Lack of Bowel Control in Dogs

PetMD Editorial
By PetMD Editorial
Published: June 29, 2009
Lack of Bowel Control in Dogs

Fecal Incontinence

Medically referred to as fecal incontinence, losing the ability to control its bowel movements is distressing for both the dog and the owner. Typical causes to this condition include injury to the spine or tail, anal gland disease(s), and/or an intestinal disorder.

Symptoms and Types

  • Scooting on floor – may indicate a condition involving the anal sacs/glands
  • Defecating in atypical areas (i.e., inside the home)
  • Bloated abdomen
  • Tenderness or aversion to being touched near tail, loss of tone and voluntary movement of the tail


A range of causes may be responsible for this:

  • Disease has reduced the capacity or compliance of the rectum to function
  • The external anal sphincter may have been anatomically disrupted or the nerves damaged or destroyed
  • 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

This condition seems to afflict older animals more than young ones. Keep in mind that a gastrointestinal disease of any kind may increase the urge to defecate and is not necessarily an indication of fecal incontinence. Gastrointestinal disease often causes weight loss, vomiting, spasms of the urogenital diaphragm and a desire to evacuate the bowel or bladder.


You will need to give a thorough history of your dog's health, including a background history of symptoms, and possible incidents that might have precipitated this condition. If you have a feeling or clue as to what might be causing your dog's incontinence, share this with your veterinarian. It can guide your doctor in the direction for finding the underlying condition that is causing the symptoms so that your dog can be treated effectively.

As part of a normal physical examination, your veterinarian will go over your dog's physiology thoroughly, paying attention the muscles of the anus and sphincter. A complete blood profile will be conducted, including a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, 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.

Lack of supporting evidence for any health condition may lead your veterinarian to determine the cause for the incontinence as behavioral. If this is the case you will need to consult with your veterinarian on how to go forward with a behavioral retraining program.


  • If possible, your veterinarian will identify the underlying cause; fecal incontinence may resolve if the underlying cause can be successfully treated
  • Try altering diet. Feed low-residue diets or foods such as cottage cheese, rice, or tofu. Feed your dog on a regular schedule.
  • To lower the volume of feces in the colon, you can give warm water enemas.
  • If it becomes unbearable, you might move your dog outdoors. This may be a better solution than having to euthanize a healthy animal.
  • Some patients with rectal abnormalities will benefit from surgical reconstruction.
  • For dogs that are suffering from back end paralysis, You might be able to induce defecation by pinching the tail or the pelvis.
  • Or, you might try applying a warm washcloth to the anus to try to stimulate defecation in an animal whose posterior is paralyzed.
  • If behaviorally based, retraining methods may be required, along with a low stress environment in which your dogfeels safe and non-threatened.


Drug-choice will depend upon the cause of the incontinence. For example, opiate motility-modifying drugs increase the contraction of the bowl and slow the passage of fecal material. This will also increase the amount of water absorbed from the feces. Anti-inflammatory agents sometimes benefit patients with reservoir incontinence that is caused by inflammatory bowel disease.

Motility-modifying drugs should not be used if an infectious or toxic cause is suspected, and opiate motility modifiers should never be used in patients with respiratory disease. If the patient has liver disease, these drugs should be used cautiously. Use of opiates in dogs is not recommended at all, and motility-modifying drugs may cause constipation and bloating.

Living and Management

You will want to work directly with your veterinarian if your dog has been diagnosed with fecal incontinence. For example, if the cause is determined to be neurologic, the veterinarian will want to examine your dog frequently. Various kinds of radiologic tools may be used to measure progress. It will take patience on your part, as it may take a while for your veterinarian to come up with a therapy that will work for your dog.

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