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Accidents happen, but as a dog owner, there are two things that no one likes to witness. First, immediately after an outdoor bathroom break, your dog comes into the house and dribbles urine across the floor. Or, worse, your adult canine looks you squarely in the eye and urinates in front of you.

These could be one-off behavioral incidents, but they can also be a sign of urinary incontinence, something that becomes more prevalent as dogs age.

What is Canine Incontinence?

Urinary incontinence occurs when a dog involuntarily loses bladder control. This condition ranges from small to large leaks indoors due to a medical or behavioral disorder. Incontinence isn’t related to a dog purposely causing mischief, and chances are your dog is not being spiteful or acting out.

Carola Schubbel

If you diligently housetrained your dog and it has been consistently doing its business in the yard at proper times, it should be noted that incontinence is not a housetraining issue. Even if you missed a few steps in potty training or the process took longer than you anticipated, “forgetting” potty training likely isn’t the culprit. A housetrained puppy who suddenly leaves wet messes indoors could suffer from a medical disease, such as Addison’s disease or leptospirosis—a contagious disease transmitted by drinking from a contaminated puddle.

The dog who leaves a bathroom boo-boo isn’t purposely misbehaving, either. Feeling anxious over a change in the family or the environment, such as a big move or a divorce, can trigger inappropriate elimination. Although owners of older dogs often blame a puddle problem on their dogs’ age, the years alone often aren’t the sole reason. There’s usually an underlying issue, such as dementia or cognitive dysfunction syndrome, which explains why a senior dog forgets where to pee.

Urethral muscles in older dogs are weaker than they once were. As a result, when dogs age, they struggle with holding their urine. That’s why incontinence often begins when dogs reach middle age and their bladder weakens.

Some causes of incontinence include:

Recognizing Incontinence

One household accident may not mean your dog suffers from incontinence, but several cleanups may signal a trip to the veterinarian is necessary for a checkup. Another sign of this condition comes with your dog dripping urine or you notice irritation on the skin near where they urinate. When a dog continually licks its penis or vulva, it could also be a sign.

To help your veterinarian review your dog’s history and formulate a treatment plan for this issue, provide them with as much information as possible. Keeping notes of when and where your dog urinates in the house and when you first notice the accidents will offer a complete picture of your dog’s condition. Also, note if your dog is drinking more water than average and if the urination seems painful.

Senior poodle mix laying down wearing a doggy diaper.
Steve Heap

Female vs. Male Incontinence

Because males and females urinate differently, their incontinence looks a little different as well. Owners often report that their older spayed females will sometimes unexpectedly leak urine while asleep. This situation is caused by dogs’ lower estrogen levels as they age, which weakens their urethral muscles. However, this hormone-responsive incontinence can occur in both sexes.

A weak bladder or Urethral Sphincter Mechanism Incompetence (USMI) is often responsible for incontinence in spayed females. Genetics and obesity could also contribute to the issue.

Treating Urinary Incontinence

Your veterinarian will want to perform a urinalysis and blood tests to rule out other medical issues to diagnose incontinence, including a bladder infection or another underlying condition, such as diabetes or Cushing’s disease. They might also perform an ultrasound will reveal if tumors or growths in the bladder are causing the problem. To see if urinary stones are causing the problem, your vet may take radiographs as well.

The notes you’ve taken about your dog’s accidents will help your veterinarian formulate a diagnosis and treatment plan. Once incontinence is confirmed, you can manage the condition by doing a few things.

If your dog tolerates wearing doggy diapers or belly bands indoors, these might save you some serious cleanup. Providing mental stimulation with exercise, interactive toys, and taking your dog on frequent outings may relieve their urge to urinate indoors. You can also try using waterproof pads or washable bedding while they sleep. Some supplements may also help.

Your veterinarian may prescribe a medication for an incontinent hormonal issue. Other drugs are available to improve urethral tone but note that these often come with side effects in dogs, such as restlessness, anxiety, and hypertension. Above all, maintain your dog’s hygiene to avoid skin infections.

Related article: Comfort Dogs Build a Bridge to Healing from Uvalde to Sandy Hook
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