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Incontinence in Pets – Everything You Need to Know


Incontinence is a very common condition and can be experienced by both humans and animals alike. Incontinence in pets is especially distressing since animals cannot express themselves verbally. This makes everything right from diagnosis to prognosis extremely difficult and challenging. However, there are ways and means for you to not only effectively manage incontinence but also help your furry friends overcome the problem. There are plenty of medical or even non – medical interventions that can aid you in this endeavor. This guide will not only help you understand incontinence in pets but give you a better insight into the condition and everything about it.

What is Incontinence in Pets?

Incontinence, in general, refers to a lack of control over the body’s excreting function. Incontinence is seldom sudden and follows a very slow and steady pattern before sneaking up on you. Incontinence in pets refers to their inability to effectively control their bladder and bowel movements which makes them pee and defecate anywhere and anytime.

Types of Incontinence in Pets

Animals typically dogs and cats suffer from two types of incontinence. These are:

  • Urinary Incontinence: In this, the animal shows a lack of control over its bladder movement or its urination. Also referred to as the leaky urine condition it means that an animal that is housetrained will urinate without any apparent restraint.
  • Bowel Incontinence: This is a lot less common than urinary incontinence. Bowel incontinence is the inability to effectively control bowel movements. The animal will end up defecating anywhere and will not be able to control its defecation pattern.

The above two types of incontinence can be further classified as either:

  • Permanent: This type of incontinence will generally need medical intervention for correction and management. This is more serious and does not resolve by itself. The causes briefly include congenital and birth defects, neurological problems, and diseases. This is further divided into:
    • Non-Nervous System-Related: Like weakening of pelvic floor muscles, injuries, trauma, infections, and fistulas
    • Nervous System Related: Paralysis, senility, or other nerve-related problems.
  • Temporary: As the name suggests this condition is temporary. Generally, it’s brought on by behavioral pattern changes and injuries. Some causes for this are:
  • Anxiety and Stress: Animals also suffer from anxiety. There can be numerous causes for this like a change in place, environment, loss and bereavement, separation or if you get a new pet.
  • Tantrums: Yes, you have that right. Animals can be as complex as teenagers sometimes. There urinating could be something as simple as looking for attention.
  • Submissive Sign or Overexcitement
  • Incomplete House Training
  • Injury: Your pet might have hurt itself making it physically difficult to go outside or use the litter box.

Who Does It Affect?

Incontinence in pets is generally seen in dogs and cats. To be precise incontinence in pets is primarily focused on dogs and cats. Very few studies have been carried out on other animal species. The reason for focusing on dogs and cats is because they are the most common pets. People tend to ask, enquire and care about their furry friends. This generated the interest to understand incontinence in these specific animals by the veterinary medical fraternity. Some genetic factors that have been observed in the type and breed of dogs that are more commonly affected by incontinence are:

  • Gender: Female cats and dogs are more prone to urinary incontinence than their male counterparts.
  • Age: Middle-aged to older cats and dogs are more susceptible to incontinence
  • Size: Midsized to large breeds of dogs are more commonly diagnosed with incontinence
  • Neutering: There is an association between neutering and incontinence. The majority of neutered bitches and felines tend to develop incontinence after 1 or 2 years of surgery. The exact cause for this correlation is not clear.
  • Breed: Some breeds are predisposed to incontinence. Genetics are responsible for this predisposition. These breeds include:
    • Cocker Spaniels
    • Doberman
    • Pinschers
    • Old English Sheepdogs

What Are the Causes of Incontinence in Pets?

Incontinence especially urinary incontinence is very common in puppies, kittens, and older cats and dogs. However, it must be differentiated from emotional and behavioral problems. Chances are that your pet might be undergoing some stress-related behavioral changes that are making it urinate wherever. This makes it imperative for you to consult your vet to seek medical advice and come to a correct diagnosis. The causes are listed below:

