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Bowel Management for incontinent and constipated dogs

Bowel Management for incontinent and constipated dogs

Owners of dogs with bowel issues, such as fecal incontinence or constipation, often need more information on how to care for these conditions at home. Sometimes it is due to age related changes, injury or a degenerative disease. Here are some guidelines on how to help your dog in their new stage of life. 

Causes of fecal incontinence

Several things can cause your dog to lose bowel control. Essentially their bowels, or colon, can no longer get the signal, or reflex, from the central nervous system to be controlled. These may be due to such things as spinal cord injuries, damage to tail nerves, intestinal diseases and even sometimes anal gland (sac) disease. 

If you suspect your dog may have fecal incontinence it's important to go see your vet. After a physical examination, they will do blood tests, urinalysis and fecal analysis to look for causes. Additional ultrasound or x-rays may be done to further investigate the exact cause and help establish treatment options. 

After a cause is established, owners will find coping with incontinence to be a new lifestyle adjustment just as much as their dog does. Here are some tips from a veterinarian on how to manage a dog’s fecal incontinence. 

Morning routine:

Take your dog out first thing in the morning. Soon after they empty urine from their bladder, typically a bowel movement comes out soon afterwards. Over a short period of time, and once this habit is started, your dog will get used to it and be part of their morning routine. 

If it seems to be taking a while, light massaging around the anal region can help stimulate the stool to come out. Using gloved hands, or a cotton tipped applicator, gently massaging this area should do the trick. 

Know your dog’s triggers:

Some dogs will defecate better after a meal or exercise. It will take time to find out the best trigger for your dog.

Nighttime and naptime diapers:

At night some incontinent dogs will poop in their bed. This will require diapers and even waterproof liners for the bedding. Also, be sure to find a bed that has a removable cover so it can be washed frequently. 

Alternatively, pee pads can be used over bedding if diapers are not liked by the dog. This way hopefully, a mess will stay on the pad and is an easy clean up in the morning or after a nap. 

Low residue, fresh cooked diet:

A low residue diet such as a hypoallergenic diet, or meals that are easy to digest such as fresh cooked meals from Kabo, help decrease the stool volume. Many owners have reported that fresh cooked human grade dog meals give their dogs smaller, tighter poops. 

These anecdotal findings have now been confirmed scientifically in a new study at University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Urbana, IL in 2021.1 These researchers found that dogs given meals of human grade fresh cooked pet foods, had significantly decreased fecal output compared to dogs fed processed kibble. This can make clean up easier and even decrease the frequency of pooping. Snacks and treats are not recommended, as they may have results that are not fun for the owner to clean up. 

Maintaining a good gut microbiome:

Interestingly, recent research is showing that changes in the gut microbiome (the population of bacteria in the intestinal tract) occur after spinal cord injury. Studies in both mice and humans have shown that the use of probiotics and even melatonin after spinal cord injuries can help restore the good bacteria, which can help with better fecal formation, and potentially decrease inflammation in the injured area. 2, 3

Causes of constipation in Dogs

There are many causes of constipation in dogs with the most common being ingestion of irritating or indigestible substances, lack of water and dehydration. Dogs with long hair or those that lick or groom themselves excessively are at slightly higher risk for becoming constipated. Also, more serious issues like swallowing a foreign body such as a toy, tumors in the digestive tract, hernias, and even neuromuscular diseases and hip, pelvis and back injuries and orthopedic degeneration are also causes of constipation. 

Constipated dogs will look like they need to go but cannot. They may strain, stay hunched, and may poop tiny, small, hard feces that are often very dark. Sometimes it may contain mucus or blood. 

Most cases of constipation are easy to treat and manage. Treatment rarely involves sedatives, anesthesia or surgery.. Here are some ways to manage constipation in dogs:

Manual removal

Manual expression of fecal matter can be done by your veterinarian. Some owners of disabled dogs are taught by their vet to do this at home. Using gloved hands, the anus is squeezed gently like picking up a penny, until the stool gets expressed.  (see:


Some veterinarians will prescribe enemas to help loosen the stool and for some uncooperative dogs sedation is needed. If given at home, be sure to have a calm quiet environment for your dog to relax and for ease of application of the enema. 

Laxatives (stool softeners)

Your veterinarian may prescribe a laxative. These are specific to the cause of the constipation. Do not give over the counter laxatives to your dog. In some cases, like intestinal obstruction due to foreign objects, they are contraindicated. 


Increasing your dog’s fluid intake, keeping water available, and ensuring that your dog drinks a lot is vital. This will help hydrate the built up stool and ease its passing. If your dog is only eating dry kibble, increase water intake. If your dog doesn't like to drink a lot, offer tasty water i.e. add a little bit of bone broth to the water in the bowl to increase its flavour. Also feeding fresh cooked food has more water in it and is another source of hydration.


Running and walking are great stimulants for the intestines and colon to get things moving. Some dogs need even just a short walk to help trigger fecal matter to move out. 

More fibre 

Dark leafy vegetables can be added to your dog’s food especially if they are a disabled dog and cannot increase exercise like running and walking. These can be spinach or kale. Other good sources of fibre are sweet potatoes and green beans. Often, higher quality dog foods, like Kabo, have the right amount of fibre in them as they are researched by animal and veterinary nutritionists and have nutritional values above the AAFCO recommendations

Overall, having a dog with fecal incontinence or constipation requires veterinary attention, lifestyle changes, increased activity and fibre intake. Fresh cooked, human grade foods help with both issues and maintain a healthy gut overall. Remember, your dog needed you as a puppy to help get training to do their business outside, now, in a different stage of life, they need your help again. 

View Sources

  1. Do S., Phungviwatnikul T., de Godoy M.R.C., Swanson K.S. Nutrient digestibility and fecal characteristics, microbiota, and metabolites in dogs fed human-grade foods. Journal of Animal Science, Volume 99, Issue 2, pp 1-13, February 2021.


  1. Nicolas Granger, Natasha J. Olby,, Yvette S. Nout-Lomas and the Canine Spinal Cord Injury Consortium (CANSORT-SCI). Bladder and Bowel Management in Dogs With Spinal Cord Injury. Front. Vet. Sci. (2020) 7:1-19

  1. Kigerl KA, Hall JCE, Wang L, Mo X, Yu Z, Popovich PG. Gut dysbiosis impairs recovery after spinal cord injury. J Exp Med. (2016) 213:2603–20. 

  1. Jing Y, Yang D, Bai F, Zhang C, Qin C, Li D, et al. Melatonin treatment alleviates spinal cord injury-induced gut dysbiosis in mice. J Neurotrauma. (2019) 36:2646–2664. 





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February 20, 2024
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