There’s a big difference between your dog having an “accident” in the house and your dog leaking urine suddenly. You may even find that your dog urinates on your bed. Unfortunately, dog incontinence while sleeping can be a real problem. While many people associate a dog urinating when sleeping with older dogs, it can happen to pets of all ages.
This is because there are several different possible causes of a dog leaking urine when lying down. Simply put, incontinence is when urine leaks out from the bladder. It’s different from your dog consciously going to the bathroom, so you should never reprimand your dog for this kind of problem. You will likely feel annoyed, but they aren’t doing it on purpose.
Instead, it’s likely that something has caused them to lose control of their bladder. If they tend to urinate in their sleep, they probably don’t even realize what they’re doing. Unfortunately, it could be a more serious health issue for the dog.
Getting to the bottom of why your dog is urinating at night in the house is essential. Incontinence is a problem that you won’t want to deal with for your dog’s entire life, and neither will they! Thankfully, depending on the cause, there are things you can do to help.
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What Are the Signs of Dog Incontinence?
You may think the signs of incontinence in your dog are pretty obvious. But, some dogs only leak a small amount of urine, so you may not notice right away. Or, you might think it’s a behavioral issue. It’s important to know the difference.
Other signs that your dog may be struggling with incontinence include licking their genitals frequently. They may also develop sores around their genitals. This is due to the acids in their urine burning their skin. You may also find that your dog’s pacing about and unsettled.
This guide will provide the most common causes of dog incontinence while your four-legged friend is laying down. We’ll also cover which dogs are most at risk and what you can do to treat the problem.
Which Dogs Urinate in Their Sleep Most Often?
As stated above, incontinence can happen to dogs of all ages due to several factors. But, there are certain things that put certain dogs at a higher risk for this problem than others.
Some of these factors include:
- Puppies with deformities: Sometimes, even puppies or young dogs can struggle with incontinence. According to MDS Veterinary Manual, this is usually due to congenital deformities of the bladder. If the bladder is underdeveloped or abnormal, a young dog may not be able to control it.
- Spayed and neutered dogs: It’s important to spay or neuter your pets to control the population and keep dogs from filling rescue shelters. But, one drawback of spaying and neutering is that it can put your dog at a higher risk for incontinence.
- Female dogs: Female dogs tend to experience urination problems earlier in life than male dogs. For a female, incontinence isn’t all that uncommon around eight years old. For a male dog, it’s usually not until their 10+ (if the problem is due to old age and not a medical condition).
What Are the Most Common Causes of Nocturnal Urination?
The next few sections will cover some of the most common causes for incontinence in dogs. We’ll go over each one in-depth so you can have a better idea what your dog might be going through. There are different types of urinary incontinence to consider.
When your dog is sleeping, and you notice a small puddle where they might be laying, it’s important to get to the bottom of it. They may have a psychological or medical condition that needs attention. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of these causes so you can get your fur baby some help as quickly as possible.
Old Age and Hormone Levels
One of the primary causes of incontinence in dogs is age. Dogs can start to develop these issues as they enter middle age and beyond. It’s important to understand that the aging process is different for various dog breeds. A smaller breed, like a toy poodle or Shih Tzu, will usually live longer than a large breed. So, when your dog becomes a ‘senior’ can be largely based on their life expectancy.
But, as dogs age incontinence can become more of a problem. This is due to a drop in reproductive hormones. These sexual reproductive hormones also help to control the bladder. As they lower, so does that control. It most often occurs when the older dog has been spayed or neutered, but it can happen to any aging canine.
Spaying and Neutering
We’ve already touched on the fact that spaying and neutering can put your dog more at risk for incontinence. But, it’s important to dive deeper into exactly why. It can cause certain conditions in both male and female dogs. These are conditions that can last a long time if they aren’t properly treated.
For females, a condition called ‘spay incontinence’ isn’t uncommon. In fact, about 1 in 5 female dogs are affected by it after they go through the spaying process. Their estrogen levels in the body lower quickly. Estrogen helps to maintain good muscle tone around the sphincters. When those muscles become weak, your dog can leak!
It’s not only female dogs who can experience this problem, though. When a male dog is neutered, the sphincter muscles also can become relaxed. If they lay down for an extended period of time, you may notice a few drops or a small puddle when they get up. As they stand and walk around, the muscles will tighten up again. But, when they are relaxed it’s easier for those muscles to ‘release,’ making it possible for urine to leak out.