Urinary Incontinence

  • Hormonal Imbalance: In older male and female cats and dogs’ hormonal imbalances cause incontinence. A drop in estrogen levels leads to poor muscle contractions and weak pelvic tissue lining causing incontinence. Also, surgery like neutering plays a major part in reduced estrogen levels in females and progesterone levels in males. It has been noticed that post 3 years of surgery the risk of developing incontinence increases.
  • Weak Bladder Sphincter: When the animal has a full bladder it pushes against the bladder sphincter muscles. When these muscles are weak, they cannot hold the urine pressure and causes urine dribble or leakage.
  • Infection: Urinary Tract Infection or UTI can cause an increased urge to pee for the animal. Apart from this it also causes extreme discomfort, pain, and burning while peeing. These symptoms tend to amplify the problem making the animal hold until it cannot anymore. Bladder infections also make the animal retain urine. Over time this causes bladder scarring and seriously impairs the continence functionality of the animal.
  • Urinary Stones: These obstruct the urethra and put pressure on the bladder.
  • Spinal Injury: Injury or degeneration of the spinal cord cause nerve damage which hampers the bladder muscle control causing incontinence. This is very commonly observed in German shepherds. Some types of spinal injuries and problems are:
  • Arthritis
  • Deficient vertebrae alignment
  • Disc bulge
  • Prostate: Prostate problems are very common in dogs. It is more often seen in dogs than in any other species. The prostate exerts pressure on the bladder and causes involuntary contractions causing incontinence. Problems to the prostate include:
  • Prostate enlargement
  • Prostate infection
  • Diseases: Certain diseases and ailments also facilitate incontinence in pets. Mostly these diseases are water retention diseases. The increased water retention automatically calls for frequent bladder voiding and incomplete voiding. These include:
  • Diabetes,
  • Kidney disease
  • Hyperadrenocorticism
  • Congenital Abnormalities: The most common type of congenital defect in young animals is the ectopic ureter. The ureter is responsible for carrying urine. It this tube bypasses the bladder or connects elsewhere it will cause urine leakage and drip. Other types are urethral hypoplasia and vulvar or perivulvar conformation abnormalities.
  • Medications: Certain medications that lead to urine dilution can also cause incontinence. These include
  • Diuretics
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Prednisone

Bowel Incontinence

  • Myasthenia Gravis: It is a neurological muscular disorder. This condition prohibits anal muscle contraction. The nerves that are responsible for controlling the anal sphincter are not able to communicate effectively with the brain facilitating incontinence.
  • Tumor: Spinal tumors can cause pain and even paralysis causing incontinence.
  • Parasites and Viruses: Certain parasites like cryptosporidium and trichomoniasis and viruses like parvovirus lead to prolonged diarrhea which in turn causes anal muscular damage.
  • Anal Fistula: This is a chronic lesion that develops in the anal area and causes pain while passing motion.
  • Infection: The anal sac infection from previous injuries or conditions will compromise its ability to hold motion effectively within itself.
  • Paralysis
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
  • Atrophy: This is muscle weakness. When the general rectal muscles weaken, they cannot adequately support bowel movement.

Signs and Symptoms of Incontinence in Pets

Your furry friends are completely dependent upon you for their wellbeing. The biggest challenge with raising a pet is that they cannot verbally communicate. Even though animals are very intelligent and do get their message across it becomes very difficult when they are faced with a medical condition. Some tell-tale signs that you should be on the lookout for regarding incontinence in pets are:

Urinary incontinence

  • Urine trail while walking
  • Wet spots where they are lying or sitting
  • Urinating while sleeping
  • No set pattern of urinating
  • Scaling around the penis, vulva
  • Increased licking of the private areas in a bid to clean or dry
  • The animal might become suddenly anxious and socially not very active

Bowel Incontinence

  • Diarrhea
  • Defecating whilst walking or sleeping
  • Dragging rear end on the carpet or floor
  • Gas
  • Loss of anal area muscle tone
  • Inability to wag tail

Diagnosing Incontinence in Pets

When trying to analyze whether your pet has an incontinence problem you will have to look at the tell-tale signs and symptoms mentioned above. When you are reasonably confident that there might be a problem then it’s time to see your vet and get a medical opinion. Before conducting tests, your vet will most likely ask you certain questions to get the background history. These questions will be along the lines of:

  • The time when you first noticed incontinence
  • Age of the animal
  • Frequency of urine and bowel movements
  • Whether your pet can urinate or defecate comfortably or tends to get upset
  • Water intake

After understanding the pet’s routine behaviors your vet will likely recommend certain tests. Diagnosis will be made using a mix of:

  • Blood tests: These will be done to ascertain the hormonal levels of the animal.
  • Urine test: Incontinence can be caused due to certain infections like urinary tract infections. Urine tests are conducted to establish whether the animal has such an infection.
  • Medical history: Certain medical procedures make the animal predisposed towards inconsistency like previous surgery and neutering.
  • Bladder X – rays: To see the bladder size and if any infection or scarring is making the animal lose urine.
  • Sonography: Helps to make sure that the pelvic organs are working consistently without any blockages
  • Neurological tests: The nerves are responsible for muscle control. Neurological tests are conducted to rule out senility and other nerve disorders that might affect the bladder and bowel muscles.
  • Cystoscopy: This allows the vet to see inside the bladder or the urethra to check for any abnormalities.

