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Dog Incontinence – Causes, Solutions, Products & FAQs

↯ Key takeaway points

  • Dog incontinence is a common problem in dogs, whether due to spaying, age, or congenital issues.
  • Veterinary diagnosis involves considering clinical signs and medical history, urine tests, blood work, cystoscopy, and neurological tests
  • Neurological tests assess tail carriage, anal tone, and perineal sensation to determine if neurological problems are causing incontinence
  • Dog incontinence can be caused by urinary tract infections (UTIs), uroliths (stones in the urinary tract), spinal cord disease, anatomic abnormalities, and urethral sphincter mechanism incompetence (USMI).
  • Uroliths, or urinary stones, can cause blood in the urine, straining to go to the toilet, and urinary blockages, which require immediate medical attention.
Written by Jay
BsC (Hons) Animal Behaviour & Welfare graduate with a passion for advocating for misunderstood animals.
Zoo and wildlife doctor in veterinary medicine passionate about animal welfare and preventive medicine.
Published on
Sunday 27 June 2021
Last updated on
Friday 21 July 2023
dogs with incontinence
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Dog incontinence is a common problem that can occur in various situations, such as after a dog has been spayed, as they age, or due to a congenital issue. It’s important to ensure your dog’s comfort while they deal with their incontinence, and fortunately, veterinary assistance can help manage the condition.

Now, let’s discuss the different types of incontinence in dogs and the available products to help them. Incontinence can be either urinary or fecal. Urinary incontinence happens when a dog unintentionally passes urine, which means they may urinate without wanting to or be unaware of it.

What is Dog Incontinence

Incontinence comes in two forms – urinary and fecal. Urinary incontinence occurs when your dog unintentionally passes urine. This means that your dog may urinate without wanting to, or might be unaware that they are urinating at any given time. Then, as its name suggests, fecal incontinence occurs when your dog unintentionally passes stool. Your dog may unintentionally pass stool while also passing gas. In severe cases, your dog may experience a complete loss of bowel control and be completely unable to decide when they go to the toilet.

How is it Diagnosed

Your vet will diagnose your pet’s incontinence using a range of methods. First, your vet will consider your pet’s clinical signs and medical history for any obvious causes. Urine tests are usually done to look for bacteria or minerals that might have built up in your dog’s urine. Next, blood work is also typically done to test for evidence of kidney function or to look for any electrolyte abnormalities. In addition, a cystoscopy can look for abnormalities within the urethra or bladder. In some cases, a special test may be done to measure the pressure in your pet’s bladder, too. Lastly, if your vet suspects that a neurological problem is to blame, some more tests may be done. These include checking your pet’s tail carriage, anal tone, and perineal sensation.

What Causes Dog Incontinence

Urinary incontinence in dogs is a symptom of many different diseases. Among the most common are urinary tract infections, uroliths, spinal cord disease, anatomic abnormalities, and USMI. Because there are so many causes of dog incontinence, you must be sure to get your pooch to the vet if they become unable to control their toileting habits. Do not just assume that your dog has a UTI, for example, as the symptoms can be similar to those from uroliths.

causes of incontinence
There are some cases of incontinence caused by a dog’s medical issues.


Around 80% of older dogs with incontinence have urethral sphincter mechanism incompetence (USMI). USMI occurs when the valve of the bladder neck and urethra fail to prevent urine leakages. This condition may develop over time as the valve “gives up.” Alternatively, USMI can also occur after a routine spay. This typically happens when a bitch undergoes her spay between her first and second heat. For breeds that are more prone to USMI, your vet may recommend delaying her spay until later on.

Urinary Tract Infection

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are relatively common in dogs. In most cases a UTI develops when bacteria travels into the bladder, causing the previously sterile urine to become a breeding ground for bacteria. Dogs with UTIs may urinate more often, have accidents in the house, frequently lick their genitals, or drip urine with a strong smell. If your dog has a UTI, be sure to ask your vet for advice as soon as possible. Without treatment, a UTI can move through the body, becoming a serious and potentially life-threatening infection. A UTI can go on to cause a severe kidney infection, for example.


Uroliths, also known as calculi or stones, are aggregates of minerals in your dog’s urine. They may form when there is a high concentration of salts in the urine and an optimal pH that supports crystallization. Similar to a UTI, urinary stones may present themselves with blood in the urine, straining to go to the toilet, leaking urine, and having accidents. If stones begin to block your pet’s urethra, more worrying symptoms will begin. These include dribbling urine, crying out in pain when going to the toilet, and being unable to pass any urine. This is a medical emergency that requires quick treatment.

