified arthritis in many of his joints with x rays. His right stifle is significantly larger than his left. So it is what it is. He has been on rimadyl for the pain too, off and on. With the cold weather, he’ll need more it seems. I know he’s stoic but he’s just so darn happy and I think he will “tell me” when it’s his time to go. Again, thank you.

         
        • Jamie

          I too have an Akita, he is 11.5. He has the same issues as discussed in this article. He mostly has accidents while sleeping and he doesn’t know it has happened a lot of the time. The vet says he has arthritis and he is on an anti-inflammatory, it helps his pain (which he doesn’t show), but doesn’t really seem to help the accident problem. All his organ functions are great, it is just his hind end that is having the issue. He is still active and happy though. I am wanting to try acupuncture, but not sure if there are any vets in my area who do it. I hate when dogs get old :-(

           
  6. Naomi

    Just want to say thank you, it’s nice to have some accurate information on this subject. Seems like other websites have some pretty out there ideas about fecal incontinence

     
  7. Lorraine weller

    if I had any doubts as to the problem I’m having with my 11y old Dalmatian I don’t now you have described my problem perfect . I’m finding it so hard to cope with I ave a yorkie who has just been diagnosed with diabeties and had to deal with the urinating every where as he had no control now that’s sorted I have this to deal with,I’m at wits end waking up mid night having to scrub carpets I’m finding it hard not to shout at him even though I know it’s not his fault. Again thank you for the information “

     
  8. Katie

    This is exactly the issue with our old girl, Daisy. It is getting progressively worse. She also has recurrent UTI d/t inverted female parts. We have opted not to treat the UTI anymore — amakacin isn’t doing it for her. I know I’ll be vilified for mentioning it, but we are going to consider putting her down over the next several months. She has periods of happiness, but the effort of her getting up and down is painful to watch and I’m sure doesn’t feel good for her. And the look on her face after an accident…we know it’s not her fault but we can see she knows she’s supposed to go outside. This will be the hardest decision to make.

     
    • Dave01

      When considering euthanasia, I use the following 3 markers to determine quality of life:
      1) Is the appetite good?
      2) Is the patient easily distracted by events in the environment, and/or still entheused about activities that use to bring please. If the patient becomes quiet and less interactive, and no longer takes pleasure from previously enjoyable activities, then that is a sign of chronic pain/suffering.
      3) Is the patient able to perform basic functions like going out to go to the bathroom without being in pain, or requiring more assistence than the owner is able to provide?

      It sounds like she bounces between passing the second criterion, but consistently doesn’t meet the 3rd… right in that gray area that says the time is close. For the owner’s who aren’t sure, I also ask “Is she still having a good time? Enough to justify the bad times?” Soemtimes the answer to those questions directs you to the right choice.

       
  9. Becky

    I have a rat terrier that is fecal incontinent. He is learning to control his bladder. Took him to a specialist. He has a broken tail injury. I can’t remember the actual term for it, but the injury from the tail being pulled really hard. It’s an old injury, from well before I got him.

    I make sure to take him out to urinate, and he always tries to have a bowel movement, as well. The specialist believes if I keep helping him with potty training that it may help him some.

    He wears a diaper because he’ll just poop unexpectedly sometimes. But we’re working on not having to keep a belly band on him.

    I’ve been adding pumpkin to his food since I brought him home. I believe it helps him feel when he has to go because he’s bulked up. I also add turmeric for swelling and pain. Since using the turmeric, he no longer hesitates in jumping up, no longer drapes himself over pillows to sleep (taking pressure off of his back, and you can just tell by the way he moves, he doesn’t hurt like he did.

    Thank you for this article. I’m sure you’re helping many. I hope my added information might help someone else figure out what is going on with their dog.

     
  10. Anne

    Thanks so much for this article … It describes my nearly 14 year old labbie’s problem so well. He started to defecate in the house ‘now and again’ a few months ago … It is now happening every few days. He does have arthritis and is on metacam (for over a year now). This has helped him a lot with his mobility but clearly no help with his bowel control. It seems to happen very suddenly … And then he starts to walk away dropping several piles on his way. He is generally very alert and still gets excited when it’s meal time or for a walk or when we come home so am confident there is no cognitive problem.

    I found your three step thoughts on euthanasia really good and helped give me a basis for that hard decision which I know isn’t too long away now. Thanks so much!

     
    • Dave01

      Glad I could help. Metacam is great for arthritic pain, but not as helpful for muscle spasm/pinched nerve pain, or muscle weakness, which is often the underlying cause in these cases. If you can find someone with chiropractic or rehab medicine manual therapy skills, especially when combined with acupuncture – that’s your best change of reducing the amount of incontinence and increasing mobility.

       
    • Michelle

      Anne ,
      I’m experiencing the exact story for my 12 year old lab. Did you find anything to help?

       
  11. Yarra Espinosa

    I have a 14 year old Dalmation who is struggling with many of the symptoms that you described. The walk and drop is our dog’s only method nowadays. Her accidents in the house, which are many, span large areas as she attempts to get to the back door. She often has accidents when she gets up from her bed. What is so frustrating is that we will take her out and she will do nothing. We go inside and 2 minutes later will be walking and dropping as she tries to make it to the back door. I asked my vet about this and he prescribed her anabolic steroids to strengthen her muscles, with the hope if it helping her with her incontinence. I am hoping to get a second opinion about this treatment method. Ant input?

     
    • Dave01

      All I can do is repeat what I said in the blog… I’ve had the best success with treating the lower back, muscle spasm and arthritis pain. Try to find a vet trained in rehab medicine (CCRT or DACVSMR), chiropractic, and/or acupuncture (ideally all 3). Building muscle helps, but she needs to get the pain under control to make real progress. You can ask your vet about combining NSAIDs with amantadine or gabapentin and see if that helps.

