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canine health problems
Senior dog smiling

The essentials

  • Accidents are a common occurrence in senior dogs — As pups age,  it becomes harder for them to control their bodily functions.
  • You may not be able to prevent your senior dog’s accidents — But there are steps you can take to minimize the mess and provide damage control.
  • Some dogs respond better than others to accident-mitigation techniques — You may experience some trial and error as your pup gets used to any new products or training you decide to implement.

As a pet parent, the last thing you want to do is revisit the days of puppyhood, when cleaning up accidents was a many-times-a-day routine. But as dogs age and enter their senior years, it can be hard for them to keep it all in — often resulting in messes around the house. What’s worse, your older dog may experience shame or fear of disciplinary action. When this happens, they may resort to hiding, covering up accidents, or exacerbating a medical condition (or pain) by trying to hold it in.

👉 The American Kennel Club (AKC) defines senior dogs as being 7 years or older, or a little younger for larger breeds. But any dog experiencing chronic accidents — no matter their age — should be evaluated by a vet.

Before you apply methods to mitigate accidents, it’s important to recognize why your dog may be having accidents to begin with.

Reasons why your senior dog is having accidents

There are many reasons why your senior dog may be experiencing accidents in the house. Some of the most common reasons are below:

Age-related loss of muscle. Just like with people, dogs’ muscle tone, strength, and endurance diminish as they age. Over time, atrophy of their hind leg muscles can make getting outside a challenge. And even when they do, their weakened muscles may make balancing and defecating more difficult.

Arthritis. Dogs with arthritis can have a hard time getting up from a lying down position. They may also have difficulty making it outside, particularly if there are stairs or obstacles between them and their go-to potty area.

Canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD). CCD is one of the most common culprits for behavior problems and personality changes in older dogs, including the loss of once-learned house training skills. In fact, between 20 and 30% of dogs over the age of 7 start to show signs of CCD. That figure increases to 68% for dogs over the age of 14.

👉 Be on the lookout for other signs of CCD, which can include changes in your pup’s sleep schedule, social behavior, or movement.

A disease or condition. Cushing’s disease, which most commonly occurs in senior dogs, results in hormonal imbalances that can lead to frequent urination. Other common problems in senior dogs are kidney disease, diabetes, or urinary tract infections (UTIs) caused by bacteria. There could also be internal tumors pushing on their bladder, colon, or sphincter, resulting in incontinence or defecation. Have your vet do a thorough analysis to rule out potential diseases or conditions.

Stress and anxiety. Dogs don’t always respond well to change. If you’ve moved recently, had to modify your work schedule, or experienced a change in your family dynamic (such as the loss of another pet), your dog may experience stress or separation anxiety during the adjustment period. Any change to their environment can lead your pet to have accidents in your home.

Gastrointestinal (GI) issues. Many older dogs experience GI issues that contribute to their inability to expel waste, which can then get backed up and eventually cause them to have an accident. Alternatively, older dogs can also have overactive bladders or colons, leaving them little time to make it outside.

Teaching an old dog new tricks: accident prevention and management

Methods for prevention

Change up your pup’s routine — You may be used to taking your dog out a couple times a day. But senior dogs can’t hold it as long as they used to between potty breaks. So long as it isn’t painful to do so due to arthritis or other mobility issues, try taking your dog out more frequently. Between 4 and 6 times a day is a great goal to aim toward.

Maintain stellar nutrition — Nutrition is one of your best tools for preventing cognitive and physical decline in your pup. In fact, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) cites nutrition as one of the primary lifestyle factors to focus on as your dog enters their senior years.

Additional tips and tricks for nutrition in senior dogs

Consider the following nutrition-related tips when assessing your senior dog’s diet:

Feed your pup a healthy diet — Excessive weight gain can create or intensify medical conditions that lead to accidents. Prescription diets, like Purina’s NeuroCare Formula, contain arginine, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants to support brain health in aging pups. These nutrients may even be beneficial to dogs with CCD.

Add antioxidants to your dog’s daily diet — The AKC Canine Health Foundation recommends adding dietary or supplemental antioxidants, which are known to decrease the damaging effects of free radicals. Studies also show that antioxidant-rich diets are a valuable strategy to counteract aging-related cognitive decline in elderly dogs.

Try an omega-3 supplement — One supplement we love is Native Pet’s Omega Oil, which is packed with omega-3s and omega-6s from wild-caught fish and other natural ingredients. It’s good for your senior dog’s skin, coat, and brain!

