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What is Bowel Incontinence?

Similar to humans, dogs’ muscles tend to get weaker as they age, and that includes the anal muscles. In addition, there are many illnesses that can create a situation that makes it difficult for your dog to control his bowels. Any type of gastrointestinal problem can also cause bowel incontinence. However, you should have the veterinarian check your dog if the incontinence goes on longer than a few days. In addition, if you notice other symptoms such as vomiting, appetite loss, increased body temperature, or any other abnormal behavior, let the veterinarian know right away.

Bowel incontinence is common in older dogs from lack of muscle tone or from a medical problem such as diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), colitis, liver or kidney disease, or Cushing’s disease. Some other illnesses may cause your dog not to want to go outside to have a bowel movement such as arthritis, blindness, and some cognitive disabilities. No matter what you suspect the reason is, if your dog is having accidents in the house you should make an appointment to bring him to see a veterinary care provider.


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Symptoms of Bowel Incontinence in Dogs

The symptoms of bowel incontinence are caused by your dog not being able to control his bowel movements and may include one or more of the following:

  • Diarrhea
  • Defecating while walking or sleeping
  • Dragging hind end on the rug or floor
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Loss of muscle tone in the anal area
  • Aggravation
  • Inability to wag tail


Reservoir incontinence is the inability to hold the fecal matter, giving the dog a frequent urge to defecate. Pain may also cause an unwillingness to defecate properly.

  • Non-nervous system-related anal sphincter incontinence can be from trauma, infection, or fistulas
  • Nervous system-related anal sphincter incontinence includes involuntary dribbling when barking or coughing, loss of muscle contracture, lack of muscle tone, and paralysis

Causes of Bowel Incontinence in Dogs

  • Myasthenia gravis is a neuromuscular disorder that stops the muscles from contracting; the nerves that control the anal sphincter no longer are able to communicate with the brain, which causes incontinence
  • Tumor of the spine can cause pain or paralysis
  • Parasites such as cryptosporidium and trichomoniasis can cause muscular damage from prolonged diarrhea
  • Anal fistula is a chronic lesion in the anal area
  • Viruses like parvovirus that cause diarrhea
  • Anal sac infection from previous injury or condition
  • Paralysis
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Muscle wasting (atrophy)

Diagnosis of Bowel Incontinence in Dogs

The veterinarian will do a complete physical examination on your dog including vital signs, palpation, and auscultation. Laboratory tests will be performed, which usually includes blood tests, fecal examination, and urinalysis. Radiographs such as abdominal x-rays, ultrasound, MRI, and CT scans will be performed to rule out obstructions and other abnormalities. An endoscopy and colonoscopy will give the veterinarian a better look at what is going on in your dog’s system.

Treatment of Bowel Incontinence in Dogs

The treatment of bowel incontinence will depend on the reason it is happening. However, there are treatments the veterinarian will perform right away to help your dog such as a warm water enema, fluid therapy, and medications.


For infections of any kind, the veterinarian will most likely give your dog an antibiotic by injection.

Muscle Problems

Treatment for muscular degeneration or wasting will likely include medication or surgery to repair the sphincter and anal muscles in that area.


Treatment of an infestation by parasites may include antiparasitics and corticosteroids.

Spinal Issues

Chiropractic care, acupuncture, aquatherapy, or physiotherapy may be suggested for spinal problems.


A tumor of the spine may need to be removed surgically and will include physical therapy as well.

Anal Fistulas

Anal fistulas and other damage to the rectal area may need to be repaired surgically.

Recovery of Bowel Incontinence in Dogs

Recovery is usually very optimistic unless it turns out to be a tumor or paralysis, which may take longer to treat. Patience, as your dog cannot help his condition, and perseverance in the event he needs a bit of retraining after the treatment, are both important parts of the recovery process. Consult your veterinarian if you need guidance in dealing with the effects of bowel incontinence on both you and your pet.

