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Dog incontinence: causes and treatment [veterinarian's recommendations

Dog incontinence

Defecation is a very important life function. In the article // cowsierscipid.en / zapwarrzenie-pies / you could read about the problems associated with constipation, i.e. the inability to pass stools regularly. In the article below I will focus on the opposite problem, i.e. on dog incontinence.

The defecation process itself, contrary to appearances, is quite complicated.

In young dogs (and cats), in infancy, defecation is a provocative process - after feeding, the mother licks the abdomen and the anus, provoking defecation. As the animal grows, defecation becomes a controlled process, regulated by several nerve pathways.

The intestinal contents are constantly, slowly moved towards the anus by peristaltic movements. The last sections of the large intestine, i.e. the descending colon, sigmoid colon and rectum, may expand if it is impossible to pass stool (in the case of chronic colon overflow, its structure may be disturbed, resulting in the development of megacolon).

Irritation of the mechanoreceptors of the last section of the large intestine causes a feeling of urge to defecate - the animal becomes restless, and if taught to clean at home, it gives intense signs of wanting to go for a walk.

  • Innervation of the anal area
  • Clinical symptoms of faecal incontinence
  • Causes of faecal incontinence in a dog
  • Diagnostics
  • How to treat a dog's faecal incontinence?
  • How To Help Your Dog With Faecal Incontinence?

Innervation of the anal area

The external and internal anal sphincter muscles are involved in the defecation process.

Sympathetic innervation (that is responsible for the contraction of the sphincter muscles) of these muscles comes from the nerves coming from the lumbar segments of the spinal cord, and the parasympathetic nerves (responsible for the relaxation of the sphincters) - from the sacral segments of the spinal cord.

Clinical symptoms of faecal incontinence

Faecal incontinence is the passive, involuntary and unconscious passing of stools. The process takes place without the will or awareness of the animal, most often during physical exertion, sleep or deep relaxation.

The dog does not squat to defecate, the work of the abdominal press is not observed, the feces fall out of the anus involuntarily.

The animal is very often surprised that it has defecated. Usually, the faeces that fall out of the anus are small in volume, compact and dry.

In a dog suffering from faecal incontinence, the so-called "gaping anus " can often be observed - the relaxation of the sphincter muscles is noticeable, you can observe the rectal mucosa, twisting slightly outwards.

It is essential to distinguish between unconscious defecation and the increased urge to defecate, for example in infections and diseases of the gastrointestinal tract - when the peristaltic movements are increased and the frequency of defecation is increased, it is often difficult for the animal to control the sphincter, but remains fully aware of defecation.

Causes of faecal incontinence in a dog

Causes of faecal incontinence in a dog


The most common cause of fecal incontinence in dogs is back problems, specifically sacral or lumbar discopathy.

In the course of this disease, the intervertebral disc compresses the spinal cord or the nerves that come out of a given segment. This disrupts the flow of the nerve impulse and the animal is unable to control defecation.

This disease also manifests itself with other ailments:

  • disorders in urination,
  • limb paresis,
  • disturbed deep sensation,
  • difficulties in moving.

Dogs of chondrodystrophic breeds (Pekingese, dachshunds, French bulldogs), as well as obese animals or elderly dogs are predisposed to developing discopathy.

Horse tail syndrome

The cauda equina syndrome, or degenerative lumbosacral stricture, causes a number of different clinical symptoms - from paresis of the pelvic limbs to faecal incontinence.

This disorder is related to the pressure on the nerve bundle in the area of ​​the lumbosacral joint. You can read more about the ponytail syndrome in the article: // cowsierscipiszczy.pl / konskiego-ogona-team /.

Spine injuries

Any injuries to the spine can also affect conscious defecation.

It is observed especially in animals after traffic accidents, which result in interrupted spine continuity, in combination with spinal cord disruption or injury. Disturbances in nerve conduction can cause a loss of sphincter control, although not always - sometimes residual control of the sphincters is retained, the animal may signal a desire to defecate.