Spinal Diseases

Problems with the spinal cord may interrupt the communication between the nerves and the bladder, causing incontinence. This includes both fecal and urinary incontinence. The warning signs of a spinal injury include shivering, refusing to get up to play, yelping when picked up, a hunched back, refusal to bend down, limping, and loss of control over the hind legs. Some breeds are more prone to spinal problems than others. For example, German Shepherds are most prone to degenerative lumbosacral stenosis, degenerative myelopathy, and nephroblastoma tumors of the spine.

Congenital Defects

Some dogs are born with abnormalities of the urinary tract. For example, a dog may be born with an ectopic ureter. An ectopic ureter does not enter the bladder in the correct position, causing chronic incontinence. This problem is most common in female dogs, who often have other abnormalities like a short urethra and small bladder. Luckily, about 50% of cases improve with a minimally invasive laser correction. Don’t delay getting your pooch to the vet if you suspect that they have an ectopic ureter!

How to Tell if Your Dog is Incontinent

Identifying whether your dog is experiencing incontinence can be challenging, as it can range from occasional leakage to a complete loss of bowel control. Additionally, it may appear similar to inappropriate elimination caused by stress or insufficient housetraining. Therefore, it’s important to be cautious when evaluating your dog’s condition and never punish them for accidents.

Here are some signs that may indicate your dog is incontinent:

  1. Leakage of Urine or Feces: Your dog may leak urine or feces, particularly during sleep, leading to soiled bedding on most days.
  2. Excessive Licking: Dogs with incontinence may excessively lick their vulva or penis to keep themselves clean.
  3. Lack of Control: They may seem surprised by or unaware of their bowel movements and struggle to stop them. You may notice them attempting to go outside but being unable to reach the designated area in time.
incontinence symptoms
Find out what are the symptoms that point to incontinence.

Addressing Dog Incontinence

If your dog is incontinent, you must be aware of how to treat it, how to manage it, and how to prevent further problems. So what can a vet do for dog incontinence? And are there any home remedies for this problem? Read on to find out more.


The best treatment for your dog depends on the cause of their incontinence. While some conditions are best managed with drug therapy alone, others may require surgical intervention to correct.


Phenylpropanolamine is the most effective treatment for USMI in dogs. This drug works by increasing sphincter tone in the urethra. With this change, the urethra is better able to stop the passage of urine, reducing incontinence. However, it must be given as a chewable tablet 2-3 times daily to be effective. Dogs can quickly relapse into incontinence if doses are missed. Lastly, its side effects include anxiety, hypertension, and tachycardia, which may make it unsuitable for dogs with underlying heart problems.


Along with phenylpropanolamine, estrogens also effective in managing USMI. The most commonly prescribed form is diethylstilbestrol (DES). DES increases sphincter tone, too. However, it must be given at extremely low doses to prevent toxicity. DES capsules are typically given daily for one week. If the USMI is not better after this time, the treatment is ineffective.

Tricyclic Antidepressants

In cases where other medicines don’t work, tricyclic antidepressants may be given. Imipramine indirectly acts on the urethral smooth muscle. To be effective, it is given every 12 hours. However, its side effects make it unsuitable for many dogs. Its side effects include vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, and hyperexcitability. It also decreases seizure threshold which makes it unsafe for epileptic dogs.


Surgery is another treatment option for incontinent dogs. For example, urethropexy can be done for both males and females. In a urethropexy, the urethra is surgically fixed into an appropriate position to reduce incontinence. Similarly, colposuspension can be done for female dogs to surgically hold the vagina, urethra, and bladder neck in place. About half of these surgeries will result in regaining of continence, while 30% to 40% result in some improvement.

causes of incontinence
Find out what are the main causes incontinence in dogs.

Home Remedies

Home remedies are not to be given without medical supervision. If your dog is incontinent, you must seek veterinary attention first, and work closely with your vet to treat your pet. It is also important that you ask your vet before adding anything to your dog’s treatment plan.

One study on humans suggests that corn silk might be effective for decreasing UTI symptoms. When given corn silk for 5, 10, and 20 days, there was a significant improvement in symptoms. However, it should be noted that the sample size was small with only 42 participants. There are also no studies on its effectiveness in dogs. Speak to your vet about offering corn silk to your pet.

You already feed your pooch the best dog food on the market, but how does your dog’s diet affect their urinary health? To maintain excellent urinary health, vets recommend feeding your pup a well-balanced diet made with organic ingredients. If your dog is prone to urinary problems, your vet may recommend a diet that is low in protein, magnesium, and phosphorus. This preventative diet can help to reduce the number of stones that form in your dog’s system. It also pays to avoid foods with inflammatory ingredients in them. Such ingredients might include artificial additives, fillers, and preservatives. Speak to your vet about your options.


Prevention is always better than cure! As a responsible pup owner, you already do everything you can to keep your pooch happy and healthy. But how do you prevent urinary tract problems and incontinence?

