When a previously house-trained older dog is peeing in the house, and it’s not just a one-off ‘accident’, it’s easy to get frustrated… and normal to worry. You are not the first owner to wonder what is going on, and what you can do to stop it.
In this article, we will review the top 8 reasons why your old dog might have suddenly started to pee inside the house, as well as review 7 tips that can help you manage your senior friend’s incontinence. We will also review questions your vet may ask you and treatment options to help your dog.
8 Reasons Why Your Old Dog is Peeing Inside
There are several reasons why an adult dog might begin to pee or poo indoors all of a sudden. Most of the reasons are physical, but some can be due to emotions or stress. His inappropriate behavior isn’t the cause of the problem, it’s a symptom of one. Because a senior dog peeing in the house is often a symptom of a more serious condition, we recommend that you bring your senior dog to the veterinarian for a full exam to identify any possible serious issue.
1. Age-Related Reasons
The most common reason for an older dog peeing in the house is simply that they are not able to “hold it” anymore. It could simply be age-related: as your dog gets older, he loses muscle tone, and his body systems aren’t as efficient as they once were. Muscles around the bladder/sphincter lose elasticity with age and that means Fido isn’t able to control the flow of urine properly. Your dog may simply not be able to hold it until they are outside.
How do you know if your dog incontinence is due to age-related reasons? You will likely observe the following symptoms:
- Urine leaks, dribbles or floods
- Leaks may happen when your dog is resting (your dog’s bed might get wet spots)
- Poor muscle tone due to old age.
- Hormone induced incontinence.
If you find yourself (and your dog) in this situation, there are things you can do to make life easier, and more comfortable, for everyone. It is just a case of making changes in your senior dog’s day-to-day life. Learn more about this on our page about managing old dog incontinence.
However, incontinence in senior dogs is also often caused by an underlying medical issue.
There could be a more serious medical condition causing your old dog to start peeing indoors. Medical issues including kidney conditions, diabetes or old-dog syndrome, are more likely to impact older dogs and can cause symptoms that include peeing indoors. It is important that you understand the root cause of your old dog peeing indoors to be able to identify the right solutions.
Let’s now look at physical reasons that could lead to your old dog peeing inside.
If you have an adult dog who’s been potty trained for years but suddenly starts to urinate indoors, then it’s a good idea to get him a check-up with your veterinarian. The medical causes of this behavior issue can be something simple, or a more serious condition.
Here are some of the most common reasons for this behavior:
2. Dropping Hormone Levels
Dropping hormone levels are most often seen in senior spayed female dogs, but it can happen to male dogs too. Estrogen is needed to maintain the tone of the sphincter muscle, which keeps the urine in the bladder. A drop in hormones can cause urinary incontinence and/or thyroid dysfunction.
There are several different treatment options for this problem, and your veterinarian can diagnose and treat it.
3. Urinary Tract Infection
- Frequent & urgent need to pee: he/she needs to ‘go’ a lot more often than normal… and that the urge to pee seems to be… well… suddenly extremely urgent! Plus, Fifi may only pass a few drops of urine even though she’s been dancing around in circles as if her bladder was bursting.
- Cloudy urine
- Traces of blood in urine
- Frequent licking at genitals
Any dog can get a urinary tract infection, although it’s most often seen in females. Urinary tract infections are usually cured pretty easily, but you NEED to get the right antibiotic prescription from your vet. Although they’re obviously uncomfortable (even painful) for your dog, and inconvenient for everyone, UTI’s are generally not serious to begin with.
WATCH: 3 Important Tips To Care For an Old Dog [VET VIDEO]
However, repeated UTI’s can also be caused by diabetes, kidney problems and bladder/kidney stones. If you leave the problem untreated it can become serious and affect other organs such as the kidneys. If you think that your dog (or pup) may have a bladder infection like this, get her examined by your vet right away.
4. Kidney Infections / Disease
Kidney infections can occasionally show only symptoms of urinary tract infection, but more often there are other symptoms as well, including:
- Excessive thirst
- Increased urination
- Kidney ‘insufficiency’
- Kidney stones
- Kidney failure
Many senior dogs have ‘kidney disease’ (this means that their kidneys aren’t filtering out toxins efficiently). Two of the most common symptoms of failing kidneys is excessive thirst and increased urination. But you’re likely to see both of these as symptoms of several other conditions, so don’t jump to the conclusion of kidney disease just based on this.