Based on the reports and tests the vet will be able to decide the type and severity of the incontinence in pets and help you with the appropriate solution or treatment.

What You Should Do or Treatment Plan

Incontinence in pets is treatable with or without medical intervention. Your vet will advise you keeping in mind your preferences, budget, and severity of the condition. Common medical treatments include:

Urinary Incontinence

There are various treatment options available. Remember treatment is specific to the pet’s condition and not generic. These include:

  • Medication: The two most frequently used drugs to handle urinary incontinences are:
    • Phenylpropanolamine: This drug helps strengthen the urinary sphincter contractions
    • Diethylstilbestrol (DES): This is a hormone drug to control the hormonal levels in the pet
  • Surgery: In certain conditions, surgery might be unavoidable. These conditions are:
    • Bladder stone
    • Ectopic ureter
    • Spinal cord injury
    • Intervertebral disk rupture
  • Collagen injections: These can be injected directly to the area to strengthen the weak pelvic muscles

Bowel Incontinence

Medical Treatment for bowel incontinence in animals includes:

  • Medication: When incontinence is caused due to infections, they can be treated with a dose of medicine to treat that infection. The common types are:
    • Bacterial Infection: Antibiotics oral or by injection will be given to the pet
    • Parasitic infection: Anti parasite or corticosteroids will be prescribed
  • Spinal issue: To help strengthen the spinal muscle alternative therapy might be prescribed like:
  • Chiropractic care
  • Acupuncture
  • Aqua therapy
  • Physiotherapy
  • Surgery: Certain conditions might require surgery. The most common are:
    • Tumors: Spinal tumors will need to be removed surgically followed by physiotherapy
    • Fistulas: Anal fistulas will also have to be repaired surgically

Complications Involved

Incontinence is generally the result of some underlying medical condition that can be both temporary and permanent. When left untreated it can spiral into serious complications. Here’s a list of possible complications:

  • Exacerbated infection both bacterial of parasitic which might require hospitalization
  • Bladder infections might turn into bladder prolapse
  • Kidney infection resulting in stones or kidney failure
  • Skin infection due to constant irritation
  • Behavioral changes making the pet either more aggressive or resilient

Managing Life with Incontinent Pets

You might think that life will become unmanageable when faced with a pet having continence problems. But that’s not true. Certain simple changes will help you and your pet live with this condition without getting unnecessarily hampered or affected by it. Some of these simple practical steps are listed for your convenience:

  • Stock up on towels and extra bedding
  • Pile up clean towels or sheets in your pets favorite sleeping spots
  • Put waterproof pads under the pet’s bedding to absorb the urine
  • Take your pets for frequent walks or to the litter box more frequently
  • Don’t make a big issue out of accidents. This might make your pet anxious and worsen the condition
  • Use pet diapers if your budget allows
  • Limit but not overly limit their liquid intake
  • Maintain proper hygiene to prohibit secondary infections
  • Feed them a well-balanced diet to prevent diarrhea and constipation

Q and A

How Did My Dog Become Incontinent So Suddenly?

Incontinence is caused because of certain underlying conditions. A sudden infection both bacterial or parasitic, spinal and other physical injuries can suddenly make your dog incontinent.

What Medicine Can I Give My Dog for Incontinence?

There are drugs available for incontinence. One is Phenylpropanolamine and the other is diethylstilbestrol. The first strengthens the bladder muscles and the other is for hormone regulation. However, these are not OTC and should only be given under medical supervision.

Why Is There Urine Leakage When My Dog Lies Down?

Incontinence due to compromise in the primary urinary sphincter mechanism is the cause of this leak. The exertion caused by lying down on the body makes the urine leak since the involved muscles are not strong enough to hold the urine back.

Should I Consider Putting My Dog Down Because Of Incontinence?

Incontinence can be managed and treated. It might require certain extra efforts on your part but remember at the end of the day it is worth it. However, statistically, incontinence is one of the primary reasons for euthanizing a dog and at the end of the day, it is your call. Just make an informed decision and don’t hurry into it lest you regret it later.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day animals just like humans feel incapacitated and helpless when they find that they cannot control their bodily functions. Again, just like humans, they need compassion and understanding to help them through this phase. Animal incontinence is treatable and very easily managed with a few simple lifestyle changes. As a human friend to your animal companion, you should try to make them more comfortable with the whole situation. You might find yourself getting short-tempered and irritated over the situation. Don’t beat yourself up over it. It’s normal to feel some frustration. Just have patience know that you are not alone and you don’t have to deal with the situation by yourself. There is help available and you just have to reach out to it.

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