Fecal Incontinence in Dogs

Fecal incontinence in dogs occurs when a dog is no longer able to control his bowel movements. This can often happen when a dog is sleeping, walking around the house or playing outdoors. Fecal incontinence is absolutely no fault of the dog, in that it occurs because he no longer has the ability to sense his bowels.

Fecal incontinence is typically more common in dogs of advanced age or those suffering from some type of illness or medical condition. It's not a condition which is highly common, but it is a condition that should signal to a dog owner that an underlying medical health issue exists and needs to be evaluated.

How Fecal Incontinence Develops

Fecal incontinence occurs when there is a laxity in the muscles of the rectum or colon. One of the major factors contributing to fecal incontinence is when a dog becomes paralyzed. When a dog is paralyzed, at least in the hind quarters, he has no ability to feel or control any of the muscles in that portion of his body. Thus, fecal incontinence is almost always a given.

In older dogs, the most common cause of fecal incontinence has to do with a disorder of the nervous system. As the aging process takes over, the anal sphincter becomes less efficient at holding in bowels and allowing a dog to detect when he needs to eliminate.

Parasitic infection is another aspect that can contribute to fecal incontinence. When intestinal parasites cause an excessive amount of diarrhea over a prolonged period of time, it can cause significant destruction to the muscles in the rectum, which eventually leads to fecal incontinence. Likewise, worms and parasites also have the ability to eat away at the sphincter muscle, making it inefficient at letting a dog know when he needs to defecate.


In order to identify the particular cause of fecal incontinence, it is imperative to watch for the following signs:

  • Bowel movements while walking, seemingly without noticing
  • Bowel movements during periods of sleep
  • Excessive gas
  • Swelling or bloating of the abdomen
  • No longer signaling the need to go outside to defecate

Diagnosing and Treating Fecal Incontinence

Fecal incontinence is typically very identifiable based on the symptoms reported. However, the cause of the condition is not always as transparent. The first step in diagnosis will be to have a fecal test. A fecal test will check for the presence of any parasites or worms which could be destroying the colon or rectum. If any type of worm or parasites is discovered, a strong dosage of medication will be given to eliminate them, and a monitoring period may be needed to determine if the incontinence has improved.

If the parasitic infection has been treated and fecal incontinence continues, a colonoscopy will be performed. A colonoscopy is the process of inserting a tube into the rectum to look at the muscles and inner lining of the colon. This procedure should identify any abnormalities which could be causing fecal incontinence.

Treatment should always consist of treating the direct cause. If there appears to be significant damage done to the lining of the colon and rectum, a change in diet may be in order, to harden the stool and make it more difficult to pass.

The trouble with fecal incontinence is that only the cause is treatable - not the condition itself. Effective treatment of the reason for fecal incontinence can sometimes help to alleviate the symptoms. Even after treatment, fecal incontinence can still be an irreversible condition.