It is MORE common to see additional symptoms when the kidneys are involved, but this doesn’t ALWAYS happen.
Only your veterinarian can make an accurate diagnosis after a full exam. Kidney disease can be treated with many different medications, which your vet will choose based on your individual dog. Your dog may also need intravenous fluid therapy to flush out excess urea in the blood. But your veterinarian is the best person to determine the most appropriate treatment.
Diabetes can occur at any age, but it is more likely to happen to senior dogs (Most dogs who develop this condition are 5 or older at time of diagnosis).
- Excessive thirst
- Increased urination
- Increased appetite
- Weight loss
- Repeated UTI’s
Diabetes: Two very common symptoms of diabetes in dogs are increased thirst, and increased urination. So, if your older dog is peeing in the house and seems to be extra-thirsty, diabetes could potentially be the reason why your old dog suddenly started peeing in the house.
This is a condition that you need to get under control otherwise it can cause serious health problems for your dog, so if you notice these symptoms get your old dog to your vet asap. Diabetes needs to be treated with insulin, which will probably require twice daily injections, as well as a diet change. Learn more on our page about diabetes in older dogs.
6. Cushings Disease
- Excessive thirst
- Frequent urination
- Increased appetite
- Thinning coat/hair
- Swollen belly
- Loss of muscle tone/strength
- Cushing’s Disease
Cushing’s disease happens when your dog’s adrenal glands aren’t functioning, and his body if flooded with the natural steroid cortisol. This can produce all kinds of different symptoms, including increased urination.
Again, these signs could point to several different problems, so you need to get Fido a checkup so that your vet knows what to treat.
There are two types of Cushing’s disease: pituitary dependent and adrenal dependent. Pituitary dependent Cushing’s disease can be treated medically with either trilostane or mitotane, whereas adrenal dependent Cushing’s disease is better treated with surgery.
7. Canine Cognitive Dysfunction
- Sleep disruptions
- Loss of appetite
- Behavior changes
- Shaking, trembling, panting
Possible Cause: Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. An older dog peeing in the house frequently, especially a ‘senior’ dog (and large or extra-large breeds can be considered seniors as early as seven years old), might be suffering from this condition.
It’s also known as ‘Old Dog Syndrome’ and is very similar to human Alzheimers Disease or dementia. In this case, the physical cause for the unusual peeing isn’t located in the bladder/kidneys, but in Fido’s brain.
The changes that are going on there make him confused, and he might be urinating indoors because he’s ‘forgotten’ that he’s supposed to do his business in the yard. Sometimes old dogs with this condition seem to be unaware of their surroundings, or actions, and he might not even realize he’s peeing (or pooping) at the time, or afterwards.
There are lots of different symptoms of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, and urinary incontinence is just one of them.
Although this all sounds worrying, there are things you and your veterinarian can do to help your senior dog if he does turn out to be experiencing old dog syndrome.
Sometimes these symptoms can come on very slowly and owners think it’s just that their pooch is getting old. But normal aging doesn’t make a dog upset, anxious, miserable or confused! Your vet can make a diagnosis and make sure Fido gets the right treatment. There are medical options available to improve the functioning of the brain.
Learn about Treatment options for old dog incontinence
8. Emotional Reasons
There can be emotional triggers for your older dog’s sudden incontinence. Your old dog may be peeing inside the house due to territorial behavior, anxiety of stress:
If your dog is male, and he hasn’t been neutered, then when he reaches sexual maturity or adulthood he might begin scent-marking.
This is a normal territorial behavior and has nothing to do with house-training!
A dog who is lifting his leg to urinate on door-frames, furniture legs, wall corners and so on could simply be staking his claim. He’s basically saying ‘this is mine!’.
Older adult dogs who have never shown this behavior before can suddenly start to if a new dog joins the family, or a new person moves into the home.
Once a dog is fully mature and has started to scent-mark or spray, neutering is very unlikely to change that behavior.
Consistent correction (a firm ‘No’ and redirecting Fido’s attention), often reduces the problem over time, it might even eliminate it.