Anal disorders

It is not only nerve conduction disturbances that cause unconscious stools to pass. Defecation disorders may very often occur with complicated anorectal diseases.

An example is advanced rectal furunculosis. This condition is especially common in German Shepherds. It is a hormone-dependent disease - castration at the appropriate age can prevent the dog from developing furunculosis.

As a result of this disease, extensive wounds and ulcers appear at the mucocutaneous joints around the anus, often deep and bacterially complicated. The animal feels severe pain in the anus, tries to stop defecation as long as possible.

There is a reluctance to eat, drink and any activity.

The dog reacts very nervously to an attempt to lift its tail or touch painful spheres.

There is constant damage to tissues, necrotic foci can be noticed, and due to the surrounding area, bacterial complications very often occur. The area around the anus becomes one big inflammation.

As a result of the progressive degeneration of tissues, the muscle fibers of the external and internal sphincter may be destroyed and, consequently, fecal incontinence may occur.

Infection of the anal glands

Defecation problems can also occur during complicated infections of the anal glands.

Chronic overfilling causes an increased desire to toboggan, and it is very easy to injure the anus and glands during tobogganing, especially if they are filled with hard, pasty content.

A rupture of the anal gland, overlooked by the caregiver, may further lead to the formation of a fistula and mechanical damage to the anus. It is quite rare that the gland is completely ruptured and the fecal masses pass through the resulting damage, but there is a likelihood of this.

Chronic pain

Chronic pain can also affect awareness of bowel movement. An animal that experiences severe, constant discomfort may stop controlling defecation. This very often happens with:

  • spondylosis,
  • severe hip dysplasia,
  • deformities of the knee joints.


Advanced neoplastic disease involving the bone or the formation of deep lesions can be a source of pain so severe that the animal will not be able to control the sphincters.


Also, fear, felt very strongly by some animals, can lead to involuntary defecation. This is especially often observed during the New Year's fireworks displays.


Also, neoplastic diseases can make defecation difficult. Lack of sphincter control may affect older dogs with prostate tumors.

These tumors most often grow in the cranial and dorsal directions, putting pressure on the handpiece. The discharged faeces has a flat, flattened shape, and can be discharged in the form of a narrow ribbon.

In the initial period, defecation may be significantly impeded - the dog must put a lot of effort to defecate. However, as the tumor mass grows, there may be a gradual loss of power over the sphincter - the tumor begins to compress the nerves supplying this area.

Faeces, squeezed by peristaltic movements through the resulting stricture, may spontaneously fall out of the anus without the animal's will.

It is also worth mentioning here about intestinal lymphoma. It is a disease that affects cats much more often than dogs.

As a result of the disease, lymphoid cells proliferate, large clusters of which are found in the intestines. The intestinal wall becomes thicker, the intestinal villi lose their function, the peristaltics and the flow of nerve impulses are disturbed.

If the disease affects the area of ​​the large intestine, especially its end part, it may lead to disturbances in defecation - the content will not be properly moved towards the anus, it may linger and fall out involuntarily, without the animal being aware of it.

Congenital diseases that cause fecal incontinence result from disorders in the development of the anus

Anal atresia, i.e. anal stricture, sphincter malformation, or a blind opening of the proximal part of the rectum are defects that are quite rare in animals.

Most often they go hand in hand with paralysis, cryptorchidism, defects of the spine or intestinal obstruction. Breeds particularly predisposed to this defect are:

  • Finnish Spitz,
  • Boston Terriers,
  • Maltese,
  • chow hide,
  • toy poodles,
  • German Shorthaired Pointer.

Atresia is most often manifested by increased urgency after eating or even no bowel movements.

Occasionally, the accumulation of fecal masses may result in the formation of a fistula and involuntary loss of feces through the resulting defect in the skin tissues.

The condition is usually diagnosed in the first weeks of a puppy's life.

In some cases, surgical reconstruction of the anus can be attempted, but the procedure is associated with a high risk of failure. Animals with such a defect should not be bred.


