As a dog owner, you may know what it feels like to spend many days, weeks, and months consistently potty-training your canine friend, and then finally enjoying the benefits once the training is complete. Imagine the dismay of those dog owners who achieve this feat of a perfectly potty-trained animal, only to find that their beloved dog begins to routinely have bowel movements in their sleep.
This predicament can be frustrating, alarming, and concerning to a dog owner in general and even more so when it hasn’t been an issue historically. What are some potential causes and what can be done about it? Read on below to find out more!
Fecal or bowel incontinence are medical terms that signify an inability to control bowel movements, resulting in the involuntary passing of fecal material. There can be several different categories of fecal incontinence, each of which has its own set of commonly observed signs and various diagnoses that may be more likely to occur.
A dog with normally formed stool that is having bowel movements only when they are unaware and asleep (involuntarily) is most likely to fall under the category of sphincter fecal incontinence. The anal sphincter is the muscle that closes the opening of the anus, and if this muscle is unable to fully close, is weakened, etc., it may allow feces to “leak” out. This could be due to a lesion on the sphincter itself or to the nerves that control it.
Although a dog of any age could be affected, this tends to be more common in older dogs, some of which can be explained by the causes we’ll discuss later below.
Some Potential Causes of Fecal Incontinence
What are some potential causes of fecal incontinence when a dog is sleeping? These causes assume that there has been successful complete housebreaking, there is a normal fecal amount and consistency, as well as not having subsequent urinary incontinence or anal gland leakage. If those are also coming into play, there may be other additional issues or other types of causes not mentioned below.
Some fecal incontinence issues for a dog defecating in their sleep could potentially include:
- Traumatic anal injuries, such as a laceration or a bite wound
- Perianal fistulas (ulcers or draining tracts around the anus)
- Mass inhibiting closure of the anal sphincter
- Osteoarthritis—having a difficult time moving around with pain may also keep a dog from being able to defecate normally
- Nervous system or neurologic disorders, such as degenerative myelopathy, intervertebral disk disease, diskospondylitis (infection of the intervertebral discs), fibrocartilaginous embolism (spinal stroke), trauma or tumors of the spine, etc.
- Peripheral neuropathy—a disease where the nerves of the body lose their function or ability to work normally. This could be due to immune-mediated diseases, infectious diseases, drug reactions, etc.
- Aging—this may include weakness in the muscles involved in defecating or senility
Alternatively, the cause could also be something as simple as too much stimulation or a distraction during their potty time routine. Or maybe a dog is holding their fecal material due to stress or some other reason, but when they are asleep and their body is totally relaxed, it inadvertently releases on its own.
What to Do
A visit to get checked out at the veterinary office will start out with a thorough history and physical exam. Additional areas of concentration for a dog having bowel movements in their sleep can include a neurologic exam and a rectal exam. Depending on these results, further testing may or may not be recommended. If it is, some potential tests might include a fecal analysis and imaging, such as radiographs (X-rays). More advanced imaging, such as CT and MRI, as well as a colonoscopy or other specialized procedures, may also be options.
If the primary cause of the fecal incontinence is found, specific treatment would then be tailored to that underlying cause. Whether or not a medical cause is determined, some management options that may provide some help include:
- Ensure your pet has a longer evening walk so that exercise can stimulate the bowels.
- Plenty of distraction-free, quiet potty time, especially after eating a meal and right before bedtime.
- A diet low in fiber may help limit the amount of feces.
- You may also play around with feeding schedules and the meal amount given to help with bowel schedules. For example, you may give more of their food in the morning and less in the evening.
- Having the afflicted dog sleep on material that is easy to clean, such as a disposable pee-pad on top of their dog bed.
- Pet diapers may also be an option, but this may also increase the risk of an infection if left on too long.
Having a fully potty-trained dog that defecates while asleep can be a discouraging issue for any dog owner. If this is occurring in your pet, it’s important to get them checked out to determine if there is a medical cause. If no medical cause is determined, management options may be your best bet in helping with this issue.
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