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.

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