Maintaining your pooch’s hygiene and hydration are crucial steps for preventing UTIs. Be sure to bathe them once a month. You must also make sure that their sanitary regions are clean after walks, play, or any activity that could make them dirty. Offer plenty of toileting opportunities, too, so that your dog does not need to hold their urine. As always, offer plenty of fresh drinking water to encourage urination. And, lastly, you may consider feeding your dog canned food to increase their water intake. This ties into urolith prevention, too. By diluting the urine, you reduce the concentration of salts in the urine, preventing the buildup of minerals that form uroliths!

Unfortunately, not all cases of dog incontinence are preventable. For example, your dog may be born with a physical abnormality in their bladder that causes their incontinence. They may also develop a spinal problem linked to their breed that leads to incontinence. Your older dog may develop USMI with age, another problem that is not preventable. In these cases, early treatment is instead the best policy. At the first sign that something is wrong, be sure to talk to your vet.

Items That Help With Dog Incontinence

If your dog is incontinent, don’t panic. There are many products on the market to help you manage your pup’s toileting problems. These include veterinary medicine, special foods, diapers, belly bands, waterproof dog beds and mats, and training pads.

Incontinence medicine, Pills & Drugs for Dogs

Drugs for dog incontinence can only be prescribed by your vet. Do not attempt to give your pup medicines without veterinary supervision, as it is easy to do more harm than good.

With your vet’s assistance, your incontinent dog may be given phenylpropanolamine or diethylstilbestrol. These are the frontline treatments for USMI in dogs. However, they do not come without side effects and risks, which is why it is crucial that your vet monitors your dog’s progress. Phenylpropanolamine can cause hypertension and tachycardia, making it unsuitable for dogs with heart problems. Similarly, diethylstilbestrol can only be given in low doses as it becomes toxic at higher doses. It can also cause alopecia, pyometra, and infertility. Both drugs work by increasing your dog’s sphincter tone. This is because they act directly on the smooth muscle receptors of the urethra.

Testosterone injections are sometimes used to treat urinary incontinence in male dogs. Testosterone may help to increase urethral smooth muscle tone and prostatic urethral resistance. However, it is less effective than phenylpropanolamine.

Incontinence Dog Foods

There are few therapeutic diets on the market for managing incontinence in dogs. Such diets include:

These diets are only to be given with veterinary supervision. This is because not all diets made for urinary health are suitable for your pooch. While one diet may help to dissolve uroliths, it may also cause problems where heart disease is also present due to its lack of sodium. Another diet may be better for your dog in that case. So, it is best to allow your vet to determine which is best for your furry friend rather than rushing to choose one yourself.

Incontinence Dog Beds

Many incontinent dogs struggle with wetting their beds in their sleep. So, the best dog beds for incontinent dogs have several essential qualities. Your dog’s bed should be machine-washable, waterproof, and comfortable to lie in. It also helps for the bed to be easy to wipe down with a cloth. Also, it pays to invest in a bed with a non-slip bottom. That urine has to go somewhere, which may well be the floor below. When your dog gets up, you don’t want them to slip on a damp floor! If your dog is incontinent due to older age, be sure to invest in the most padded bed you can find. You’ll want to support your dog’s joints while they sleep, too, to ensure the best nights’ sleep possible.

Dog Incontinence Diapers

Disposable dog diapers are easy to use and easy to dispose of. However, using them can become costly and they are not environmentally friendly. For these reasons, washable diapers are a more popular choice for dogs with urinary incontinence. These diapers come in a range of sizes, styles, and materials to suit your pooch. Not only this, but they tend to be more comfortable and more environmentally friendly, too. Some diapers will come with special diaper liners for maximum absorbency. Lastly, dog diapers can help to control both urinary and fecal incontinence in dogs.

For male dogs, a belly band is sometimes enough to control their urinary incontinence. Belly bands wrap around your dog’s midsection, thereby just enclosing his penis and not his rear. These garments consist of a waterproof layer and an absorbent inner layer that can be changed when wet. Keep in mind that a belly band cannot control fecal incontinence, though. A washable diaper is often best for fecal incontinence in dogs, as it covers both the bottom and the penis.

Dog Incontinence Mats

Dog incontinence mats can be used in your pup’s crate or as another bed. Whichever you choose, the best dog mat for incontinence should be waterproof, comfortable, and easy to wash. A waterproof mat can help to protect the floor beneath your dog’s crate or bed from accidents. Not only this, but they help to make your pooch more comfortable as they rest! This is especially important for senior dogs with joint problems. So, if your pooch struggles with incontinence, consider adding a waterproof dog mat to your arsenal.

Dog Incontinence Pads

While training pads are most often used for housetraining puppies, they are also helpful for incontinent dogs. If your dog cannot make it outside to go to the toilet, they may at least be able to go indoors using a pad. This way, your dog’s stool stays on the pad and does not soil the floor. Always keep your dog’s pads in an area that is easily accessible, but away from their food and bed.

