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?
It’s Not Easy
When an old dog poops uncontrollably, it’s best to get a solid diagnosis from your pet’s veterinarian, which can be complicated. Then you have to learn how to live with the results.
Here are some questions your vet may have:
- Does the dog know what he’s doing, or is the poop just falling out of him? (Fecal incontinence.)
- Does the dog understand the difference between pooping inside and out but just “can’t hold it?” (Usually gastrointestinal or metabolic disease.)
- Is the dog physically healthy but just poops in the house because he has signs of canine cognitive disorder? (Doggy Alzheimer’s.)
Here are some signs your dog is ill:
- Weight loss
- Lack of appetite
- Diarrhea or abnormal stool
- Normal water intake or excessive thirst
- A normal or abnormal rectal exam
- Muscle wasting and/or neurologic impairment
- Mental state changes
Get to the Bottom Line
Based on the history and physical findings, now you must 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 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.
Living With Poop
Once you and your vet have made peace with how much modern medicine can help, can you live with the result?
- 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 him?
- Can you limit his 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 pup generally happy and feeling good despite his embarrassing problem?
Quality of Life
Quality of life is a 2-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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Make a Plan
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 the 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.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was last reviewed Sept. 16, 2015.