A dog pooping while asleep can be concerning to dog owners, not only because of the necessary clean-up, but also because they may worry about what is causing this problem in the first place. This lack bowel control can be mostly seen in older dogs, but it is may occur in younger dogs in some cases. If your dog is losing the ability to control his bowels, it's important to see the vet to so to determine what is causing this problem. In some cases, the situation can be remedied, but if not, there are several options to prevent messes while your dog asleep.
A Loss of Control
A dog who is leaking poop while asleep is suffering from a disorder that is medically known as "fecal incontinence."
In order to better understand what is happening exactly, one must first understand what happens exactly when a dog is capable of "holding it."
Puppies are all born incontinent. Initially, mother dog must stimulate them to defecate, and then, it is only once they reach 3 weeks of age, that puppies are able to defecate on their own. At this age though, they have not yet developed proper bowel control, which comes only later with age, as they develop sufficient muscle tone which is part of potty training.
The ability to control bowels is the result of several structures that are innervated by several nerves. When the rectum is filled up with feces, several nerves inform the dog's brain that it's time to go. When the dog therefore senses this sensation, he may go to the door so that his owners let him out.
As he awaits the owners' acknowledgement, the dog's muscles hold in the rectal contents so he doesn't have an accident in the house. Once out in the yard, Rover looks for the perfect spot, and soon his muscles relax allowing his rectum to finally empty.
Now, this is what happens, in a normal, healthy dog, instead, in a dog suffering from fecal incontinence, the nerves and muscles may not be functioning as they should, and this warrants veterinary attention.
A Matter of Aging
As dogs age, they are prone to several physical changes and these changes may affect their muscles and nerves that are meant to help them "hold it." Muscles with time start losing tone and some nerves may start functioning less. Tissues and organs may also lose part of their ability to stretch.
It's therefore not surprising to see fecal incontinence happening more around senior dogs than in younger dogs, although younger dogs may be predisposed as well but due to different underlying problems. When this happens in older dogs, it's often indicative that the dog is suffering from nerve problems causing the sphincter muscle to loose some level of functionality, explains veterinarian Dr. Christine M.
Affected dogs may therefore be soundly sleeping when the rectal sphincter happens to relax with the end result that a pellet of stool just drops out .The dog is likely as surprised as his owners upon finding these feces upon waking up, points out veterinarian Dr. Kara.
Potential Underlying Causes
Older dogs affected by fecal incontinence are often found to suffer from spinal arthritis (spondylosis) or hip arthritis. Such dogs may be failing to fully empty their bowels due to pain when they're out in the yard and therefore end up excreting balls of poop when their muscles relax during sleep. Age-related nerve degeneration is common in senior dogs.
On top of this, older dogs are can be suffering from brain tumors, cognitive disorders and metabolic disorders such as liver failure which may also lead to fecal incontinence.
Neurological problems are another source of fecal incontinence in dogs. An injury to the spinal cord may cause impairment of the dog's nerves. Affected dogs are often lame and stumble on their back feet when walking due to loss of sensation. Possible causes include a caudal lumbar or lumbosacral lesion, spinal malformations or spinal tumors pressing on nerves.
In some cases, dogs may become fecal incontinent because of issues with the colon such as presence of polyps, inflammation or lesions, suggests veterinarian Dr. Joey. In addition, sometimes, after anorectal surgery, dogs may become fecal incontinent if the surgery resulted in accidental damage to the dog's nerves or muscles.
At the Vet's Office
Your vet will likely check your dog thoroughly in hopes of detecting the underlying cause for the fecal incontinence in your dog. Your vet may palpate the rear end area to check for any masses or signs of pain. The dog's spine may be manipulated so to check for signs of discomfort. Blood work may be ordered to rule out certain metabolic conditions such as liver disease.
A neurological examination may help determine whether there is nerve damage, while a colonoscopy can evaluate the dog's colon for presence of polyps or masses. X-rays to evaluate the dog's spine may be helpful.
Treatment is based on the underlying cause. Dogs suffering from arthritis may be prescribed prescription anti-inflammatory medications and supplements so to decrease the pain. Dogs with polyps, masses and growths may require surgical intervention.
Switching to a high fiber diet or adding some cooked, canned pumpkin to meals may also help considering that larger stools may be easier for the dog's rectum to detect, allowing better control, points out Dr. Kara. Prescription high fiber diets in dogs such as Hill's R/D and Hills W/D can be another option. On the other hand, some dogs seem to do better with a low-residue diet which decreases the amount of stool produced.
In cases that are difficult to treat, the problem can be managed by feeding the dog earlier so that there are less chances for accidents during the night-time and the use of medications that reduce bowel transit times such as Lomotil or Imodium, explains veterinarian Dr. Fiona. The drug phenylpropanolamine, commonly used for urinary incontinence in dogs, may also be worth a try. Finally, the use of doggy diapers may also be helpful at night time.