Dog Incontinence: FAQ

Have any more questions about dog incontinence? Feel free to refer to our FAQ for more details. If in doubt, always ask your vet for advice.

What happens if I leave incontinence?

Leaving urine and fecal matter in your dog’s living space is a sure way to cause discomfort, stress, and further health problems. Not only do you risk causing your pup a UTI, but you also risk causing them painful ammonia burns. Also, like human babies, dogs can quickly develop diaper rash if their wet diapers are not changed frequently. Be sure to keep your pooch clean and change their diapers regularly to prevent this highly uncomfortable condition.

Are certain dogs more prone to incontinence than others?

Certain dog breeds are more prone to incontinence. For example, Doberman Pinschers, Giant Schnauzers, Rottweilers, Weimaraners, and Boxers are most likely to develop USMI. Because of this, female dogs of these breeds may benefit from delaying the time of spaying to decrease their risk of USMI. Similarly, certain breeds are more prone to being born with ectopic ureters than others. These include Siberian Huskies, Newfoundlands, Poodles, and Golden Retrievers. Having an ectopic ureter directly causes incontinence. Lastly, some breeds are more prone to spinal problems than others. This is important because spinal abnormalities can cause incontinence in dogs. The German Shepherd, for example, is most prone to degenerative lumbosacral stenosis, degenerative myelopathy, and nephroblastoma tumors of the spine.

Are male dogs more prone to incontinence?

Male dogs are not more prone to incontinence than female dogs. Instead, female dogs are most prone to toileting problems. Roughly 20% of female dogs develop incontinence after a routine spay done between the first and second heat. This is because of hormonal imbalances. The urinary tract depends on estrogen to function properly, and removing the ovaries can cause the urethral sphincter to weaken.

Urinary incontinence in male dogs is not well understood. However, it is known to occur in dogs who have undergone a total prostatectomy. This surgery is done to treat prostatic carcinomas in male dogs. However, in one study, it was found that 8 of 23 dogs developed permanent urinary incontinence after their surgery. Dogs with less testosterone may also develop urinary incontinence. This may be because the decrease in testosterone prompts an increase in follicle-stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone. To treat this problem, some vets prescribe phenylpropanolamine and testosterone.

Is incontinence a reason to put down a dog?

Incontinence alone is not an acceptable reason to euthanize a dog. In some practices, doing so may be considered as “convenience euthanasia.” Convenience euthanasia entails putting an otherwise healthy animal to sleep for the owner’s convenience. If your dog is incontinent with no other health problems, there are other options to consider first. If you are unable to manage your pet’s condition for personal reasons, consider reaching out to a rehoming center. An owner with more experience with such problems may be able to help your dog more. However, if incontinence is not your pet’s only health problem, it’s time to consider their quality of life. You can do this by consulting the quality of life scale.

Is age a factor in dog incontinence?

Age plays a big part in incontinence for older dogs. In fact, about 80% of senior dogs with incontinence have USMI. Over time, the valve of the urethra and bladder neck “give up” and stop preventing urine from leaking through. Unfortunately, this kind of USMI is not preventable. Some cases are manageable with drug therapy, but not all respond – it’s best to talk to your vet to figure out the best management methods for your pooch.

What is the best way to clean dog urine from a bed?

First, blot the excess urine with an old towel or rag to absorb what you can. Then, mix 2 cups of vinegar, 2 cups of warm water, and 4 tablespoons of baking soda. You can apply this solution with a spray bottle. For urine that’s been sitting for longer, you can sprinkle some baking soda on top of the stain, too. Allow the solution to soak for about 10 minutes and then blot using a towel again. Be sure that your pup’s bed is completely dry before allowing them to use it again!

What is fecal incontinence?

As the name suggests, dog fecal incontinence occurs when your dog cannot control when they poop. Your dog may be unaware that they are passing any stool. They may seem unable to hold their stool even if they are aware of it. Fecal incontinence comes in two categories: reservoir incontinence and sphincter incontinence. With the former, your dog’s rectum cannot store a normal amount of stool. This could be due to diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease, or cancer affecting the intestines. In the latter case, the anal sphincter cannot close. This causes feces to leak out of the rectum. Your dog might develop this type of incontinence due to an anal wound or mass, or even a spinal cord problem.

What are some complications of urinary incontinence in dogs?

Incontinence due to a UTI can progress into more serious kidney and bladder infections. This is because the body cannot fight the harmful bacteria in the urine. Your dog is also at risk of developing painful skin lesions with incontinence. If your dog’s skin is constantly in contact with their pee, the ammonia can cause scalds and burns.

punishing dog for incontinence
Your dog will not understand when you punish them for incontinence.

Incontinence in dogs is manageable with some changes to your routine. Be sure to provide your pooch with a waterproof bed, dog diapers, pads, and any other adjustments they may need.

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