What happens if your senior house-trained dog starts having accidents in the house? The most important thing is to have your vet examine him. What if your vet is unable to find a clear-cut reason? This is the situation that my husband and I have found ourselves in with our senior toy poodle, Barnaby. Is a pet owner supposed to live with the accidents? If not, what’s the answer?
Let me back up and share a little of Barnaby’s house-soiling history. A few years ago, Barnaby began to experience the type of health issues that aren’t uncommon to older dogs. He ate less, ached more, stayed awake less, and drank more. He also began to pee in the house, and so we bought belly bands for him to wear. The search for solutions to these ailments required lots of trips to the vet, lots of tests, and lots of experimenting with medications. At the end of our search, my husband compiled a spreadsheet of potential medical causes for Barnaby’s increased thirst and urination. Andy then showed this to our vet, who reviewed the causes one-by-one to see if there were any that hadn’t yet been explored. There weren’t. We considered too that the cause could be behavioral but similarly ruled out every possibility. Our vet then recommended a Chinese herbal formula called Wu Bi Shan Yao San. Barnaby took the supplement for ten days, and despite Andy’s initial skepticism he agreed that Barnaby wasn’t wetting his belly band as much.
Our experience sparked my interest in researching senior incontinence. No one wants to face the daily task of cleaning up after accidents. Nor does anyone want a house that smells of urine. Just as important, if Barnaby has a medical condition, we’d like to treat it so that we can help him have the longest and healthiest life possible. At this point, we still don’t know the cause other than old age. Instead we’re managing Barnaby’s urinary incontinence, which is something everything pet owner should know how to do.
Local veterinarian, Dr. Amy Walton, offered several recommendations for helping a dog with urinary incontinence. One, put the dog on a regular bathroom schedule. Andy or I take Barnaby out first thing in the morning and last thing at night, before we leave the house and after we return, and right after Barnaby eats. Two, avoid situations where a dog needs to hold his bladder and bowels for longer than normal. If Andy and I know an outing will take more than a few hours, we’ll bring Barnaby to his parents to pet sit. Three, restrict your dog to certain areas of the house or crate him while away to contain or eliminate some of the messes. Andy and I don’t restrict Barnaby’s access, but we do require him to wear belly bands. Finally, NEVER restrict access to water. This leads to dehydration and can cause a dog to become sick.
Using Protective Covers
Because accidents are going to happen, you should take steps to protect anything that might become wet. Your dog’s bed is the most likely to become soaked. One way to protect it is with a plastic cover. Because your dog probably won’t like sleeping directly on plastic, you can lay old bedding such as towels or small blankets on top of the plastic. When your dog has an accident, wash the coverings and then let them dry before reuse.
Other dog owners elect to use pee pads, which are like big square diapers that you put on the floor and train your dog to go to when it needs to use the bathroom. They’re like litterboxes for dogs. While pee pads are most commonly used to give puppies an acceptable place to go to the bathroom before they’ve been potty trained, pee pads can also be helpful for older dogs who are suffering from incontinence. Some owners don’t just use them to retrain their dog where to potty, but they also use them as protective covering for wherever a dog might wet. Vet Street noted some downsides to pee pads. They don’t work if your dog rips them up before use or a dog refuses to potty on them.
Some dog experts recommended elevated mesh beds. K9 of Mine swore by a Kuranda’s dog bed. The elevated orthopedic design is intended to keep your dog dry, cool, and comfortable. In addition, the fabric is easy to clean. In addition, to protecting your dog’s bed, cover furniture and car seats with old linen on top of plastic sheeting. Vet Street has had clients who loved Sleepee Time Bed. Not only does it serve as comfortable sleeping surface for any pet, but it’s especially useful for help incontinent dogs because it protects their skin and the owner’s floor.
Another way to protect anything that might become wet is to use belly bands or diapers. The first are designed specifically for male dogs. The idea behind belly bands is that they’re wrapped around the belly where they soak up accidents. The ones we have aren’t absorbent enough, and so we put a folded paper towel inside the belly band.
If your dog also poops in the house, or if you have a female dog, you’ll need to use a dog diaper instead. Dog diapers are like human diapers, except that they have a hole through which your dog’s tail can slide through. Diapers catch both pee and poop, but the cleanup is quite messy, as they trap poop against the dog’s bottom. You’ll have to wash your dog’s bottom every day, maybe multiple times a day.
Experiment to find out what works best for your situation. For example, my husband and I found that a combination of belly bands, pee pads, and a confined area worked well a senior foster dog whose medical issues often caused him to have accidents. We didn’t try pee pads with Barnaby. His earlier rejection of a thermal bed meant that we knew he’d reject coverings that crinkle. We have yet to try a mesh bed, due to knowing that Barnaby is most comfortable curled up beside us on bed and that at times he even likes to burrow under the covers. We did briefly attempt to use an artificial grass mat, but it was an exercise in frustration. Andy tried to train him to use it by first training him to go on it outside, but Barnaby didn’t understand that he needed to stay on it, and even if he did get some of his feet on it he’d often still miss it when he peed.
For more ideas, check out an article by Hindy Pearson who specializes in senior dog issues. “Whatever the reason for your dog’s incontinence, and whether it can be resolved in a short time, or is something you’ll be living with for a while, the result is still the same: involuntary peeing. If this condition is new, you may not have been aware of the existence of these products, and I bet you’re really happy you found them….” Continued in Dog Incontinence Products.
Cleaning Your Dog
If your dog wears a belly band or diaper, it’s important that you regularly clean his skin to prevent urine burns and diaper rashes. Clean your dog’s skin with warm soapy water and a soft cloth whenever his diaper needs to be changed. Diarrhea is acidic and can also burn the skin. Keeping his hair short around his bottom and tail will make clean up easier. If you notice any reddened or swollen areas, consult your vet for treatment.
Cleaning Your House
Cleaning soiled areas promptly and thoroughly reduces the chance that your dog will have recurring accidents in the same places. A good pet-odor remover can help. To clean a soiled area, Senior Tail Waggers recommends using cold water with a little Oxyclene mixed in (about 1 tbsp. to 2 gallons of water) to lift the urine out of the carpet and then using an enzymatic cleaner to remove all remaining traces. It’s not always easy to find all the places your dog may have peed. For that reason, you can use a black light (like they do in crime dramas) to make it easier to spot your dog’s accidents.
A clean house makes for a cheerful home. What ways of managing dog incontinence have worked for you?