You might think of your dog as a happy-go-lucky, stress-free animal. But, dogs can harbor stress just as much as humans can, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Again, this is another condition that usually affects older dogs, but it is possible for canines of any age to experience it.
Stress incontinence causes a dog to leak urine in small amounts because they can’t control their bladder during a stressful situation. While they’re sleeping, something like nightmares may be affecting them. But, it could also be their lifestyle. If you feel as though your dog has been under a lot of stress lately, that doesn’t automatically go away just because they’re asleep.
Dogs can become stressed for many different reasons. Some of the most common ones include:
- Loud noises (thunderstorms or fireworks)
- Dominant dogs in the house
- Aggression from someone in the house
- A new family member or change in the structure of the family
Dogs can be quite intuitive and it doesn’t take much for them to pick up on changes in their everyday life. Some dogs may handle these situations well, while others can start to feel extremely nervous and stressed about them.
If you’re not sure whether stress is the cause of your dog’s incontinence, even while they’re asleep, look for other symptoms while they’re awake:
- Whining and barking
- Chewing on their paws or skin
- Obsessive digging
- Lack of appetite
- Sudden aggression
The good news is that stress incontinence can be managed and eventually treated. Most of the time, it can be treated without medication. The best thing to do is determine what the cause of your dog’s stress is in the first place. If you can help to get rid of those triggers and put them in a calm situation, it should fix part of the problem almost immediately.
You can also train your dog to get used to some of the factors, such as loud noises or a new family member. Finally, you can try alternative calming methods like aromatherapy. Keeping your dog calm and relaxed should be your ultimate goal when trying to reduce incontinence caused by stress.
Four parts of your dog’s body make up the urinary system. These are the bladder, the kidneys, the ureters, and the urethra. Urine collects in the bladder and is escapes the body through the urethra.
There are different types of cancers that can affect the bladder. But, the most common is called transitional cell carcinoma (TCC). TCC is a tumor that affects the cells that line the bladder.
Bladder cancer can be diagnosed in a few different ways. A urine analysis can be done to determine if there are cancer cells in the urine itself. Blood work and biopsies are also common ways doctors can test for different forms of cancer in your dog’s bladder.
Unfortunately, it’s not usually possible to surgically remove a tumor on the bladder. Surgery is too risky for this area and could end up damaging other structures, like the urethra. That could leave your dog with permanent damage and trouble urinating.
Since a tumor on the bladder usually can’t be removed, other treatment options are necessary. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are two of the most common treatment options for bladder cancer in a dog.
The major downside to bladder cancer in a dog is that the long-term prognosis isn’t good. Dogs can rarely make a full recovery from this type of problem. But, treatment can help to prolong their lifespan and make them more comfortable. A dog with bladder cancer who responds to treatment may be able to live up to a year longer than a dog who has the same kind of cancer and doesn’t get treated.
Excessive water consumption and frequent urination go hand-in-hand. But, if your dog is drinking so much water that they develop incontinence in their sleep, it could be a sign of something more serious.
You might think that your dog drinks a lot of water throughout the day but may not know that it could mean something. If your dog starts leaking in their sleep or leaving puddles, their excessive drinking may be linked to something that needs to get checked out.
The first step is to take them to the vet to determine how diluted their urine is. Your veterinarian will be able to run a test to determine this. If the urine is extremely diluted, they may want to run more tests to rule out any health conditions. Some underlying health conditions associated with excessive drinking in dogs include:
- Cushing’s disease
- Kidney failure
- Bladder infection
A bladder infection is different from bladder cancer and can often be treated with regular use of medication. Bladder infections aren’t permanent and will go away over time if they are treated properly. Other conditions, like kidney failure, may not respond well to treatment.
Spinal injuries are often overlooked by pet owners as a cause of incontinence, but they shouldn’t be. If your dog has injured themselves, you probably expect certain symptoms. Things like limping or weakness may be considered ‘normal,’ and you can talk to your vet about treatment or management solutions for your dog’s pain.
But, if your dog has started to have bouts of incontinence, don’t rule out the idea that the injury may be causing it.
The sphincter of the bladder is controlled voluntarily in dogs, just like the legs are. It gets its nerve supply from the lumbar area. If that area is injured or over-extended somehow, the nerves can become pinched. This results in less control over the sphincter. As you might expect, the lack of control can lead to a leaky bladder.
Thankfully, if the injury isn’t too serious, the incontinence usually stops once the dog has fully healed. But, some dogs (especially larger ones) can be more prone to these injuries. There are a few things you can do to help a dog who is dealing with incontinence from a spinal injury. There are also some things you can do to help prevent it from happening in the future.