Some medications can also affect the involuntary passing of stools, although in most cases this is due to the use of lubricants or to an increase in peristaltic movement rather than to suppression of innervation or impaired flow of nerve impulses. Examples of drugs that have this effect are:

  • metoclopramide,
  • lactulose,
  • vegetable oils.


Dementia is also important. As the old saying goes, "the Creator's old age has not been successful" - senile dementia affects not only humans but also animals.

An animal suffering from dementia has problems with orientation in time and space, often walks aimlessly and vocalizes. A symptom of dementia can also be involuntary defecation at home, even if the animal has been trained to clean - the dog forgets to defecate during a walk, and a large amount of intestinal contents puts severe pressure on the anus, which the animal cannot control.

In addition to involuntary defecation, urinary incontinence can also occur.


Unconscious defecation can also occur during an epileptic attack.

Immediately during the attack, intense impulses are discharged inside the nerve cells. The effect of this may be a temporary lack of control over the sphincter, the animal during an attack involuntarily urinates and feces.


Also, animals under anesthesia have no control over their sphincters and they often pass faeces involuntarily. Drugs used in anesthesia cause relaxation of muscles, including sphincters. With the simultaneous preservation of peristaltic movements, there may be involuntary defecation.

Iatrogenic fecal incontinence

Unfortunately, some surgical interventions in the anal area can cause iatrogenic fecal incontinence.

There are diseases that require radical measures, for example, in the case of advanced anal furunculosis, resistant to pharmacological treatment, it is recommended to remove the most damaged tissues. Also, the removal of the anal glands, especially those that are diseased or cancerous, carries the risk of fecal incontinence (approximately 10% chance).

It is believed that the removal of more than 30% of the mass of the external anal sphincter may cause faecal incontinence in about 4-10% of operated dogs, therefore such procedures are always performed only if there is obvious medical indication.


To diagnose a dog that has had it fecal incontinence, it is worth doing some research. First and foremost, you need to make sure that it is actually a faecal incontinence problem and not too little walking or an inadequate diet causing increased stool.

Diagnosis should begin with making sure that nerve conduction around the anus is maintained.

Basic clinical examination may reveal conduction disturbances in the perineum and anus. The perineal reflex consists in shrinking the skin, pulling it backwards during the action of the stimulus. Such a stimulus can be, for example, the touch of a cold forceps.

It is also worth making sure that the sensation in the limbs is preserved, that the basic reflexes (withdrawal, deep feeling, knee reflex, Achilles tendon reflex) are correctly expressed.

Another research worth doing is imaging.

The basis should be to take an X-ray of the lumbar and sacral spine to make sure that there are no bone deformities in this area.

Spondylosis, compression of the vertebrae, deformation of the discs or displacement of the discs can be seen in the properly positioned photo. In doubtful cases, it is worth performing additional tests, MRI or tomography to get a more accurate picture of the changes.

It is always worth having a blood test, complete blood count, biochemistry and a basic ionogram. These are simple signs that provide a lot of information about the health of the animal.

Ultrasound examination is also very valuable in the process of diagnosing a dog with faecal incontinence. Thanks to it, it is possible to determine whether there have been any changes in the structure of the intestines or whether there are any hyperplastic changes in the abdominal cavity, indicating a cancerous process, it is also worth determining the frequency of peristaltic movements and the thickness of the intestinal wall. The test is painless and very often it can be performed without premedication of the animal.

An electromyographic examination (EMG) is recommended to make sure that nerve conduction is normal.

Thanks to it, it is possible to determine whether there are fibrillation potentials in a given part of the muscles or not. An abnormal EMG image indicates a strong pressure on the nerves that supply a given muscle.

Interestingly, changes in the EMG image may be noticeable even before the onset of clinical symptoms. This test is very useful in diagnosing cauda equina syndrome, which may also be related to faecal incontinence.

How to treat a dog's faecal incontinence?

