Lack of bowel control in dogs can be a distressing issue for both the pet and you. The dog may not be purposely pooping in its bed. Instead, there could be several reasons it ends up having an accident inside the house.
If the dog poops in sleep, it will wake up confused, wondering how it happened. And you are tasked with bathing the pet and cleaning its beddings.
If the issue happens occasionally, you can attribute it to an incorrect diet, a recent injury, or an infection.
If the dog starts to frequently poop while asleep, it could indicate a health condition that may need a vet’s attention. For example, there could be an issue with the dog’s spine, or it could have bowel incontinence.
In this article, we will look at the reasons why your dog could be pooping at night and how you can best help the pet.
- What is a Dog’s Normal Poop Cycle?
- Dog Poops in Sleep – Reasons and Remedies
- When Should the Dog be Taken to the Vet?
What is a Dog’s Normal Poop Cycle?
No rule fits all when it comes to the pooping cycle of dogs. For example, some dogs may poop twice or thrice a day, while young puppies may go up to five times a day.
Senior dogs may go less often, pooping once a day or two. On average, adult dogs pooping once a day is considered normal.
A dog takes anywhere from around 8 to 12 hours to digest its meals. For puppies, this time will be reduced to 4 to 6 hours.
A healthy dog may poop around 30 to 60 minutes after eating. Do not get confused between the pooping and digesting time. The dog is not eliminating the food it just ate; it is the food it ate 8 to 12 hours back.
If your dog poops more than it usually does on a given day or does not poop for two days when you are out traveling, these scenarios are standard. But if it starts pooping inside the house, in its sleep, you need to find its cause.
Dog Poops in Sleep – Reasons and Remedies
Let us look at possible reasons for the dog pooping at night and the treatment and care plan available for the same.
Dogs can hold their poop in with the help of their anal sphincter muscles. This is the muscle that ensures the anal opening is closed at all times other than pooping.
As the dog grows old, the muscles that are supposed to hold the poop in can lose tone and start to weaken. So poop can seep out without the dog realizing. Or even if the dog realizes there is not much it can do to hold the poop.
Aging dogs can also develop neurological issues which can disrupt their pooping pattern. For example, once the dog’s colon is full, the brain gets notified through the network of nerves, and the dog will feel pressure and know it is time to go.
But with age, a dog’s nerves may not function as well as before. And the dog may poop before even knowing it has to poop.
So due to reasons like weakening muscles and nerves or neurological issues, a senior dog may poop while sleeping.
You cannot do much if the dog loses bowel control due to aging-related issues. The treatment may involve adjusting your dog’s lifestyle.
For example, you will have to stick to a strict feeding schedule. Walking the dog and letting it poop frequently can help control surprise poops at night. You can feed it a low-fiber diet to reduce the amount of poop that is being produced.
If the dog has gotten to a stage where it continues to have pooping accidents, you can move it to an outside area or assign a corner inside the house where it can poop. This way, it can go on its own rather than waiting for you in an emergency.
You can also use bed covers or doggy diapers if pooping in sleep has become a usual activity for your dog.
2. Bowel Incontinence
The condition simply means the dog is unable to control its poop movements. Two scenarios can happen with bowel incontinence. One, the dog could pass poop without any awareness. Second, the dog is aware it has to poop but cannot control the movement.
This condition is further divided into two types depending on the cause. They are as mentioned below.
Type 1:- Reservoir Incontinence
A dog can generally hold its poop until it is let out to take care of its business. But in case of reservoir incontinence, the dog may not be able to do so.
The rectum is the final part of the large intestine that ends at the anus. With this condition, the dog’s rectum is unable to store or hold the poop as it would normally. So, the dog will feel the pressure to poop frequently. But it may poop before it even gets a chance to let you know.
The cause of reservoir incontinence can be any disease that affects the intestines, like inflammatory bowel disease or diarrhea. The poop can be soft and may also contain blood or mucus.
When it comes to bowel incontinence, there is no one specific treatment that is available. It is the underlying cause that has to be treated. So, if the vet thinks it is an issue with the dog’s intestines, then its poop will be tested. A complete blood work, abdominal ultrasound, and radiographs will be done to diagnose the cause.
If the dog has frequent diarrhea, the vet may give it anti-diarrheal medication, and diet changes may be suggested. Similarly, for inflammatory bowel disease, antibiotics and steroids could be prescribed.
