If you thought children were the only ones who would engage in bed wetting, think again; a dog wetting the bed while sleeping is not an uncommon problem. Many dog owners assume that a dog who is urinating while sleeping is a dog who hasn't been completely housebroken, but in reality, a dog with sleep incontinence is more likely to have a medical disorder rather than displaying a potty training problem. So if your dog is showing signs of sleep incontinence, skip the dog trainer and go straight to your vet so your dog can be checked out for possible underlying medical problems.
A Matter of Control
It may start with a little wet spot, than a trickle, and then next thing you notice your dog's whole bed is drenched when he/she gets up from a nap, what's happening? In order to understand the dynamics behind a dog urinating while sleeping, a little lesson in anatomy is needed.
A normal, healthy dog is equipped with a bladder which basically acts as a storage container meant to house urine.
In dogs and virtually all living creatures, urine keeps constantly accumulating at a steady rate. At a certain point, once the bladder fills up to its capacity, special stretch receptors in the bladder wall are activated, triggering muscle contractions of the bladder wall which create the urge for the dog to go to the door and bark to ask to be let out.
Thanks to the dog's ability to control the sphincter around the neck of the bladder, the dog is able to "hold it" until the owner lets him/her out. Once the dog heads out and finds his/her favorite potty spot outside, the sphincter muscle is finally relaxed and the urine can finally flow out, giving the dog a much needed sense of relief. Problems start though when the sphincter muscle weakens for one reason or another, and the dog loses the ability to control the urine flow.
A Female Issue
A common cause of female dogs wetting their sleeping areas is what's called "Primary sphincter mechanism incompetence"(PSMI) also known as hormone-responsive urinary incontinence"or "estrogen-responsive incontinence" or simply "spay incontinence. "
According to a study, it was found that about 1 out of 5 female dogs are affected by this condition after they are spayed. Basically, what happens is that in female spayed dogs, their levels of estrogen lower and since estrogen is known for helping maintain good muscle tone of the sphincters, trouble soon erupts. As spayed dogs age, these muscles tend to weaken causing leakage of urine when they're resting or sleeping, explains veterinarian Dr. Marie.
While middle-aged to senior dogs are mostly affected, sometimes it can also affect younger dogs. Fortunately, this type of problem can remedied using a veterinary prescription medication known as phenylpropanolamine (yeah, try to pronounce that!) which can help strengthen those weakened sphincters.
For difficult cases, when this drug won't help, DES (diethyl stilbesterol) estrogen can help prime the sphincter and provide relief, points out veterinarian Dr. Loretta.
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A Male Issue Too
Male dogs can also have their set of urinary problems when it comes to bed wetting. Like in female dogs, neutered dogs may also develop a weakening of the bladder's sphincter, however it is far more uncommon than in spayed female dogs.
Basically, what happens is that, as in the female dog, as the dog is relaxed, the sphincter relaxes too causing the annoying leakage. Upon getting up and walking, there still may be a bit of leakage as the sphincter may not have completely tightened up, explains veterinarian Dr. John.
As in female dogs, male dog incontinence can be treated with medications obtained from the vet.
"In the female, estrogen has a dramatic effect, giving strength to the muscular tissue of the bladder. In the male, testosterone has much the same effect. Anything that affects the levels of these hormones also affects the dog’s ability to retain his urine." ~Dr. Marty Smith
Other Possible Problems
There are several other potential causes of urinary incontinence in dogs and these may include urinary tract infections, bladder stones, ectopic ureters and brain or spinal cord disease when communication between the nerves of the sphincter and the dog's brains is disrupted. Also, any medical condition known for causing increased drinking and increased urination such as diabetes, kidney disease and Cushing's disease may be a culprit (causing the bladder to fill too much and spill out) and so can certain medications (eg. corticosteroids). However, dogs affected by most of these conditions tend to dribble urine on several separate occasions during the day other than mostly during sleep.
Some Possible Complications
When dogs urinate during their sleep, they are not aware of it and therefore will be surprised when they wake up feeling wet. Many dogs will lick their private areas upon waking and feeling the area wet or moist, but prolonged contact with urine which is caustic can cause urine scalding resulting in red, raw skin and dirty, matted hair.
It's good practice to check the area often and wash with a soft washcloth and tepid water. Veterinarians may recommend using special anti-inflammatory salves that contain antibiotics.
Also, since dogs with incontinence have lost a certain level of sphincter tone, it's more easy for bacteria to make its way up the dog's urinary tract and colonize the area causing an infection. For this reason, it's a good idea to have the urine from a dog suffering from urinary incontinence checked twice a year for a possible infection, suggests veterinarian Weis DVM, a UC Davis Graduate.
Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If your dog is urinating while sleeping or while lying down, please see your vet for diagnosis and treatment.
- Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Ovariohysterectomy versus ovariectomy: is removal of the uterus necessary? Vol 239 No 11. December 1, 2011 pages 1409-1412
- DVM360, Treatment of refractory urinary incontinence (Proceedings), retrieved from the web on August 21st, 2016
- Pet Education, Urinary Incontinence in Dogs, retrieved from the web on August 21st, 2016