Bowel Incontinence in Dogs

Written By Darlene Stott
Published: 05/26/2017Updated: 07/07/2021
Veterinary reviewed by Michele K.
Bowel Incontinence in Dogs - Signs, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

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 signs 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 signs 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 may be performed to rule out obstructions and other abnormalities. An endoscopy and colonoscopy may 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.


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 antiparasitic medications.  

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 may include physical therapy as well.

Anal Fistulas

Anal fistulas and other damage to the rectal area may be managed medically, but may need to be repaired surgically.

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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





10 Years


32 found this helpful


32 found this helpful

My pet has the following symptoms:
Fecal Incontinence
I have a rescued weimaraner. She hold her urine to go outside. However, she has periodically had severe diarrhea which have required medication and is now on a probiotic that assist with firming her stools. However, she has still on 3 occasions had fecal accidents in her sleep and soiled her dog bed. She also has accidents even after using the bathroom outside.

Feb. 21, 2021

Answered by Dr. Sara O. DVM

32 Recommendations

Hello, so dogs will have this issue as they get older. Probiotics help some. Also feeding a sensitive stomach dog food will help. If she continues to have diarrhea, it would be best to see your vet to make sure that there is not anything medically wrong.

Feb. 22, 2021

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Pomeranian Weiner mix



One Year


0 found this helpful


0 found this helpful

My pet has the following symptoms:
My dog just started having bowel incontinence today it happened 3 xs .. why wld thys all of a sudden started happening

Sept. 27, 2020

Answered by Dr. Michele K. DVM

0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I think, by bowel incontinence, you might mean that your dog is having diarrhea and is vomiting. That could happen with parasites, infectious diseases, or if they eat things they're not supposed to and they have gi upset. If your dog is vomiting and is unable to control his bowels, it would be best to have them seen by a veterinarian, as they can look at your dog, see what might be wrong, and let you know what treatment needs to happen. I hope that your dog feels better soon.

Sept. 27, 2020

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