Tips for indoor potty training

Sometimes medical conditions such as arthritis prevent dogs from making it outside to potty. But that doesn’t mean you have to forever resign yourself to cleaning up accidents inside. Many pet parents have found success with indoor potty training (no, not of the porcelain variety). Here are a few tips courtesy of AKC to get you started:

Try newspaper or potty pads — Dogs can be trained to have an indoor spot, so long as it’s a regular, designated area. If your pup is having accidents, they’ll be happy to know they have a safe space to go without being reprimanded. You might start with inexpensive newspaper or potty pads, but keep in mind that both require a bit more attention and cleanup than other options.

Opt for an indoor “doggie box” — These can be fashioned out of a large cat litter box, though there are also dog-specific versions on the market. The key is to keep it low to the ground to make it easy to access, particularly for senior dogs with a hard time getting around.

Bring the grass inside — If your pup isn’t quite grasping the concept, you might need to bring the outdoors to them. Use some lawn sod or artificial grass to replicate the experience they’re most familiar with outside. Don’t be afraid to use a paper towel with a light urine sample to lightly scent the area until they recognize it as their designated spot. Placing the sod in a kiddie pool can also help contain any mess.

Use a cue — Your dog probably got used to cue words that prompted them to run to the door in anticipation of a potty break. Do the same for inside, but replace “time to go outside” or “time for a walk” with “time to potty” or “go potty.” This will help encourage them to use the bathroom in their new spot.

Bring on the treats — Reward your dog with treats for their efforts. Moving the process inside is a big shift for them from their previous habit, so every good outcome should come with plenty of praise and reinforcement.

👉 Many dogs have it ingrained from early puppy training that they must go outside to potty. Reversing that training can be tough, but don’t give up! And remember: It’s a myth that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Patience and persistence are key.

Doggie diapers

If indoor training isn’t feasible or doesn’t seem to be working, consider doggie diapers. While some dogs don’t like feeling restricted, other dogs don’t mind the presence of a diaper at all. It’s worth trying out a pack to see if your dog will get used to them.

We recommend a couple of different options:

Stay calm and clean on

Remember that an accident is just that: an accident. Your dog didn’t do it on purpose and likely can’t help it. You may have to accept that regular cleaning is a new way of life.

But you don’t have to break the bank with cleaning supplies. Natural cleaners, such as vinegar solutions, do wonders. And for harder-to-lift stains, have a bottle of enzymatic cleaner at the ready. The AKC also has some great tips for getting rid of doggie urine stains and odor from a variety of floor types.

Knowing when it’s time

It’s a sensitive subject to broach, but it’s important to recognize that senior dogs experiencing accidents may be approaching the end of their life. You should always consider any pain they might be experiencing and their overall quality of life.

The Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center has a useful survey and guide to help you and your veterinarian determine the best course of action for your pet.

Frequently asked questions

Why has my older dog started peeing in the house?

Senior dogs might start peeing in the house if they’re experiencing medical conditions that are affecting them physically or mentally. Consult your vet to determine what the underlying cause might be.

How can you prevent a senior dog from peeing inside?

As dogs age, it becomes harder for them to hold their bladder. You can help prevent them from peeing inside by increasing the frequency of your pup’s pee breaks. (We suggest between 4 and 6 times a day.) If mobility is an issue, you may not be able to prevent them from peeing inside, but you can set up a designated spot or try doggie diapers.

What can I use as a deterrent to keep my dog from peeing inside?

If a senior dog has a medical condition, they likely won’t be able to stop from peeing inside — no matter what you try using as a deterrent. Instead of making it more difficult for your pooch, which can cause pain and discomfort, it’s best to accept the lifestyle change and take measures to mitigate smells and stains. Try using doggie diapers or equipping a designated spot in the house with potty pads or a box.

Does vinegar prevent a dog from peeing in the house?

Vinegar won’t stop a dog from going if they gotta go. Even if your dog doesn’t like the smell, they’ll likely just find another spot — and you don’t want to douse your whole house in vinegar. Stick with vinegar for cleaning up pee, but don’t try to use it as a deterrent.

What are signs that your older dog is dying?

Senior dogs display end-of-life symptoms in a variety of ways, including uncontrollable bowels, incontinence, drastic behavioral and personality changes, confusion, physical decline with limited movement, and extreme lethargy, to name a few. If you observe any of these symptoms, consult your veterinarian.

What causes a potty trained dog to regress?

Potty trained dogs may regress if they have a medical condition (such as a urinary infection) that makes it hard for them to hold it, age-related issues controlling their bladder or bowels, or because of behavioral problems such as marking. Consult your vet to determine if a medical issue is causing your pup to have accidents.