Failing that, belly-bands can be used to ‘catch’ the urine so that your furniture, carpets and home aren’t constantly being sprayed.
When you combine these two methods, that’s when you most often get the best results, because the belly-bands protect your home while your dog is learning that this behavior is a no-no in the human world.
Anxiety Or Stress
Dogs of all ages can get nervous or stressed when there are big changes in their lives (or sometimes even small ones).
Plus, some dogs are naturally just more anxious than others.
But some older dogs become especially fragile emotionally as they age, and loud noises, strange people, car rides, storms…. even things they were previously fine with are suddenly scary for them.
This kind of anxiety can lead to all sorts of nervous behaviors, including urinating indoors at odd times.
Submissive urination happens when your dog fears the person/dog/object he’s being confronted by, or if that person/dog is seen as the ‘alpha’ or superior.
Separation anxiety happens if he suddenly becomes terrified when you’re not within sight, or when you leave the house. If he gets hysterical, he could quite easily lose control of his bladder and bowels, no matter where he is.
ANY significant change, especially big ones like a new dog/pet in the family, a new baby, a house move, someone moving in, or moving out…. can destabilize your older dog’s emotional balance.
This can cause physical symptoms such as urinating indoors, acting ‘clingy’, refusing to eat, depression and so on.
And physical changes such as hearing or vision loss, canine dysfunction syndrome, or chronic pain can all make Fido ‘jittery’ or worried, which makes everything more difficult for him to handle. Learn more about anxiety in senior dogs: Old Dog Anxiety
6 Things You Can Do To Help Manage Dog Incontinence
While you wait for your visit to the vet and experiment with treatment options to solve your dog’s incontinence, there are also a few things you can do to make life with a leaky dog easier for everyone: sometimes incontinence in dogs can’t be helped by medications/treatment and simply needs to be managed. In that situation, the focus is on products to make living with an incontinent dog easier:
1. Try Doggie Diapers: Doggie diapers will help protect your carpets, bedding and furniture from constantly being dripped on or flooded when your old dog is peeing in the house.
If Fifi only loses control when she’s sleeping, you can just put a diaper on her before it’s time for bed or when she’s taking a nap. If it’s a more constant dribble, then she may need to wear them for longer periods. View our favorite doggie diapers.
2. Be Ready for Dog Urine Clean-Up: Having the right urine odor and stain removal products at hand can make life a lot easier. Keep plenty of absorbent paper towels or old bath/hand towels in strategic places around your house for instant mop up. We have tried just about all the most popular pet cleaning products and have included the ones that have passed in-home testing in our list of favorite dog urine cleaning products.
3. Get a Waterproof Dog Bed: There are no totally waterproof beds, but our page about waterproof dog beds features beds that are very good at repelling urine or have removable covers and waterproof liners.
4. Use Waterproof Blankets or Covers: If your old dog is regularly using your couch, bed, or car seats, consider waterproof sheets or rubber-backed sheets or blankets. View our recommended waterproof blankets. You can also buy a waterproof car seat cover for less than $40 on Amazon.
5. Place Doggy Potty Training Pads Strategically Around Your House: you can use disposable potty training pads (Amazon link) positioned under or next to your dog’s bed, or in strategic places around the house, to help make accidents easier to clean up. To help your old dog understand this new process, place a paper towel with a few drops of their urine over the new training pad.
6. Use Dog Urinary Health Supplements: there are natural supplements that can help support healthy urinary tract function. They won’t prevent incontinence, but they can help prevent it from getting worse as well as helping your dogs’ bladder to stay healthy.
In addition to vet prescribed medications or procedures, there is a range of natural products designed to help keep your dog’s urinary system healthy and functioning as well as it possibly can. There are many different options to choose from, but there are some from reputable, well-regulated manufacturers that we trust. View our recommendations for dog urinary health supplements or learn more about the best dog incontinence products.
Questions Your Vet May Ask You
A senior dog peeing in the house is often a symptom of a more serious condition. If your old dog is regularly peeing indoors, we recommend that you take him to your local veterinarian. You will want to be prepared to help your veterinarian diagnose the cause of your dog’s incontinence.
Questions Your Vet May Ask you: your veterinarian will first ask you several questions about the nature of your dog’s urinary issue, such as:
- how long has your dog been incontinent? is your dog generally well?
