Dealing With a Senior Dog Who Poops in the House

Don’t despair. Take my advice to help maintain a good quality of life for both you and your aging pet.

senior dog poops in house
When older dogs like my Wally defecate in the house, they may not even be aware they’re doing it. Photo: Debora Lichtenberg/Petful

Remember that tongue twister, “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck…?”

This week, my husband made up his own little twister: “How much poop can an old pup poop when the old pup puts out poop?”

My old dog, dear Wally, is pooping in the house — and this might not stop, despite the best medicine and treatment. So how can we deal?

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When Your Senior Dog Poops in the House Regularly

When an old dog poops uncontrollably, it’s best to get a solid diagnosis from your veterinarian, which can be complicated. Then you have to learn how to live with the results.

Here are some questions your vet may have:

  1. Does the dog know what they’re doing, or is the poop just falling out of them? (Fecal incontinence.)
  2. Does the dog understand the difference between pooping inside and out but just “can’t hold it”? (Usually gastrointestinal or metabolic disease.)
  3. Is the dog physically healthy but just poops in the house because they have signs of canine cognitive disorder? (It’s like Alzheimer’s.)

Here are some signs your dog is ill:

My Old Dog Keeps Pooping in the House
Rolling up your rugs can ease your burden if your senior dog poops in the house uncontrollably. Photo: alexkehr

Diagnosis

Based on the history and physical findings, now you need to decide how far you want to go with the diagnostics — including blood work, fecal exams, radiographs, an abdominal ultrasound, further GI testing and surgical biopsies, if indicated.

Without some or all of these tests, you may not be able to get a true “diagnosis.”

In my case, Wally is doing well, but he is ill. He has protein-losing enteropathy (PLE) and needs to be on several drugs, including chemotherapy and a special diet.

Despite excellent treatment, he is still having accidents. This is something we have to live with.

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Living With a Dog Who Keeps Having “Accidents” in the House

Once you and your vet have made peace with how much modern medicine can help, can you live with the result?

Ask yourself:

  • Has the diarrhea, fecal incontinence or inappropriate defecation improved to a livable level?
  • If there are still “accidents” in the house, is your entire family on board with the program?
  • If necessary, are you willing to get up once or twice in the middle of the night?
  • Do you want to crate your old pup again and understand you may be cleaning up poop in the crate or on them?
  • Can you limit their access to a smaller area in the house, if that works?
  • If necessary, are you willing to pick up all rugs in the house?
  • Finally, is your old dog generally happy and feeling good despite their embarrassing problem?

Consider Quality of Life

Quality of life is a two-way street. Both you and your dog must be happy if the dog’s house-training is never going to be perfect again.

Here are some ways to judge quality of life:

  1. Some dogs with lack of bowel control may be in pain and not have a good quality of life. Discuss pain and prognosis with your vet.
  2. Many dogs are upset when they have an “accident” or wake up covered in what should have been deposited in the backyard. This takes away from their quality of life.
  3. If a family member is screaming at the dog or at someone else every time there is poop in the house, this adds to everyone’s stress and is not a good quality of life for anybody.

For more on determining your older dog’s quality of life, see our related article, “Is It Time to Euthanize Your Pet?

Senior Dog Poops in the House
Create a doggy bathroom schedule in the house that the entire household can help maintain. Photo: belsim

Make a Plan When You Have an Older Dog Who Keeps Pooping in the House

I see families in turmoil when they’re faced with serious geriatric issues in a pet.

One thing I hate hearing is, “My husband will kill me if this keeps happening.”

What century is this? Partners need to face this situation together if there is to be harmony living with an aging pet.

Concerning the Wally problem, my husband and I are both on board:

  • We take turns if we hear him get up in the middle of the night, sort of like when we were raising our twins.
  • Living without rugs is no hardship either. My ancient house may get a bit drafty this winter, but that’s OK. Stepping over the rolled-up carpets is a pain, but we’re just too lazy to move them into the barn right now.

If everyone can look on the brighter side, Wally deserves some more time to enjoy his golden pooping years. I hope you, too, can make peace with your dogs and their senior moments.

vet-cross60pThis pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. This article was originally published in 2015 and is regularly updated. It was reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS, and was last updated Aug. 29, 2019.

If you have questions or concerns, call your vet, who is best equipped to ensure the health and well-being of your pet. This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. See additional information.

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