Updated March 20, 2021
‘At A Glance (Details Below)’ What To Do
If A Dog Urinates In The House
- Urinating in the bed is almost never a behavioural issue
- Most cases are an easily treatable form of incontinence
- A loss of toilet training in an older dog is often caused by urinary infection, excessive thirst and mobility or cognition problems
Now dive deeper…
Let’s set the record straight: a lot of people have got dogs peeing inside all wrong. To me, never more spectacularly wrong than in the above example. Blaming dogs for something they can’t control? In reality, absolutely nothing could be further from the truth.
The easiest way to illustrate this is to talk about puppies and crates. Crate training is basically a ‘puppy toilet training hack’ built entirely around the knowledge that the last place a dog will choose to pee is in their own bed. Literally the very last place on Earth.
If you have a dog that urinates inside, it’s important to work out whether it’s by choice or accident.
- Dogs that used to be toilet trained but now wet their bed, leak drops of urine or leave puddles where they lie down usually have a problem. This page is to help those dogs and their owners.
- Dogs that choose to urinate inside when it’s easy to get out usually have problems with their toilet training. If that’s your dog, read our three steps to toilet training but you also need to know it’s very hard to stop some undesexed males.
Bedwetting is usually the most obvious difference between these two groups.
Why Dogs Pee In Their Bed
So if wetting the bed isn’t behavioural, what causes it?
Urethral Sphincter Mechanism Incompetence
USMI is when the bladder’s closing pressure gets low enough that urine begins to force its way out. This especially happens during sleep when there’s no longer any conscious part of urine control.
If a mature female dog is leaking puddles or wetness where she sleeps, USMI is usually the reason. We used to call this disease Hormone Responsive Incontinence. Although USMI occurs in all dogs, read here how the risk of incontinence increases with desexing.
Treatment is usually easy and successful using the following drugs either alone or in combination:
- Synthetic oestrogens
- Phenylpropanolamine, a smooth muscle stimulant
- Deslorelin implant (not licensed for this application and less effective)
To diagnose USMI we must first rule out the other causes…
Urinary Tract Infection
In my view, the biggest mistake vets can make is assuming an older female dog has USMI just because she’s leaking urine. It just so happens that a UTI is also common in female dogs and the angry, reactive bladder can mimic the signs. That’s why all incontinent dogs should have urine testing before a diagnosis.
Recurrent or repeated signs of urinary problems can be caused by a bladder stone, or a structural problem with the bladder like ectopic ureter. These are easily recognised via an ultrasound examination.
Just the other day I was nearly fooled when an older female dog who started wetting her bed turned out to have overflow incontinence. That’s when dogs drink more than they used to and the extra urine causes them to start having trouble getting out in time. I discovered the problem by noticing that the urine was excessively dilute and ordered a blood test. If you suspect your dog is drinking more, read our guide on how much a dog should drink and why dogs drink too much.
It’s obvious but easily overlooked. When dogs have arthritis, they are slow to get out of bed and therefore urine leakage is more likely. If we suspect painful joints, a short antiinflammatory trial is a great way to answer the question.
Very old dogs (usually over 15) can start to forget their toilet training or get confused or lost in the house. The best solution is to start taking them out to the toilet, just like you might for an elderly relative. However, just because a dog is old doesn’t mean they are going senile and the other causes of incontinence still need to be ruled out first.
Although a rarer cause, anything that interrupts the nerve supply to the urinary tract can cause incontinence. All the diseases listed on our disk or spinal problems page can possibly cause loss of control. Most of these diseases should show other signs as well.
Several readers suggested adding dogs who leak urine when excited. In puppies, this is very common and often confused with toilet training problems. There’s not much that can be done except to hope they grow out of it. If they don’t, all you can do is not get them too excited (if it bothers you) and accept that they can’t control it.
In summary, you can see that incontinence isn’t so simple. To a vet, it’s not too complicated either. By the time your dog has had a physical, blood and urine test, the diagnosis and treatment are usually clear. The common causes of wetting the bed are easily treated, and even if they aren’t, isn’t it so much better to know it’s not your dog’s fault?
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By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story! The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.