- how often is your dog peeing throughout the day? is your dog peeing more frequently now?
- is your dog straining to urinate (or is urine dribbling out)?
- is your dog drinking and urinating more than usual?
You will find below a quick quiz to get personalized information on the reasons why your old dog may have started peeing indoors. Please remember that the advice on this website is not a substitute for in-person advice from your veterinarian, who can inspect your dog in person to establish a full-health plan.
Bring a urine sample with you: your vet will thank you for it – ideally collected first thing in the morning as this will measure how well the kidneys are concentrating the urine. A urine sample can provide key insights into your dog’s health; by analyzing the urine for the presence of different components such as glucose, protein, blood cells and bacteria as well as testing the pH, your vet can get a really good idea for what might be causing the symptoms your dog is displaying.
Sometimes your vet may need to take a sterile urine sample directly from your dog’s bladder with a needle, especially if they are concerned about a urinary tract infection. While this sounds scary, most dogs tolerate it very well and sedation can be given if not.
Physical examination: Your vet will also perform a physical examination, assessing various body systems and looking for clues as to what might be causing the incontinence. However, there is only so much information your vet can acquire from the examination, and often further tests will be required.
Additional tests: In some cases, additional tests such as blood tests can be performed to help diagnose the condition. Key parameters can give an insight into how well the kidneys are functioning, white blood cells levels can help identify the presence of infection and hormone tests can help look for endocrine diseases that may be influencing the urinary system.
An ultrasound scan of your dog’s bladder and kidneys can identify possible structural changes that might be causing urinary symptoms such as incontinence. Your vet will look for abnormalities such as bladder stones or growths.
Vet Video: Causes of Incontinence and Questions Your Vet Might Ask You
Watch our veterinarian advice video below to learn about the main causes for a dog peeing inside the house, and how you should prepare for the veterinarian visit:
Collecting A Urine Sample Before Your Visit to the Vet
In most cases, your veterinarian will need to test a sample of your dog’s urine to find out what’s causing the ‘peeing’ problems.
Sometimes he/she will ask you to collect a sample and bring it in. This means you need to ‘catch’ the urine while Fido or Fifi is urinating – easier said than done!
IMPORTANT TIP: I recommend that your helper be the ‘catcher’ because if you do it, your dog is more likely to turn around and try to figure out what’s going on. That can make the whole procedure messy.
If you’re keeping his attention at the ‘head’ end, the ‘business’ end will be less likely to move!
The best way to do this is to ask someone else to help you, because it’s very tricky to do it all by yourself.
With your dog on a leash, take him to his potty spot and while you keep his attention, your ‘assistant’ needs to use a very CLEAN container to catch the urine, mid-stream if possible.
Remember, never use a jar which has had something sweet in it at one point, as residual sugars may lead to an incorrect diagnosis of diabetes.
You don’t need a whole jar of urine, most tests only need two or three milliliters. Once you do have your sample, make sure to refrigerate it until it’s time to get it to the vet’s office.
When an infection is suspected, your veterinarian will often want to take a sample of urine directly from your dog’s bladder (this is called a ‘cystocentesis’ sample).
This isn’t nearly as difficult as it sounds and is the most accurate way to find out exactly what type of bacteria or infection is causing the problems.
How Do you Stop an Older Dog from Peeing Inside?
How you treat your old dog’s incontinence problems depends on what is causing the issue in the first place. Depending on the cause, there are lots of effective remedies available for Fifi or Fido’s leaky plumbing issues, from medications and supplements, to surgery. Learn more about the best treatment options on our page about treatment options for old dog incontinence or continue reading to discover products that can help.
Learn about treatment options for old dog incontinence
To Wrap It All Up…
Okay, so we’ve covered all the most common reasons for an older dog peeing in the house and now you know what each group of symptoms could mean.
If there are signs of a physical problem, please do get your dog examined by your veterinarian just as soon as you can. The quicker you get a diagnosis the easier it will be to treat the problem.
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Disclaimer: The information presented on this website is not a substitute for veterinary advice, diagnosis or treatment. We recommend taking your pet to the veterinarian for a full medical exam. Do not give supplements or medication without first consulting with your veterinarian first.