Incontinence in Older Dogs

A pointer sits in a field with a bandana around his neck.

Of the many health issues that emerge as dogs age, urinary incontinence can be one of the most difficult to cope with. The accidents that coincide with incontinence cause discomfort, infections and confusion for dogs, and frequent clean-up jobs for their humans. But if your senior dog is incontinent, take heart. You are not destined to spend her remaining years frustrated and exhausted. Read on to learn the causes of urinary incontinence in dogs, the medical interventions that can reverse or minimize accidents, and the puddle-preventing steps you can take at home.

What Causes Incontinence In Older Dogs?

The most common cause of incontinence in senior dogs is a weakening of the urethral sphincter muscle that controls urination. This condition occurs most often in older spayed female dogs. The significant drop in estrogen that occurs after the removal of the ovaries causes loss of tone in the urethral muscle. In this type of incontinence, your dog won’t feel the urge to pee and won’t posture to urinate. The urine simply leaks out without her awareness. Accidents often happen when she’s laying down or sleeping because the muscle relaxes further.

About one in five female dogs becomes incontinent at some point in her life, and large female dogs are more vulnerable to the condition. Breeds with an elevated risk of incontinence include Doberman Pinschers, Old English Sheepdogs, Springer Spaniels and Cocker Spaniels. Some senior dogs become incontinent as a result of dementia; they simply forget their housetraining. And obesity, a condition which is most common in older dogs, is also a risk factor for incontinence.

Symptoms Of Urinary Incontinence In Dogs

  • Involuntary peeing
  • Urine leakage
  • Wet hair on the lower belly or rear legs
  • Wet spots or puddles where your dog sleeps
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Inflamed skin around the genitals

Because male and female dogs of any age can become incontinent as a result of underlying medical conditions, your veterinarian will have to rule out other common causes, such as urinary tract infections, bladder or kidney stones, diabetes, and chronic kidney diseases.

Be prepared to answer the following questions to help your veterinarian assess the root cause of your senior dog’s incontinence:

  • Does your dog have accidents when she is asleep or awake?
  • Does your dog posture to urinate before going indoors?
  • Does your dog also urinate normally?
  • Do the accidents involve a large or small amount of urine?
  • Does your dog usually leave a puddle in one location, or is there a constant dribble of urine?
  • Does your dog whimper or show signs of pain during urination?
  • Does your dog have difficulty standing or moving?
  • Does your dog drag her hind legs or lose control of bowels as well?
  • How much water does your dog drink, and how often?

Two Important Tips For Living With An Incontinent Dog:

Never give your dog less water in an effort to reduce accidents. Hydration is crucial to the health of all dogs, and your dog’s need for water does not change with incontinence.

  • Incontinence is not a training issue: your senior dog is simply unable to control her urination. Accidents should never be followed by scolding or punishment.

Complications Of Urinary Incontinence

Incontinence can cause urinary tract infections when bacteria enters the urethra through the lax muscle. Dogs with incontinence must also be watched closely for inflammation and infections of the skin around the abdomen, genitals and hind legs. Urine is acidic and causes a painful rash called urine scald when left in contact with your dog’s skin.

Treatment For Urinary Incontinence In Older Dogs

If your dog is diagnosed with incontinence connected to muscle weakness, your veterinarian will likely prescribe PPA (phenylpropanolamine), a drug which effectively strengthens the muscle that controls urination. Often PPA is prescribed in combination with synthetic estrogen to replace the lost hormones. Your dog will stay on PPA for the rest of her life to manage the incontinence.

When medication alone doesn’t end or significantly minimize accidents, surgery or collagen injections are possible interventions to reinforce the strength of the muscle.

For incontinence related to dementia, medicines and nutritional supplements prescribed to treat cognitive decline may also reduce the frequency of accidents.

How To Keep Your Dog (And Your House) Dry

Though medical treatments are highly effective, some older, incontinent dogs will simply continue to have accidents the rest of their lives. Puddles, wet fur and soaked dog beds may occur occasionally, or they may be daily incidents. If the incontinence is frequent, it’s imperative you find ways to minimize the mess so you don’t become overwhelmed and frustrated, and your dog stays dry, comfortable and healthy.

In addition to an endless supply of patience, you’ll need:

  • Doggie diapers: Diapers and belly bands made for male and female dogs can help contain leaks. Some owners of incontinent dogs even use pull-up diapers made for toddlers and simply cut a hole for the tail themselves. Experiment with different brands and sizes to find the ones that work best for your dog. Use dog training techniques to calmly and slowly introduce your dog to the diapers so she acclimates to them comfortably and without fear.
  • Washable or Waterproof Dog Bed: Because leaking often happens when your dog is asleep, make sure her dog bed cover is removable and washable. Look for dog beds with water-resistant liners, or opt for waterproof outdoor dog beds designed to handle occasional wetness.
  • Washable Furniture Covers or Pet Blankets: The couch. A corner of the living room carpet. The end of your bed. If your dog has a favorite spot for curling up to sleep, protect it with furniture protectors or blankets that are washable. Used in tandem with diapers, they should be safe from a soaking. 
  • Soft, Absorbent Towels & Baby Wipes: Soft towels, washcloths, and wipes are invaluable for wiping urine off your dog’s skin and fur when you change her diaper.

How To Clean Dog Urine

Ideally, you witnessed the accident or found it soon after it happened so you can clean it up quickly.

For a recent accident on tile, linoleum or hardwood: Wipe up the liquid with an absorbent towel and then clean, with either a spray cleaner or a mild solution of dish detergent and water.

For a recent accident on a rug: Lay absorbent towels over the urine and blot up as much of the liquid as you can. Then rub the area with a solution of water and mild dish detergent and blot it up. This method can also be used for small accidents on dog bed covers, blankets, or furniture cushion covers. If the accident is larger on these items, tossing them in the laundry is your best bet.

For accidents that sat for a while and set in: Whether on a rug or hard surface, sprinkle the area with baking soda and let it sit overnight to soak up any moisture. In the morning, spray with vinegar or water and gently rub into the affected spot. Clean up as much of the baking soda as you can, let dry, and then vacuum the area.

Many common, green household items, such as vinegar, hydrogen peroxide and baking soda, are effective at cleaning up urine accidents and getting rid of the odor. Or you can purchase special cleaners with enzymes that break down the molecules in pet urine to clean and deodorize the affected spot.

Always spot check a small corner of your carpet to make sure your cleaning method doesn’t affect the fabric or color of the rug.

Embrace Your New Normal

Living with an incontinent dog requires adding a few tasks to your daily routine:

  • Take your dog for frequent walks throughout the day so she has more opportunity to relieve herself, and there will be less urine for her bladder to leak when she rests.
  • Check your dog for wetness and redness several times a day.
  • If you are using diapers on your dog, change them frequently so she is not sitting in her urine.
  • Hopefully the diapers are doing the trick, but get in the habit of checking for puddles and wet spots on your dog’s bedding, and on the floors where she spends time. This will prevent your dog from tracking her urine through the house, or laying down in it again.
  • If your dog’s skin and fur becomes saturated with urine, give her a bath with a gentle dog shampoo to avoid skin irritation.

Your dog needed you when she was having accidents as a puppy and she needs you now that she’s having them as a senior canine. Be patient with yourself as you learn to manage life with your incontinent dog. It is no easy thing and the rewards for your care are more subtle than when your dog was young. But the rewards are there. With each diaper change, wipe down, and extra bath, you are ensuring your best friend is comfortable, spending quality time with her, and, above all, demonstrating that your love stays true even when times get tough.

Shop Customer Favorites for Dogs