       
  12. TammyW

    I have a 3 yr old american bulldog, that has always been a very clean dog and never had any issues with being incontinent until about a couple of weeks ago. All of a sudden she is deficating everywhere. I have never seen her do this. It’s not diarhea or anything like that. She even pooped on her bed. She does seem to be slightly limping, so that could be the cause according to the article. She is otherwise a very happy and active dog. It’s been puzzleing to me though. Do you think that a hurt leg could be the actual cause in a dog this young? Or should I be looking for other causes?

     
    • Dave01

      That is an odd case – I couldn’t begin to comment without first having a complete physical exam. That would be the place to start, and it will identify if there is any pain present.

       
  13. Rainey

    This exactly describes my foster dog. She’s around 3 and was found as a stray and when I got her she had a bad case of giardia and kennel cough. We assumed her fecal and bladder incontinence was due to that. She’s tested negative for the giardia now and is over the cough, and in all other ways seems a healthy dog. She can run like any other dog and leap while playing with toys. But when she goes to sit it is very slow and shaky and the few times she attempted a ‘defecation posture’ she could barely hunch her back. She’s very hesitant to jump on the couch and usually requires assistance. She can ‘push’ to urinate most of the urine, but only twice could she get out any poop, and she usually has a wet diaper after a couple hours (she ‘leaks’ most of the time). I have to express her bladder and colon a few times a day. Is there any chance a chiropractor could help?

     
    • Dave01

      Yes. You never know until you try, and you will want to make sure that her urinalysis is normal (dogs that leak urine are prone to infections, and infections can make the leaking worse), but I have seen many cases with that sort of history either completely or partially resolve. It is one of those treatments where you never know until you try, but it would take 3 appointments at the very most to confirm if it is helping.

       
  14. Melissa

    Hello- this sounds somewhat similar to what is going on with my dog right now. She is a 4 yo siberian husky, and she just had a cruciate repair 2 days ago. She has never had any issue with stool incontinence, but today when I took her to go outside, she had a small amount of stool that fell onto the floor. Her bottom is now soiled, and I cannot get to it to clean it. The stool that was on the floor was a very dark color, and it is the first bowel movement (however small that it was) that she has had since the surgery. She is on metacam, and due to the color of the stool, I was wondering if I should stop giving it to her. I’m not sure if it is a dark color due to a GI bleed, or if it is just because it is the first since the surgery. Thank you for posting this, I was beginning to be very worried about her, and the vet office is closed.

     
    • Dave01

      there are other mitigating factors being so close to surgery – this is definitely a topic to take up with your surgeon but is likely a minor temporary thing. good luck.

       
  15. Miranda Luck

    Good piece and interesting/nice to see that so many people are willing to try and deal with this situation. I’ve the same (night time bed poops and occasional daytime mishaps) with my 10 year old Great Dane who is in fine fettle otherwise! Having tried everything suggested (plus more!) we are now learning to put up with it but have found putting down childrens disposable bed wetting sheets (on her bed and beyond) very useful!

     
  16. love my pups

    thank you for your article. you described our now 15 year old Shepard mix to a T. she is also being treated with rymidol and pain meds . . i fear that we are not in the early stages at this time. it has been in last 2 years that she has (poop and walk). and over the last 6-8 mos that her accidents have been increasing. as of recently it is 2-3 different accidents a night. and some in morning/day.

    we recently also have considered acupuncture and our vet has referred us a rehab person as well. just the consultation is several hundreds of dollars and fear this may be out of our realm of finances.

    i am seriously considering diapers at this point as even our night walks don’t seem to stop the accidents and it breaks our hearts to not let her on the bed anymore (we have another dog that does sleep with us).

    do you recommend doggie diapers for this situation? we have never used them before and don’t know if they are useful for feces. she is 60 lbs and washing her hind
    quarters every day i am sure becomes part of the process. but would love your input on the use of diapers as we know nothing about them and how they are constructed if they are useful for this issue.

    thank you again for your article it is so right on in what we have watched her go through and not completely understood what was happening. we also have noticed like you said that her poops are smaller and more frequent. She is healthy as an ox and still loves to play so would love to find a way to incorporate her back into as normal a life as we can. Hoping the diapers are viable option…

     
    • Dave01

      whatever works – some people have used diapers with success. Others use towels. The ability to manage something like this at home really varies between patients so it is hard to give suggestions that work for everyone. The bottom line is that if diapers help make the situation managable enough that your dog is happy and your house is sanitary, then great. I’m not sure if that helps or not, but don’t be afraid to get creative – nothing to lose by trying

       
  17. Cindy

    My older shepherd mix dog has had problems squatting and loose bowels for some time now. However I don’t experience it as a problem. Her feces are pretty compact, it is easy to pick them up and wipe the floor and she doesn’t seem to be bothered either! I do feed both my dogs a high quality food and I think this helps. She sleeps a lot and doesn’t want long walks anymore but she can go up and down stairs! seems pretty happy and all is well. If anything the change in her bowel habits is a sometimes humorous. I appreciate the insight into its cause however and certainly would not wish for my dog to suffer.

     
  18. MikeL

    Hmm, I googled this issue for my 4 yr. old mini Lab who seems totally healthy and happy.
    She’s been leaking off and on for a couple years, including very strong smelling urine (which has gotten better lately) but lately its like anal glands or some poop.
    She does have some insecurity issues, and is afraid of most other dogs. She seems to feel the need to dominate them and we try to socialize her often.
    She does twist and turn when she poops but I don’t see any mobility issues.

     
    • Dave01

      That definitely sounds like something to take up with your regular veterinarian – a lot of potential causes that might be going on there.

       

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