How to treat a dog's faecal incontinence?

Before implementing any treatment, it is necessary to establish the cause of the occurrence of defecation disorders. As you can see, there can be many reasons, significantly different from each other. Treatment is different in each case.

The most common method of therapy in the case of changes in the intervertebral discs is surgical intervention. Only removing the deformed disc from the spinal canal can restore the proper flow of nerve impulses.

Conservative methods, such as the administration of anti-inflammatory drugs, restriction of movement and appropriate physiotherapy, may not be sufficient, and the effect they achieve may turn out to be unstable, the disease will return within a few weeks or months.

When lesions appear similar to rectal furunculosis, systemic drugs should be used to reduce the severity of the lesions - broad-spectrum antibiotics to limit infection (e.g. amoxicillin / clavulanic acid, enrofloxacin, metronidazole), painkillers, immunosuppressants (cyclosporin) or steroid drugs.

It is necessary to remember about the special hygiene of the places affected by the furuncle - the area of ​​the anus should be washed and disinfected with mild agents after each defecation. A similar therapy should be used in the case of a fistula from the anal glands.

Treatment of anal atresia involves surgical reconstruction of the rectal tissues, so that fistulas and spontaneous loss of stools do not occur. As I mentioned, the operation carries the risk of failure, but it is the only possibility of a normal life for animals with this defect.

In the case of unconscious defecation caused by dementia, it is worth implementing preparations that improve nerve conduction. Galantamine, used in appropriate doses, significantly affects the contractility of muscles, it is recommended, for example, in the case of bladder atony or nerve conduction disorders.

It is believed that the supply of B vitamins also significantly improves the flow of nerve impulses. Both of these preparations are recommended for use in animals with dementia and paresis, but should not be administered if the animal suffers from cancer.

Neoplastic diseases require the implementation of an appropriate type of therapy, based on the results of histopathological examination. Surgical intervention is often helpful, even if it is to reduce the mass of the tumor and relieve the pressure on the surrounding structures. Properly selected chemotherapy or metronomic therapy can also significantly improve your pet's quality of life and reduce the frequency of fecal incontinence episodes.

Physiotherapy is also important, especially in the case of degeneration and mechanical injuries of the spine. Properly selected treatments will reduce pain and reduce the pet's discomfort, which may contribute to increasing sphincter control.

When selected and recommended by a veterinarian, laser therapy or magnetotherapy can increase the extent of nerve conduction. However, it should be remembered that the presence of neoplastic diseases is an absolute contraindication to the use of these treatments.

How To Help Your Dog With Faecal Incontinence?

Dog diapers

Once the cause of the lack of control over the sphincters has been determined and appropriate treatment initiated, be patient. Most drugs need a certain amount of time for their effect to be observed. It is important to regularly administer the preparations recommended by the attending physician, in doses appropriate to the animal's weight and condition.

First of all, an animal that has no control over defecation should not be disciplined or punished. It is not the pet's fault! Shouting and disciplining can cause behavioral disturbances, manifested by coprophagia - the animal will want to remove the evidence "guilt " on its own to avoid possible punishment. It is worth laying out hygienic liners in the house, just in case, to allow the dog to defecate in designated places in the event of a strong need.

If faecal incontinence is frequent, consider using a dog diaper that is the correct size and shape with a tail cutout. Special attention should be paid to male diapers - the rubber band should not damage or irritate the foreskin. Nappies should be changed frequently enough to avoid chafing or pressure ulcers.

Dogs that suffer from fecal incontinence, sufficient walks should be allowed to permit bowel movements.

If the animal suffers from paresis, it is worth equipping yourself with a suitable harness that supports the lumbar area so that the walk is possible.

You should also always monitor your pet's bowel movements. Contrary to appearances, faecal incontinence may indicate the impossibility of its physiological excretion - the content accumulated in the colon falls out spontaneously. In the event that a very small amount of stool is observed, it makes sense to check with your veterinarian and make sure no megacolon is developing.

Sources used >>

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