Once the underlying cause is treated, symptoms like pooping in sleep should ease up.
Type 2:- Sphincter Incontinence
In this condition, the anal sphincter muscle does not close as it is supposed to. So, when the dog’s rectum is filled with poop, the slight opening of the anal muscles can cause poop to pass out. This can happen without the dog’s knowledge, so you may notice the dog pooping while sleeping.
You may also notice the dog leaving poop balls around the house. It may unknowingly poop when it is too excited or barking happily. The dog’s anus can become red and inflamed. The dog may excessively lick at the anal area.
The cause of sphincter incontinence can be abnormal growth around the anus or a wound. In addition, nerve damage from the spinal cord to the sphincter muscle can cause the dog to lose its ability to control the muscle.
The vet will perform a thorough physical exam to see the condition of the anus. A test will be done to find the presence of any masses or rectal lesions. Neurological exams will be conducted to see how the nerves function. Finally, the vet will do radiographs and advanced imaging in case of any suspected issues.
If the cause is a mass around the anus, it could be surgically removed. In case of a wound, the dog should feel better after it heals.
If the cause is neurological, then surgical and medication treatment plans may be available. But most often, it is lifestyle changes that can help provide relief to your dog and also you.
3. Issues with Spinal Cord
If the dog develops an issue with the spinal cord, it will interfere with its ability to poop correctly. For example, degenerative myelopathy is a progressive spinal cord condition. The hind legs also get affected, resulting in weakness and paralysis.
Lack of bowel movements is one of the many symptoms that this spinal cord condition presents. Other symptoms include difficulty walking, standing, and getting up from a lying position.
As the dog ages, its spine can start narrowing, which can affect the nerve functionality around the anal area. Similarly, disc ruptures could strain the spinal cord and make it difficult for the dog to walk and poop. A spinal tumor is another condition that can present similar symptoms.
As these spinal cord issues progress, the dog can be in pain, may have difficulty, or poop unaware.
Depending on the cause, the treatment options available are medication, surgery, or lifestyle changes.
For example, in degenerative myelopathy, there is no specific treatment offered. Instead, the aim is to keep the dog on its feet for as long as possible and manage any clinical signs. So treatment involves diet changes, physical therapy, exercise, and supplements.
Disc rupture can be treated with non-surgical and surgical means. Non-surgical means involve strict confinement to a cage or a room and medication for a minimum of one month. Surgery typically involves removing the disc material.
In cases where the condition has already advanced or surgery is risky, symptom management and lifestyle changes are the only way to make the pet comfortable.
4. Bone and Joint Conditions
Issues like hip dysplasia or arthritis can be hard on the dog’s body. Acts like walking, getting up from a sitting position, and pooping can be painful. You will often see the dog straining or getting into an abnormal position while doing these activities.
As pooping becomes difficult, the pet will try holding the poop as long as possible. At night, when it has gotten itself in a comfortable position, it may no longer be able to control the poop and end up having an accident.
Any dogs can develop these conditions, but they are often found in large breed dogs. So, if you notice any symptoms like sudden limping, awkward gait, or straining to poop, please get in touch with the vet.
These bone and joint conditions tend to require lifetime management. With hip dysplasia, NSAIDs are prescribed to manage pain. Supplements like glucosamine and omega-3 fatty acid are added to the pet’s diet. Exercise and physical therapy is recommended to keep the dog mobile as long as possible.
Surgery is also an option, but it depends on the dog’s condition, age, and lifestyle. Additionally, the cost can be a factor as the surgery can range anywhere from $1500 to $7000.
Arthritis is a progressive condition with no specific cure. You will have to control your dog’s weight, give it supplements and manage its diet. The vet will prescribe drugs to reduce pain and inflammation if the condition is painful.
5. Infection and Viruses
Infections and viruses are pretty common in the canine world. For example, dogs can develop anal sac abscesses due to the bacteria present in poop. The infected anal sac can swell, making it difficult for the dog to pass poop. There is the risk of the abscess bursting and the infection spreading to the anus and rectum.
Viruses such as parvovirus, canine distemper, coronavirus, or rotavirus can cause uncontrollable diarrhea in dogs. So unless the condition is treated, you may find poop in the dog’s bed and places inside the house it wanders around.
