Senior Dog Care: Managing Urinary Incontinence in Senior Dogs


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As your loyal Shih Tzu dog grows older, they experience a lot of changes. As they reach their senior years, one of these changes could be trouble with urinary incontinence. 

Senior Shih Tzu dog

When a senior dog struggles with incontinence, it simply means they have difficulty holding their bladder, which may result in more potty accidents in your home. Incontinence is a relatively common problem for older dogs, caused by various things like UTIs, changes in hormones, anxiety, or underlying issues.

While you might get frustrated when your usually house-trained pup suddenly starts having potty accidents in the house, they are not doing it on purpose.

Sometimes, just recognizing that they can’t help themselves might be enough to ease your frustration. Especially when you can put some practices into play to help manage the incontinence problem.

While incontinence may occur in senior dogs, age isn't the only reason your old dog may have trouble holding their urine.

Why Do Senior Dogs Have Issues with Incontinence?

Although any dog at any age can have incontinence problems, it is more common with older females.

However, no matter your pup’s gender, incontinence can be a pain in more ways than one. If you notice your Shih Tzu is having trouble holding her urine, the first step is visiting the vet.

While many common causes of incontinence are not dangerous, other more severe conditions can play a part.

For example, diabetes, certain cancers, kidney disease, liver disease, or bladder stones could be to blame.

It could also be that your dog’s muscles are declining in her old age.

No matter what the reason, seeing your vet is of the utmost importance. Depending on what’s causing your canine companion’s incontinence, the vet might be able to treat it.

At the very least, she can offer helpful tips on managing the condition if it’s permanent. 

Here are some of the most common reasons your Shih Tzu might be dealing with urinary incontinence:

  • Changes in Hormones

Very much like humans, as dog's age, they experience fluctuations in their hormone levels. If your senior pup can’t produce enough testosterone or estrogen, the result could be trouble controlling the bladder.

If this is the case with your furry friend, your vet might recommend hormone replacement therapy or medication to help.

  • Urinary Tract Infections

If your dog has a urinary tract infection (UTI), she’ll feel like she needs to go to the bathroom a lot. Often, she’ll experience trouble controlling her bladder, and she’ll likely dribble urine.

UTIs can often happen in older dogs, but luckily they are usually treatable with medication to eliminate the infection.

However, in some cases, the situation can be reversed, and incontinence can cause a UTI. In this case, the medicine won’t do much good since something else is causing the incontinence problem.

  • Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD)

As dogs get older, they can experience a decline in their mental function, resulting in behavior changes often referred to canine cognitive dysfunction.

It causes similar issues in canines as dementia does in humans. It can affect your pup’s ability to remember, and in some cases, she may not even realize she’s going to the bathroom.

  • Anxiety and Stress

Anxiety and stress is another issue that can either cause incontinence or be a result of incontinence. Therefore, it can be tricky to determine which came first (kind of like the age-old chicken-or-egg debate).

Talk with your vet to get to the root of the issue. If anxiety is to blame, your vet will help put a plan together to help you tackle the cause of your pup’s stress and anxiety.

Tips for Managing Senior Dog Incontinence

After meeting with the vet and figuring out the cause for your Shih Tzu's incontinence, you can develop a game plan for dealing with it.

You can knock out many reasons for incontinence with medication and treatment, but there are situations in which your dog’s incontinence will be a reality for her lifetime.

When this happens, the best thing you can do is make some changes to ensure your faithful friend is comfortable.

You can also make changes to ensure you don’t have to spend a good portion of your day cleaning up potty accidents.

If your Shih Tzu deals with untreatable incontinence, consider making the following changes to keep things cleaner, easier, and more comfortable:

Potty Pads

Place potty pads around her sleeping area and in her bed so if she has an accident, you can easily swap out the pads.

This makes clean-up easier on you, but also, your pooch doesn’t have to sleep in a wet bed.

You can also place some potty pads along the pathway to the door if your pup still knows to go outside to use the potty, but she just can’t make it there all of the time.

Of course, it’s understandable that you would prefer not to have potty pads all over your home. Instead, you can purchase a dog bed with a removable cover that is easy to wash.

You can also place a plastic protective cover over her bed, with a soft blanket on top. That way, if she does have an accident, all you need to do is wash the blanket.

You may still be able to find a special dog bed that could be ideal for some dogs with incontinence issues. 

These beds are typically raised off the floor and made of a mesh material.

You can place potty pads on the floor below the bed, and if your pup has an accident, the urine goes through the mesh onto the pad below. You would need to change the pad and just wipe down the mesh or give it a spritz with a water and vinegar solution to keep it clean.

Although incontinent dog beds are getting harder and harder to find these days, here's a mesh dog bed on Amazon that may fit the bill.

Install a doggy door

If your pup can still go outside to use the bathroom, but she just can’t hold it for long periods, you can install a doggy door. This way, your pup has 24/7 access to her bathroom. And if you work long hours, this could be an excellent solution for you.

However, it isn't advisable to leave your Shih Tzu outdoors without supervision, especially in extreme weather.

Move your dogs bed

Senior dogs don’t move around as fast as they used to and often spend a good portion of their day sleeping.

After being still for a long time, it can be tough to get moving, and if your pup has a long way to go to get outside, they might not make it in time to use the bathroom.

Reposition their bed or pillow as close to the door as you reasonably can. Just ensure you don’t place it somewhere that isolates your dog or is not a safe spot (such as near a heater or in an overly drafty area).

If you don’t have a doggy door, make sure to be attentive to signs that your pup needs to go to the potty.

Go for more walks during the day

If your dog is able, take her for more frequent, quick walks throughout the day. Not only will this provide her with some exercise, but it can also lessen the number of accidents she has indoors.

Dog diapers & belly bands

Perhaps one of the easiest ways to help a pup that can’t make it outdoors fast enough and urinates often is doggy diapers and belly bands (which you can easily get on Amazon typically at a better price than in dog specialty stores.)

There are specific styles for males and females, and they are made of absorbent materials to help contain accidents. These also come in disposable which is easier to clean up, or washable which in the long run will save you a lot of money.

Of course, the trade-off for no accidents in your home is that you have to remember to change your dog’s diaper often. Therefore, you might want to purchase several so your pooch can still wear one while you’re washing the other.

One option is to purchase regular sanitary pads (maxi pads) and place them inside the diaper. This can help catch more urine. Plus, you can just swap out the pad during the day and not have to worry about washing the diaper until overnight. 

Final thoughts

Part of enjoying the loving companionship of a devoted dog is to care for your pup as she gets older, providing her with the things she needs.

Remember, her incontinence isn’t anything she’s doing on purpose; it’s just a common part of senior-dog life.

No matter how you decide to approach your Shih Tzu’s incontinence, remember to do so with love and patience.

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Posted 2/12/2021