Watching your dog grow old is no fun and when it comes to pooping while walking it’s downright heartbreaking.
You cannot help feeling sorry for your companion of so many years, but you need to keep in mind ageing is a natural process and there’s little you can do about it.
What you can do is try to understand what’s happening and how you can help your old dog cope with this.
Let’s have a look at all possible causes of this embarrassing new habit your dog seems to have acquired and what you can reasonably expect.
Why do old dogs poop while walking?
A dog walking in circles while pooping is fairly common and has to do mostly with marking his territory and getting comfortable enough to do his business. You’ve probably watched your own pet doing this when he was younger.
Now, walking and passing small amounts of feces without even acknowledging it is something you’ve never seen before and it’s natural to be worried. In medical terms, this is called fecal incontinence.
Your pet is not acknowledging his casual pooping because, in most cases, he has no idea what’s happening behind his back and, obviously, has no control over it. The most obvious sign is that your dog doesn’t assume the normal defecation posture while eliminating.
Why do old dogs lose control of their bowels?
Broadly speaking, you can chalk it up to the dog getting older, but you shouldn’t accept it is a matter of fact without having your pet checked out. There are various causes that make your dog lose control of his bowels and, depending on that, there might be things you can do to help.
According to experts, lack of bowel control in senior pets can be caused by either reservoir incontinence or sphincter incontinence.
This refers to problems related to the rectum, the reservoir dogs normally store feces until it’s time for a potty break. A young healthy animal has no problem holding it, but with senior dogs the rectum might become damaged. Most commonly this can be caused by an inflammatory disease, diarrhea, any number of diseases that affect the intestines or even cancer, because dogs can get that, too.
If your dog has issues with his rectum it is quite possible that he understands what he’s doing, but cannot control it. When a dog poops while walking and raises his head to look at you he probably senses the problem. That is, he’s not completely unaware of the embarrassing situation and he wants to see your reaction.
Keep calm and don’t say anything that might add even more stress to a dog in an already difficult situation. A loving pet owner should take the dog’s inquisitive look as a silent cry for help. Your dog knows all this is very wrong and cannot do anything to stop himself from dropping small amounts of feces while he’s doing his everyday walk.
Also, if your dog starts having accidents inside the house taking note of the place they most frequently happen. If it’s mostly near the door, that means your pet knew it was going to happen and tried to get outside.
The act of defecation implies the relaxation of the anal sphincter. When the dog loses control over the sphincter feces will inevitably leak out, especially during a walk, but also during sleep.
Sphincter incontinence appears when there’s a local problem, such as a wound or an abnormal growth, or when the nerves controlling the opening are damaged.
Technically, there are two muscles that make up the sphincter, an internal and an external one. When the nerves controlling either of them are damaged the dog will start pooping uncontrollably.
The nerves might be affected when there’s a spinal injury. In old age, when the dog has any sort of disc, vertebrae or spinal issues, like degenerative myelopathy the nervous connection can be affected.
Dogs with long bodies, such as Dachshunds, Basset Hounds, Corgis, or Pekingese have a higher risk of developing Intervertebral Disc Disease, which is characterized by bulging or ruptured discs. Loss of bowel control is just one of the symptoms, but you might also notice your dog having problems moving, an unsteady gait and a reluctance to jump or climb stairs. If your pet yelps while making any of these movements or even if you pick him up, have a vet examine him as soon as possible. Left untreated, IDD can lead to very serious health issues, including paralysis.
Canine cognitive dysfunction can also cause your pet to have accidents, especially inside. House soiling incidents are just one of the behavioral changes caused by this syndrome. Simply put, senior dogs start forgetting their house training and just go when they feel the need to. It’s not that the dog is actually incontinent, he could hold it, technically, but he doesn’t remember that he is supposed to do so when inside.
What are some signs of incontinence?
The most obvious sign is the dog pooping while he walks, but there are other symptoms indicating your dog might be developing an incontinence problem.
- Scooting on the floor, which is a sign your pet some problem affecting his anal glands.
- Redness or inflammation of the anal area
- Obsessive licking of the anal region
- Distended abdomen and tenderness
- Gait or walking problems, which point to some form of nervous damage
- Weakness in the back legs
- Changes in the way the dog carries his tail
- Finding small pieces of feces in the dog’s sleeping quarters, which indicates your pet also relieves himself uncontrollably in his sleep, not just when he’s walking
Keep in mind that fecal incontinence may also be caused by parasitic infestation or gastrointestinal disease, so don’t just assume his pooping accidents are related to the aging process. If the dog has a disease, drugs can help him get over this problem.
How does walking help a dog poop?
Any house-trained dog knows that a walk is the perfect time to take care of number two and, indeed, it becomes sort of a reflex. However, there are other physiological reasons making your dog want to poop while on a walk. This is because walking implies a lot of muscle activity and this stimulates the digestive system. Basically, the stomach muscles are stimulated to pass on the food, which in turns stimulates the intestines. Once feces make it to the rectum the dog will naturally want to relieve himself.
This is why extended walks are highly-recommended for dogs suffering from constipation.
