Why does my old dog poop while sleeping?

How to deal with old dogs pooping in their sleep

Photo by Bruno Cervera from Pexels

Well, that was a nasty surprise! Finding your dog sleeping in its own filth is quite a shock. You’ve had that dog for years and you’ve never had to deal with this mess since it was only a puppy. It took you a bit to house-train it properly, you’ve had no problem with this ever since and now this? Sadly, it is a fact many dogs develop incontinence in their senior years and accidents like pooping in their sleep start happening. Here’s what you need to know about this problem and how to deal with it.

What is incontinence?

Incontinence means losing the ability to control the bladder and the bowels, and there many reasons why this happens. If such an accident happens while the dog is sleeping peacefully it’s obvious the problem is out of its control, but you might notice similar incidents when your pet is awake. Is the dog doing this on purpose?

To distinguish between real incontinence and a behavioral problem watch the dog carefully. 

When the dog is right in front of you, looking you in the eye and it relieves itself on the carpet, that’s no accident. Your pet knows peeing on the floor is not allowed, but does it anyway just to spite you! It’s payback for whatever you did to annoy them – maybe the dog was unjustly punished, in their opinion, maybe you made them wait too long before going out for a walk. If this is the case, try to figure out what the dog might be trying to tell you by this brazen act of defiance! Count your blessings, too, as this is a problem you can easily solve, whereas true incontinence is a serious medical condition.

Clear signs your dog has an incontinence problem

  • The dog does not squat or raise a leg before letting out a bit of urine
  • The dog does not squat to defecate and has a bowel movement standing up or even walking
  • Your dog smells of urine or feces
  • The dog’s bedding is soiled in the morning

If this is the first time the dog’s had an accident, the problem is in the early stages and a simple solution, like letting them out more often to go potty might take care of the issue. 

One word of advice: As you watch in horror at the dog dripping urine on your carpet, try to get a hold of yourself and do not discipline the poor animal. A house-trained dog knows this is bad and is probably quite embarrassed or afraid it will be punished! Clean the mess and take your dog to the vet as soon as possible!

Diagnosing incontinence in older dogs

Yes, it’s a fact. Dogs can become incontinent as they age, but you shouldn’t simply chalk it up as an old age problem. It might be a health issue, so you need to take the dog to the vet and try to discover the exact cause because some of them are treatable.

Urinary tract infection

This can happen at any age, but older dogs are more prone to develop bladder stones or tumors which trigger a UTI. If it’s just an infection, the vet will put the dog on a course of antibiotics and that might solve your problem. However, if we’re talking about bladder stones or tumors, these might require surgery.

Kidney disease

As the dog ages, it might develop a kidney disease which makes it drink water more often. As a result, the dog needs to pee more often and sometimes the problem can become urgent. When it cannot hold it anymore, the dog will relieve itself even inside the house and you can’t really blame it for that.

Gastrointestinal Disorders 

Sometimes it’s not old age, but diarrhea and other stool issues that cause a dog to have an accident, even in its sleep. Take the dog to the vet for some tests!

Spinal problems

Incontinence can often be a sign of intervertebral disc disease or traumatic spinal injury, which might or might not be related to old age. Many times medical or surgical treatment can solve the problems, but if your dog has severe nerve damage there’s little the vet can do. 

The most common cause of fecal incontinence is a lower vertebral disease and if it causes your beloved pet to lose bowel control inevitably the dog will start pooping in its sleep.

Anal gland disease

If your dog starts scooting on the floor it’s a sign it might have a condition involving the anal sacs or glands. Also, check for tenderness or aversion to being touched near the tail as well as for a bloated abdomen. All dogs can develop such issues, but the problems tend to be more severe in older dogs. At least this is something treatable.

Arthritis 

This is obviously age-related. Stiff aching joints might make it harder for the dog to assume the proper position to relieve itself and the poor thing will try to hold it in until it cannot hold it anymore.

Brain Disease 

In some cases, the dog might have a brain tumor, but more often than not it’s old age dementia. The condition is known as canine cognitive dysfunction or senility and what it means is that the dog will simply forget things, just like old people. When the dog forgets its house-training and starts having accidents, it might be an early sign of canine dementia. There are some medications to ease the symptoms and slow the disease, but the condition is permanent.

Are certain breeds more prone to incontinence?

Incontinence usually becomes a problem as the animal enters middle age and beyond, but this is somewhat dependent on the size and breed of the dog. For instance, a 5-year-old Great Dane is considered middle-aged, but a smaller dog, like a terrier, of the same age, is still considered young and shouldn’t have incontinence issues.

As for the breeds more likely to develop incontinence in their senior years, these include Dobermans, Old English Sheepdogs, and Cocker Spaniels, although doctors are unsure as to why this happens.

Another aspect to keep in mind is that spayed female dogs have a higher risk of becoming incontinent due to the lack of estrogen.

How can you help an incontinent dog

So, you’ve seen the vet and the medications he gave your dog didn’t help much and there’s nothing else to do but put up with the mess. You want to make your dog’s senior years as comfortable as possible and treat them with the love and respect they deserve. Here are a few tips to make things easier for both of you.

  • Increase the number of daily walks and potty breaks. Make sure to take the dog out before bedtime.
  • Change the feeding routine, by making breakfast/lunch bigger and supper smaller. Try feeding your dog earlier in the evening.
  • Also, keep in mind eating stimulates bowel movements, so it might be a good idea to take your pet for a walk after every meal.
  • Limiting your pet’s water intake is something you should discuss with your vet first. Dehydration can cause severe health issues!
  • Put waterproof sheets on your dog’s bed or in any place your pet likes to nap.
  • If your dog has an accident during the daytime, clean the spot thoroughly to remove any smell. You don’t want your pet to develop a habit of relieving itself in the corner of the living room.
  • Bathe your dog’s genital area as often as possible to prevent odor and irritation and to keep infection at bay.
  • If your dog has long hair, consider trimming it, at least in the genital area, so the mess doesn’t get in the fur. 
  • If you’ve done everything in your power, it’s time to consider dog nappies! This might make the dog uncomfortable and you will have to change the diaper several times a day to prevent irritation. If the situation is under control during the daytime, but your dog is pooping in its sleep only use diapers at night! 

Can you put down a dog for incontinence?

Unfortunately, many dog owners ask themselves if it is time to put down the animal when it develops incontinence. Before you talk to the vet, you should asses the dog’s overall health. Aside from the accidents, is the dog comfortable, free of pain, and still able to enjoy life? Maybe there’s still some life left in him and probably the occasional pooping in its sleep doesn’t bother him as much as it does you. This is a very hard decision to make and many vets will refuse to euthanize a dog while a good quality of life exists. 

Time waits for no dog and at some point, your beloved companion of many years will start experiencing old-age related problems, like incontinence. Sometimes, the issue is health-related and the doctor might be able to treat it. If not, you’d better start thinking about how to make your pet comfortable in old age, while keeping your house clean and odor-free. More frequent walks, smaller suppers, and waterproofing their sleeping quarters will make the situation more bearable for you both! Cleaning up the mess is unpleasant, but it’s still the same dog and he’s still your friend!