Bowel Incontinence Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

11 Years
Serious condition
1 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms


Medication Used


She can't hold her poop

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2992 Recommendations

There are various causes of faecal incontinence in dogs especially as they age, this may be caused by damage to the anal sphincter, rectal disorders, parasites, infections, trauma, spinal disorders, tumours among other causes. A visit to your Veterinarian to check for an anal reflex and for a general examination; minocycline is rarely used in dogs and can cause gastrointestinal upset. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Golden Retreiver
14+ years
Moderate condition
1 found helpful
Moderate condition

Our 14 year old Golden is quite active, eats grain free high quality food and takes golden paste twice a day (changed his life 2 years ago). He does have cloudy eyes and slips a bit on hard wood and his hearing is going but he plays and walks daily and is at a great weight. He does have quite a few fatty tumors, some 2 inches, and they are checked annually.
This past week he has started to just go poo standing in the kitchen, once in the front room, and once even when turning over in bed. He does not assume the position, his poo just falls out. It is 'normal' and he does not appear to be in any pain (other than the shame he feels).
I was chalking it up to his age, he is a rescue and may be older... and do not want to put him through a battery of tests for that. But am now wondering if it may be something else, something I should take him to the vet for? Thank you.
(I've done so much reading, I have pages of things... I'm sick with worry he is in pain now!)

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2992 Recommendations
Faecal incontinence isn’t normally painful, but the shame can be mentally painful if they know they’ve done wrong; given his age, the faecal incontinence may just be a part of the aging process. You should however visit your Veterinarian for an examination to determine whether there is another cause or if there are any management options; plus given his age you should have a senior blood panel done regularly to catch issues like liver or kidney disease. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Miniature Schnauzer
1 Year
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Loose Bowel Movements

My Miniature Schnauzer cannot control her bowel movements. She will have accidents wherever she is with loose poop. We have changed her diet but nothing seems to help. We have taken her to the veterinarian but they just gave her some medication but it did not help.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2992 Recommendations
There are various causes for faecal incontinence, but it is important to note that there is a difference if the faeces is falling out without Lulu being aware and if she is squatting to defecate all the time. Spinal conditions, nerve inflammation, anal gland disorders, sphincter damage among other causes may lead to faecal incontinence; checking anal tone is important to see if the anus responses when poked gently with a pen lid. Without examining Lulu I cannot give you any other advice unfortunately. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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7 Years
Moderate condition
1 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Pooping while sleeping

Our seven year old Great Dane boxer mix has started releasing a small portion of loose stool while he’s asleep. It seems to happen less if he’s empty but at first it was maybe once a day then once every 8 hrs and now we are at about every 4 hours. This started nearly three weeks ago. We took him to the vet twice in that time and they expressed his anal glands and ruled out an infection and gave him arthritis meds. This seemed to help for about a week or so. And then the issue returned so we called our vet and they suggested switching his diet from Hill science to a high protein low residue food. So we are stocky transitioning to Fromm. We started 3 days ago but it’s seems to becoming more frequent. Every time it happens we take him outside and he will finish his movement. It seems he’s pooping twice as frequently as he used to. He only shows pain if we wipe him in an effort to clean him up. He’s pretty active and has a very muscular build. It’s hard for us to believe it’s just because he’s getting older. Seeking help trying to solve this puzzle.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1406 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. I'm sorry that that is happening, it is never easy to accept that our pets our aging. Large breed dogs can be affected by neuromuscular degenerative problems in their hind end, and sometimes there is sadly very little that can be done. Your veterinarian seems to be doing a good job trying to help you manage this condition, and it may just be a trial and error process in finding foods that give him fewer stools, and firmer stools. Some dogs respond better to a low residue food, some to a higher fiber food. I hope that you and your veterinarian are able to find that combination.

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11 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

slight gait issues

Medication Used


For the past few weeks, Bennie has started leaving little surprise poop nuggets around the house. He does not seem to even know he is doing it, and otherwise has his normal poop patterns (tells us when he has to go, holds it fine when we aren't home, etc). For his whole life he has been an excellent dog for housebreaking with very few accidents in many years.
Recently, maybe a couple of times a week, we will find a small poop, like the size of a golf ball or smaller, that has somehow "slipped out". One time even in bed. It seems very random. He also has had some other issues that we have not yet resolved, so maybe they are related. 2.5 years ago he had cervical vertebrae surgery as he was having gait issues and it was a disc and a spur (if I remember correctly). He had seemed to recover from that, but recently I have been suspicious of similar symptoms to what we saw then (still to get more tests done for that). Could these be related? We put him on tramadol as he seemed in some pain and also carprophen as it may be some inflammation (vet recommended that one).

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2992 Recommendations
Finding faecal balls around the house and in his bed may be due to a few factors like faecal incontinence which may be from a spinal issue, however another possible cause may be due to constipation with the odd ‘nugget’ sneaking out especially if it is hard in consistency; other issues may be with anal glands, tumours, age among other causes. You may try feeding a little plain canned pumpkin with his food to make defecation easier which may help if there is some constipation but ideally you should have your Veterinarian examine him to be on the safe side. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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