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Bowel Incontinence in Dogs

What Is Bowel Incontinence in Dogs?

Canine bowel incontinence occurs when a dog cannot control their bowel movements, leading to the involuntary release of fecal matter. Sometimes, the dog recognizes the urge to defecate but cannot manage the process due to issues in the colon, rectum, or anus. Alternatively, in cases of neurological conditions or spinal injuries, the dog may be unaware of the need to defecate altogether, exacerbating the incontinence.


Signs of bowel incontinence in dogs vary depending on whether the dog is conscious of the need to defecate but unable to control it, or if the incontinence stems from neurological issues. Symptoms may include:

For dogs aware of the urge to defecate but unable to control it:

  • Straining during bowel movements
  • Presence of blood in stool
  • Small or frequent bowel movements
  • Unusually strong odor in feces
  • Excessive licking of the perianal region
  • Scooting

Dogs experiencing neurological causes of bowel incontinence may defecate unexpectedly or while at rest, often without realization. This type of incontinence may be accompanied by additional neurological symptoms like:

  • Changes in walking pattern, such as dragging hind paws, instability, or unsteadiness
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Pain response when pressure is applied along the spine, possibly leading to flinching or vocalization


Causes of bowel incontinence in dogs can stem from conditions affecting the colon, rectum, or anus, such as:

  • Surgical procedures around the anus, like anal sac removal
  • Anal sac cancer
  • Perianal fistulas, characterized by draining tracts near the anus
  • Perineal hernias
  • Inflammatory or infectious diseases of the colon and rectum
  • Dietary issues leading to severe diarrhea

Neurological factors contributing to bowel incontinence may involve:

  • Lumbosacral stenosis, which is the narrowing of the spinal canal near the junction of the spinal column and pelvis
  • Spinal cord infections or infections between vertebral discs
  • Spinal cord tumors
  • Intervertebral disc disease
  • Spinal trauma
  • Fibrocartilaginous embolism, known as a spinal stroke
  • Congenital abnormalities like spina bifida
  • Dysautonomia, which involves malfunctioning of the autonomic nervous system

Certain breeds may be more susceptible to specific conditions. For instance, fibrocartilaginous embolism is more common in large and giant breeds, while Bulldogs may have congenital spinal malformations, and Dachshunds are prone to intervertebral disc disease.

Bowel incontinence isn’t solely attributed to age. Although some older dogs with cognitive dysfunction may exhibit signs of incontinence, it’s recognized as conscious defecation in an unusual location.


Veterinarians diagnose bowel incontinence in dogs through a series of steps:

Initially, they conduct a comprehensive physical examination, which includes a rectal exam, to ascertain whether the incontinence stems from neurological issues or diseases affecting the colon, rectum, or anus.

If there are suspicions of disease, further diagnostic procedures commence. These may entail imaging of the abdomen using X-rays and/or ultrasound, along with a fecal examination to detect parasites.

If no clear cause is identified and the pet’s condition doesn’t improve with supportive treatment, the veterinarian might suggest dietary trials to assess if the pet’s food contributes to the symptoms.

In cases requiring more definitive diagnoses, procedures like surgery or colonoscopy might be necessary to obtain samples from the intestinal walls. If a neurological cause is suspected, procedures such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and analysis of cerebrospinal fluid become essential, often requiring anesthesia.

Additionally, veterinarians may opt to rule out specific infectious diseases that manifest with neurological symptoms and bowel incontinence, such as distemper.


Treatment options for bowel incontinence in dogs vary depending on the underlying cause:

For certain conditions like intravertebral disc disease, surgical intervention can be effective. However, for issues such as spinal canal tumors, treatment options may be limited, and long-term management becomes necessary.

If the incontinence stems from infections like parvovirus, resolving the infection typically resolves the incontinence. In cases where specific infectious causes are identified, veterinarians may prescribe medications such as antibiotics or antifungals to address the root cause. Additionally, anti-inflammatory drugs like NSAIDs (carprofen) or steroids (prednisone) may be recommended if inflammation contributes to the condition.

When dietary intolerance is suspected, veterinarians may suggest switching to a novel protein diet or a hydrolyzed protein diet. Novel protein diets introduce proteins unlikely to have been previously consumed by the pet, while hydrolyzed protein diets break down proteins into smaller, more easily digestible nutrients.

Although complete resolution of bowel incontinence through natural means is unlikely, adjustments to the diet can help manage the condition. Opting for a highly digestible, low-fiber diet may reduce stool volume. If incontinence worsens following dietary changes, consulting the veterinarian about adding an insoluble fiber supplement to enhance stool consistency is advisable.

Living and Management

An essential aspect of managing bowel incontinence in dogs involves maintaining cleanliness and dryness in their perineal area. Moisture buildup in this region can predispose dogs to skin infections (dermatitis) or urinary tract infections, especially in females. To clean your pet’s perineal area, opt for gentle, unscented wipes specifically designed for dogs. If your pet is susceptible to infections in the area, your veterinarian may suggest using specific medicated wipes.

It’s generally advised against using diapers on your dog as they can increase the risk of dermatitis or urinary tract infections. Instead, lining their usual resting spots with puppy pads can facilitate easier cleanup.

For dogs experiencing difficulty controlling defecation despite feeling the urge to defecate, more frequent bathroom breaks may prove beneficial. Additionally, eating food stimulates colonic movement, so taking your pet outside immediately after meals can help minimize accidents.

Bowel Incontinence in Dogs FAQs

Can bowel incontinence in dogs be cured?

Some causes of bowel incontinence, like severe diarrhea or mild intervertebral disc disease, can be cured or significantly improved. However, conditions such as dysautonomia do not currently have a cure

.What are the initial signs of bowel incontinence in dogs?

Signs may include finding small amounts of stool in random areas of your home or your pet’s sleeping spots. Alternatively, you may observe stool coming out of your pet’s backside seemingly without their awareness.

Why do older dogs lose control of their bowels?

Older dogs do not naturally lose control of their bowels. Dogs experiencing canine cognitive dysfunction consciously defecate in unusual areas due to alterations in their mental state, not due to a loss of bowel control. Canine cognitive dysfunction is akin to dementia in humans. Older dogs are also more susceptible to developing certain conditions, such as tumors of the spinal cord, which can lead to bowel incontinence.

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