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Understanding the Difference Between Urinary Incontinence and Fecal Incontinence in Dogs

The term canine incontinence can be used to describe a dog’s complete loss of bladder or bowel control. Although there are similarities between urinary and fecal incontinence the two conditions have different causes and symptoms. 

Urinary Incontinence in Dogs

A dog is incontinent when they lose control of their bladder and are no longer able to hold their pee. Bladder leaks and urination problems can vary in both severity and frequency. Depending on the cause, a pet may struggle with incontinence routinely or only on occasion. Even the time of day can impact a dog’s urination problems, many older pets have a difficult time holding their pee all night. Nighttime accidents are common in senior dogs as their bladders weaken as they age. 

Signs of Urinary Incontinence in Dogs

The most visible sign that your dog is struggling with incontinence is more frequent “accidents”. Often pets with urinary problems will drip urine and experience bladder leaks. If you see noticeable wet patches when your dog gets up from a nap, they are likely struggling to control their bladder. Additional signs of urinary problems in dogs include:

  • Dog shows signs of urgent or more frequent trips outside
  • Wet spots appear under your dog 
  • Irritation and redness on the skin, usually caused by dripping urine
  • Drinking water more often
  • Dog exhibiting signs of painful urination
  • Increased licking and grooming around penis or vagina

Any change in behavior, including more frequent accidents in the house, needs to be mentioned to your veterinarian immediately. Your vet can help determine the cause of your dog’s incontinence and ensure they get the necessary treatment and care. 

Causes of Canine Urinary Incontinence

Both a weakened bladder and a more frequent need to pee are common in older pets, however, they are not the only cause of incontinence. Struggles with urination can also be attributed to a change in a dog’s health and may even be a sign of an underlying health condition. Most often a loss of bladder control is impacted by a loss of muscle or nerve control for urination. There are many reasons why a dog may become incontinent, such as:

  • Urinary tract infection or UTI 
  • Spinal condition or neurological problem
  • Injury
  • Paralysis
  • Prostate disorder
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • Urinary stones
  • Bladder tumor

In some cases, there may be multiple reasons why a dog is experiencing urinary retention problems. Many factors can impact a dog’s urination including behavioral problems, anatomical issues, and a change in a dog’s health that can occur simultaneously. 

Fecal Incontinence in Dogs

Bowel or fecal incontinence occurs when a dog experiences a sudden loss of control of its bowel movements. Bowel incontinence occurs differently in every pet. Some dogs may have small poop droppings that occur without them noticing. This type of fecal incontinence is common in paralyzed dogs who can’t feel themselves “go”. Other dogs are fully aware that they are going but unable to control when they poop. 

Signs of Bowel Control Loss in Dogs

Frequent and uncontrolled pooping are the most obvious signs of fecal incontinence in dogs. However  there are other changes in behavior that a dog make exhibit as well”

Dog Disposable Diaper
  • Scooting or dragging their butt across the floor, this most often indicates an issue with the anal gland and is perfectly normal
  • Uncontrolled bowel movements indoors
  • Bloated abdomen 
  • Muscle atrophy
  • More frequent pooping and urgent need to go outside more often
  • Reluctance to have hind end touched

Causes of Bowel Incontinence in Dogs

There are many reasons why a dog may lose control of its bowel movements. The most common causes are those that impact a dog’s rectum or sphincter. Diseases that impact the rectum make it difficult for a dog to store their poop internally which causes their stool to leak out of their body. Dogs with sphincter incontinence struggle to keep their sphincter closed which means they can no longer hold their poop in.

  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Cancer
  • Paralysis and hind leg weakness
  • Spinal cord disease or neural disorder
  • Injury to the spine or tail
  • Infected anal glands
  • Parasites
  • Anal lesions, wounds, or tumor that impacts control of the sphincter
  • Nerve damage

Treating Incontinence in Dogs

Luckily treatments are available to help ease your incontinent dog’s symptoms. Your veterinarian can assess your dog’s condition and prescribe medication as needed. At-home incontinence solutions include diapers, elevated pet beds that safely collect a pet’s urine, and more frequent trips outside.


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