For an elderly pet with bowel incontinence walking also stimulates the elimination process, the only difference being that the dog has basically no control over his pooping. Instead of holding everything to release it in one go, an incontinent dog will release small amounts of feces almost continuously.
Why is my older dog pooping excessively?
Many people complain that their senior pets seem to poop much more than they used to. Obviously, a pet owner knows the bathroom habits of the dog they’ve had for many years, but with an incontinent dog it might only appear like he’s pooping more. As mentioned before, the dog easily let’s go of the feces reaching the rectum and for the outside observer it just looks like he’s pooping excessively.
On the other hand, there are certain conditions that do indeed make the dog poop more.
A young healthy animal raiding the trash can behind your back will obviously have more food to process and dispose of.
In elderly pets, excessive pooping is more often associated with changes in the biome (the gut bacteria) or intestinal inflammation (colitis). At the same time, pooping more than usual can be a symptom of intestinal cancer. Although uncommon, tumors usually affect dogs past the age of nine years and they tend to appear in the colon or rectum.
How will a vet help my old dog that poops whilst walking?
If your dog started pooping while walking you need to take him to the vet as soon as possible.
The vet will have a look at the dog’s complete medical history and will ask various questions concerning the food your dog eats, his normal potty routine, the frequency of the pooping incidents and other behavioral or physical changes.
A rectal exam will be necessary to rule out tumors, wounds or an inflammation of the anal glands. A full blood work, a fecal exam and an abdominal ultrasound might also be needed to pinpoint the cause of your pet’s problems.
Intestinal parasites or inflammation can be treated with appropriate medication, while rectal masses might require surgery.
If your dog’s problems are caused by damage to the spine, treatment might be trickier. Nervous damage caused by a herniated or ruptured disc can be repaired by surgery, but this can be quite a costly option. Only the tests needed to diagnose spinal damage can cost anywhere between $1,000 and $3,000. As for the surgery, a simple intervention might take you back $1,000, while complex surgery can cost as much as $4,000. This might seem quite a lot, but keep in mind that excessive pooping is just an inconvenience, whereas spinal damage can lead to progressive weakening of the dogs hind legs and paralysis and if you love your dog you want to avoid that at all costs.
In less severe cases, the dog can recover even without surgery. Your pet will need to rest for at least four weeks and his movements will have to be severely restricted. The dog will be confined to a room or even crated. At the same time, he will be put on drugs to reduce inflammation and pain.
How can you help an old dog with bowel incontinence?
If your dog is old and frail, the vet might decide that surgery is no longer an option, in which case you will have to learn how to deal with your dog’s incontinence and help him maintain a good quality of life.
If your dog’s only problem is pooping a lot while walking, that’s something you can put up with, although you might need more bags to pick up the mess.
In case your dog has accidents inside the house you will want to increase the number of walks or potty breaks. If your dog’s legs are getting weak you might want to pick him up and carry him outside to the designated potty spot.
At the same time, place some puppy pads around the house and encourage your pet to use those in case of an emergency.
All members of your family should keep an eye on the dog and take him outside as soon as they notice he’s looking for a place to relieve himself.
Don’t scold or punish the dog since he has no control over his bowel movements. In anything, the added stress of you being angry with him can only compound the problem. Stress and depression can, in fact, cause a dog to poop more.
Use pads to line his bedding area so you can easily clean the mess if the dog soils himself in his sleep.
Remember to always clean up thoroughly after an accident using a solution of apple cider vinegar and water to remove the smell. If you don’t, your dog will be triggered by the lingering smell and decide the living room is his new bathroom.
For severe cases, dog nappies might be your best option. If you change them regularly, they won’t cause your pet any real problem. He might find them unusual at first and even try to get rid of them, but he’ll soon get used to wearing them.
What is the best diet to help my senior dog poop?
If your dog has developed bowel incontinence, you can try to change his diet to reduce the quantity of feces. A low-fiber diet works best in this situation. Your pet’s food should instead have a high content of protein, which helps with muscle building. As the dog ages he tends to lose muscular mass which is particularly bad if your pet also has mobility problems.
At the same time, you might want to reconsider the amount of food he gets. Older dogs who are less active don’t need as many calories as a healthy animal running around all day. If he cannot consume those calories anymore your dog will start to gain weight, which should be avoided if your dog also suffers from arthritis and weak muscles. The heavier he gets the more difficult it will be for him to move around.
If your dog’s stools are loose and watery, put him on a bland diet of boiled rice and boiled chicken breast. Not that you should only feed him that, but you can offer him a nice bowl of rice every other day or at least twice a week.
Always keep an eye on your dog’s bowel movements as senior pets are prone to constipation. If your dog starts passing small hard stools or appears to be straining increase the amount of fiber in his diet.
An ageing dog is confronted with many problems and bowel incontinence is just one of them. No matter how annoying his pooping while walking might be, keep in mind this is something he cannot control. He’s not doing it on purpose, he has a real problem and you should take him to the vet right away. Depending on the cause of the incontinence problem, the vet might put the dog on medication or recommend surgery if the dog has spinal damage. Hopefully, the spine problems can be repaired allowing your beloved pet a few more years of a good-quality life. If the damage cannot be repaired, just try to make him as comfortable as possible and show him a lot of love.