- Limit intense exercise to 15 minutes at a time. Walking or hiking are great options, but dogs shouldn’t sprint or jump for long periods of time.
- Feed your dog a vitamin-rich diet with proteins to help repair muscles.
- Keep your dog at a healthy weight.
- Go to a professional pet massage therapist or physical therapist to help with your dog’s treatment.
- Be patient! All dogs heal differently and at different speeds. Forcing your dog to do too much too quickly can cause the injury to flare up again or become even worse. Once your dog is ready to start moving around again, be sure to take it slowly with them.
What Are the Complications of Canine Incontinence?
No one wants to have to deal with their dog leaking urine every time they lay down or fall asleep. But, that can be the least of your worries. Incontinence in dogs can be more prone to other conditions. If the underlying cause is left untreated, your dog could develop other problems that may be even worse.
Some of these complications include:
- Bladder infections – Whether a bladder infection is causing your dog’s current incontinence or not, it could be a complication. When the bladder and urinary system are weakened, bacteria can get into the bladder easily. As a result, it’s much easier to develop a bladder infection which may need further medical attention.
- Urine scalding – We touched on this problem earlier in the article, but urine scalding is nothing to take lightly. Urine can be quite acidic. If urine is leaking from your dog’s bladder and staying on their skin, it could cause burns to occur. As a result, your dog’s skin can become irritated. They may spend more time licking the affected area, but if the burns become raw they could become infected. A topical ointment may be needed to deal with urine scalding.
What is the Treatment for Incontinent Dogs?
So, what are the best incontinent dog solutions? It all depends on what the underlying cause of the problem is in the first place. Often, dog incontinence medication is used to treat the issue.
Some medications serve as a hormone replacement therapy. They help to balance out the fluctuations in hormones your dog might be experiencing due to age or being spayed/neutered. Hormone supplements are taken every single day.
Some dogs also take medication that is designed to strengthen the sphincter muscles. That helps to control the flow of urine so it doesn’t leak out when the dog is resting. According to the Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, about 90% of dogs who take medication for incontinence see positive results. Medication also usually doesn’t need to be taken forever. Once the dog’s hormones have balanced out or an infection has healed, they can lead perfectly normal lives again.
Surgery is an option depending on the problem, though it’s usually considered as one of the last options available. This is especially true if the problem is in a senior dog. Checking other symptoms your older dog might be showing can help you to determine if there is something more serious going on. Surgery is a big risk, and many pet owners don’t want to put older dogs through it.
If your dog has a more serious condition, like cancer, the treatment options suggested in that section are usually the best solutions. Your veterinarian will be able to give your dog a personalized treatment plan designed to deal with tumors affecting the bladder.
How Can a Dog’s Incontinence be Managed?
No matter what might be causing your dog to leak urine while they sleep, there are things you can do to help manage it until they get better. These management options will make less work for you each time your dog stands up.
But, they can also help to prevent things like urine scalding:
- Add padding to their bed: If your dog has a specific sleeping spot, make it more comfortable for them (and easier to clean for you). You can do this by padding the area with old towels or waterproof pads. These options will help to soak up excess moisture so your dog doesn’t have to lay in wetness.
- Doggie diapers: Because incontinence isn’t uncommon for dogs, you can buy doggie diapers to help manage the problem. These work just the same as diapers for babies or older adults who can’t control their bladders. It will help to prevent any leaking. Just make sure you change the diapers regularly to help prevent discomfort or urine scalding.
- Go for more walks: Making sure your dog has plenty of opportunities to empty their bladder can help. Go for walks with them more frequently and make sure they go to the bathroom each time. It may not solve the issue completely, but it’s likely that not as much urine will leak out if their bladder is mostly empty.
- Don’t limit water: Some people think that limiting their dog’s water intake will keep them from going to the bathroom so much. On paper, that’s a good idea. But, dogs need a certain amount of water each day, and it varies depending on their size. Never limit your dog’s water intake without talking to your vet first about how to do it safely.
If you have a dog who is otherwise fully housebroken, understand that it’s not their fault they are urinating in their sleep. As you can see from this article, many different factors could be causing dog incontinence while sleeping. It’s just as uncomfortable for them as it is for you to have to clean it up! Plus, they could be in pain or dealing with a much more serious health condition.
We hope this article has given you some ideas on what to look for if your dog is leaking urine when they lay down. Once you determine what the cause is, you can start a treatment plan that can hopefully help the problem to go away for good!