Bowel or faecal incontinence happens when a dog cannot control when their poo comes out or when the process of pooing is not following its normal sequence. This is usually due to a problem with the spine or nerve function but may develop spontaneously in senior dogs.
There are many possible causes for incontinence, and in older dogs, there can be an association with cognitive dysfunction (dementia). In younger dogs, bowel incontinence is usually due to injury or nerve problems.
What to do
What to do if your dog is incontinent
If your dog became incontinent suddenly, speak to a vet as soon as possible. This is more urgent if they are also showing signs of pain or having trouble moving or peeing.
If the problem is intermittent or develops slowly over time, a vet check is still important to rule out serious disease.
Check your pet frequently and remove any soiling as soon as possible to avoid skin problems and secondary infections
Most common causes of bowel incontinence in dogs
- Intervertebral disc disease (for example, a slipped disc in their spine)
- Traumatic spinal injury
- Sphincter incontinence
- Degenerative lumbosacral stenosis
When to worry
When to worry about bowel incontinence in dogs
Sudden incontinence is usually due to serious injury or disease, especially if movement of the back legs is abnormal or urination is also affected. See a vet straight away.
Progressive incontinence in older dogs may be connected to other diseases, such as tumours. A vet check is recommended.
How to prevent bowel incontinence in dogs
A healthy and balanced diet will keep the gut regular and functioning well, which may help prevent some causes of incontinence.
Regular exercise and play have the same benefits. Treating and managing mobility problems like arthritis may have a positive impact on gut function as well.
Things to look out for if your dog has bowel incontinence
- Passing poo while walking, playing, resting, coughing or barking
- Soiling on back legs or tail
- Wobbly or weak back legs
- Dribbling or not passing urine
Home Remedies for bowel incontinence in dogs
- Treating bowel incontinence is difficult and often not effective. It is important to check if there is a hidden cause.
- Increasing the frequency of walks can help.
- Dietary changes to reduce the amount of poo produced while still keeping the right amounts of all nutrients may also help
- If associated with dementia, treatments for this may help.
- Checking frequently for soiling of their coat and keeping them clean is important to avoid complications.
- Keep bedding and blankets clean and dry.
Bowel incontinence is often associated with other problems that seriously impact the quality of life. If you are struggling to manage this problem or if it’s causing important complications, euthanasia may be the kindest option. Don’t hesitate to speak to a vet if you have concerns about this.
Vet treatment for bowel incontinence in dogs
A thorough physical and neurological examination (testing reflexes and muscle tone) will provide a lot of information.
- X-rays are often used to check the amount and type of faeces present in the gut, as well as any bone or joint abnormalities
- Ultrasound may be used if masses are suspected but is not always useful
- Complex cases may require MRI or endoscopy.
Treating incontinence caused by spinal or nerve damage is difficult.
Pain relief is crucial, and anti-inflammatories may help.
Some types of spinal disease require surgery as soon as possible.
Sphincter incontinence has no specific treatment and can only be managed. If advanced or severe, euthanasia may be discussed.
Dogs at higher risk for bowel incontinence
Intervertebral disc disease is more common in breeds like Dachshund, French Bulldog, Basset Hound or Corgi.
Lumbosacral stenosis is more common in large breeds like German Shepherd, Labrador or Dalmatian.
Other causes of bowel incontinence in dogs
- Infections or masses around the anus, for example, cancer of the anal sacs
- Conditions that affect nerve and muscle function, such as peripheral neuropathies
- Fibrocartilaginous Thromboembolism ( a blood clot, often in the blood vessels going to the spine or back end)
- Parasites in the brain or spinal cord (such as Neospora caninum)