Anal sac disease requires the sac to be emptied. As this process can be painful, it is usually performed under a sedative or anesthetic. In addition, the vet may prescribe antibiotics and pain medications to treat the infection and control the pain.
When it comes to viruses, there is no specific treatment administered. Instead, the symptoms are treated to help the dog’s immune system fight off the virus.
For example, in the case of parvovirus, the vet will medicate the dog for vomiting, and intravenous fluids will be given to manage electrolyte imbalance. Antibiotic therapy is administered for advanced stages of infections.
6. Injury or Trauma
Has your dog been in an accident recently? For example, did the dog fight with another animal at the park? Did it slip and fall inside the house? If yes, you need to examine it physically to see if it has been injured.
An injury around the anal area can be painful for the dog. As a result, it may avoid pooping for the same purpose. At night, when its muscles are relaxed, the dog may poop in sleep unknowingly.
The signs of injury should be more visible than the health conditions mentioned above. For example, the dog’s anus could be swollen, red, or inflamed. There could also be bleeding or pus-like discharge. In addition, the dog could squirm when you touch the anal area. It is best to contact the vet when the dog shows such symptoms.
If the wound is large or deep, it may require sutures. The vet will prescribe medications to help with the pain. Topicals may be given to help with the healing process. In case of any internal injuries, the dog may require surgery.
Treating any wound around the anal area should be a priority. Without treatment, the injury can fester and lead to infection. In addition, if the dog starts holding its poop, it can get reabsorbed by the body, causing abdominal issues.
7. Other Stomach Issues
Have you recently changed your dog’s diet? Or does your dog have the habit of going garbage hunting? If yes, then whatever the dog has eaten does not agree with its stomach.
It becomes difficult for the dog to adjust if you change its diet overnight. Any new food should be slowly introduced and replace the old diet over 10 to 14 days. The dog could be allergic to the new food leading to little poop balls in its bed while sleeping.
If your dog dumpster dives, then it is bound to develop stomach issues. It may have eaten something rotten or something that is not fit for canine consumption.
Diarrhea and vomiting are the early signs you will notice. However, if the dog’s condition does not improve in a day or two or the symptoms worsen, please contact the vet.
If the dog is vomiting or has diarrhea, withhold food for a few hours. This will help the body relax and focus on healing. When you do feed, give it an easy-to-digest meal like plain cooked chicken and rice.
Ensure the dog has enough water around as diarrhea can lead to dehydration. If food is the cause, these symptoms should subside in 24 to 48 hours. If not, please consult the vet for further treatment.
When Should the Dog be Taken to the Vet?
If the dog poops in sleep once in a blue moon, it is not a cause for panic. It could be something it may have eaten or a change in environment.
If the pooping persists and you notice other symptoms, a vet visit may be required. For example, if it is an infection, virus, or stomach issue, you may see the pet vomit or involuntarily pass poop during the day.
If the dog has a spinal cord, bone, and joint issues, then you see signs like:
- Awkward gait
- Limping or dragging
- Difficulty standing up
- Reluctance to move, climb stairs or play
If you notice these initial signs, then the vet can suggest changes early on that can help the pet maintain a decent lifestyle in the long term.
For aging dogs, regular medical checkups are essential. You may not see signs or attribute them to old age. But with diet changes, exercise, medication, and therapies, the dog can live a happier life right to the end.
Does your dog poop in sleep? If yes, there are several reasons behind this abnormal behavior.
Some straightforward reasons are a change in diet or the dog eating something it should not have. Aging is another factor that can lead to bowel incontinence in dogs. In addition, infection, viruses, inflammatory bowel disease, and other stomach issues can cause the dog to poop at night.
Then there are health conditions like spinal cord issues, hip dysplasia, and arthritis which may require medication and surgery.
Discuss the symptoms with the vet if the pooping becomes frequent and you notice changes in your dog’s gait or behavior.
Heather Abraham is an owner of two dogs, one cat, a leopard gecko, and a parrot (who her dad still cannot teach bad words to), and an avid blogger. From the time she was a young girl, she always felt a connection with pets. She brings her love of every type of pet to you, with information on animal nutrition, medication, toys, beds, and everything else in between. Along with newly-on-board veterinarian DVM editor Elena, she puts pups first while offering other various fun tidbits along the way.