What Causes Fecal Incontinence and What You Can Do About It

Updated: June 23, 2022

You may have never heard of fecal incontinence, but it is a very real issue for some dogs. Fecal incontinence in dogs, also known as bowel incontinence in dogs, can be a result of health issues such as spinal injuries and intestinal disorders. Fecal incontinence causes a dog to lose control of his bowel movements. Needless to say, this medical issue is very distressing for both the dog and the pet parent.

In this article, we will talk about what fecal incontinence in dogs is about, the symptoms of dog fecal incontinence, causes of incontinence in dogs, how fecal incontinence is diagnosed, and how to manage and treat dog incontinence.

my dog is leaking watery poop, dog anal leakage

"Fecal incontinence in dogs, also known as bowel incontinence in dogs, can be a result of such things such as spinal injuries and intestinal disorders."

Symptoms of Fecal Incontinence in Dogs

A dog with fecal incontinence will experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Scooting on the floor. This may indicate a condition involving the anal sacs/glands
  • Dog leaking poop while sleeping
  • Defecating where they shouldn’t such as inside the home
  • Bloated abdomen
  • Tenderness or aversion to being touched near tail
  • Loss of tone and voluntary movement of the tail

What Causes Fecal Incontinence?

 There are numerous things that can cause fecal incontinence in dogs:

  • Diseases can sometimes decrease the ability of the rectum to function properly
  • Aging
  • Nerve damage, spinal cord disease, or neural disorder that disables the sphincter's ability to function
  • Infection or abscess of the anal sacs
  • Muscle damage – anal reflex is absent or weakened
  • Parasites – intestinal worms
  • Diet or medications
  • Perianal fistula
  • Paralysis

Additionally, note that there are two types of fecal incontinence that can happen in your dog: reservoir incontinence and sphincter incontinence.

Reservoir incontinence is caused by any issue that occurs in the rectum, the last part of the large intestine that stores or holds the poop in a normal manner, according to VCA Hospitals. This type of incontinence is usually caused by recurring diarrhea, cancer, and bowel diseases. Dogs who suffer from reservoir incontinence can’t store poop properly, resulting in being unable to control their bowel.

Sphincter incontinence, on the other hand, is the inability of the anal sphincter (the muscle that closes the anal opening) to stay closed. When the anal sphincter is not closed, poop can leak out easily! Sphincter incontinence can be caused by any lesion that damages the anal sphincter (like a wound or growth of a mass) or the nerves around the anus.

It’s important to mention that gastrointestinal diseases may also cause your pet to defecate and is not necessarily an indication of fecal incontinence. Gastrointestinal diseases often cause weight loss, vomiting, spasms of the urogenital diaphragm and a desire to evacuate the bowels or bladder. If your dog or cat has any of these symptoms, take them to your vet.

Diagnosis of Bowel Incontinence in Dogs

Your veterinarian will need a full history of your dog's health, including a list of symptoms. If you think you may know what is causing your dog’s incontinence, for example a recent back injury, share this with the vet.

Along with a proper physical examination, with a focus on the muscles of the anus and sphincter, your vet will want to run a blood work, a urinalysis, and a fecal analysis. If an infection or parasite is present, it will most likely turn up through one of these diagnostic methods for dog incontinence.

Treatment of Fecal Incontinence in Dogs

Once your vet has discovered the underlying cause of the fecal incontinence, he or she will opt for a treatment to resolve it if possible. For instance, if parasites are the culprit, medication will be administered to rid your furbaby’s GI tract of the parasites.

fecal incontinence in dogs, dog leaking poop, dog fecal incontinence

If your dog has issues with their anal sphincter, surgical treatment may be necessary. This will depend on if the nerve is damaged or if it is an anal gland issue.

Some pets with rectal abnormalities will benefit from surgical reconstruction. For those suffering from back end paralysis, there are a couple of strategies you can try. You might find some more preferable, like trying to induce defecation by using Pet WiPees™ Gland Wipes around your dog's anus in a circular motion to simulate the bowel movement. 

Those dogs who are not holding their poop because of a behavioral issue will need proper training, along with a low stress environment in which your dog feels safe and non-threatened.

And finally, there are also drug treatments for dog fecal incontinence such as opiate motility-modifying drugs and anti-inflammatory agents that can help as well.

Moving Forward with Dog Fecal Incontinence

As we mentioned earlier, fecal incontinence in dogs can be very trying and stressful on everyone involved. Understand your dog is not trying to “be bad” or upset you. They can’t help it. Some pet parents become fed up and banish their dog with bowel incontinence to the back yard or garage. But this is often a stressful situation to the animal, particularly if it is too cold or hot outside.

A much more humane solution, and one that can keep the family together under one roof, is to use durable and Washable Dog Diapers. Pet Parents® dog diapers are made to comfortably fit all different breeds of dogs , from extra large dog diapers to extra small diapers for dogs and everything in between. They also come in a variety of colors. With these washable dog diapers, you do not have to worry about a dog losing control of bowels inside your home because the diaper will prevent a mess. A dog leaking poop while sleeping or walking around will no longer cause lots of cleaning and stress. Simply change your dog's diaper every few hours and then machine wash to be ready to cycle through again.

Fecal incontinence isn’t necessarily fun to deal with. But luckily, there are treatments and options available. Dog incontinence can be managed in several different ways to prevent messes and keep your furbaby happy and comfortable. A dog losing control of their bowels does not mean that you have to confine them to a single room to avoid a mess. In fact, diapers for dog incontinence can help keep your home clean and your dog comfortable.

dog leaking poop, dog fecal incontinence, fecal incontinence in dogs

"A much more humane solution, and one that can keep the family together under one roof, is to use durable and washable dog diapers."