Staying with a dog who suddenly lacks bowel control
July 23, 2014 5:04 PM   Subscribe

While continuing a very lengthy house hunting process, we're staying with my parents and their 11 year old lab. The lab is a sweet dog, and I love her, but I'm having trouble dealing with her lack of bowel control, and us staying in the house seems to be making it worse. Has anyone dealt with this before?

Normally, when we are not staying here, the dog gets walked in the early morning and in the evening and late night by my parents, and they have a dog walker come by during the day to take her out once as well. So, usually a total of 4 short walks per day. About a year ago, my parents started having to keep her in the crate overnight, because otherwise she would leave surprises around the house during the nighttime hours. Since starting the crating overnight, she has generally been good with this arrangement except in unusual circumstances, like being left home alone for a long time.

Since we've moved in, she has pooped on the floor quite a few times. We're not really sure why. We've been living here for 3 weeks and the situation has not improved. It's in circumstances like two days ago, I came home and let her out for 2 minutes, but wasn't going to take her for a full walk for a half hour until my daughter came home because I knew she had been for a walk about 4-5 hours previously. She pooped on the floor in the interim. Today, I took her out for a substantial walk when I got home, and about a half hour later, while my daughter and I were playing together, I heard her whine. I thought it was because I had locked her out with the baby gate (she doesn't like being excluded), but she was still covered in mud from the walk. When I looked out, she had pooped on the front hall mat. This is becoming really frustrating having to clean up poop all the time. She definitely knows she shouldn't be doing this, after it happens she skulks around with her tail between her legs and gives me sad doggie eyes.

Other relevant info:
- She was just at the vet and had lab work done and the only thing noted was that she had lost too much weight (she is looking a little skin and bones lately). The amount of food was increased from a fraction of a bowl once daily to a full bowl daily about 2 weeks ago, she also regularly eats random food scraps that are leftovers, but that is nothing new. She has a stomach of steel and can ingest all sorts of inedible objects.
- She seems to have had an ongoing problem with poor pooping awareness, coinciding with the random pooping around the house at night thing. Like, she'll be running up the road and just go while she's running, and hardly stop. This has been the case for at least several years and we just often have to swat poop off the roadside into the woods.

Any ideas on how we can fix this? Different kind of food? Is there a way to improve pooping awareness? We could try taking her out a lot more frequently ( there is usually someone home) but that will be annoying with a 1 and a half year old who thinks she needs to hold the leash at all times. Did this happen to your dog and was there a specific reason for it? She's 11 years old but is otherwise a young 11 and has no other health problems other than arthritis, and she can still frolic and go for miles-long runs/bike rides like it's no thing.
posted by treehorn+bunny to Pets & Animals (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is this like, solid poops, or diarrhea?
posted by J. Wilson at 5:18 PM on July 23, 2014

Best answer: More food = more poop, so perhaps the kind of food should be changed - talk to the vet. Puppy food is higher calorie, for instance. Feeding the dog her usual small amount of food, but high calorie food, would help her re-gain the weight.
posted by lizbunny at 5:20 PM on July 23, 2014

I sort of doubt popping awareness is the problem, rather than something physical. She was whining because she needed to poop and wanted to go outside.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:33 PM on July 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

When the dog was at the vet, was the pooping problem explicitly mentioned? It could be a parasite, especially if the dog has access to the woods (and contaminated puddles therein). My parents' dog had giardia and the main symptom was that the dog was having sudden overwhelming urges to defecate, and was going in the house.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 5:34 PM on July 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

...the dog gets walked in the early morning and in the evening and late night by my parents, and they have a dog walker come by during the day to take her out once as well. So, usually a total of 4 short walks per day...We could try taking her out a lot more frequently ( there is usually someone home) but that will be annoying with a 1 and a half year old who thinks she needs to hold the leash at all times.

She sure isn't getting to go out very much. I would try more outside trips per day first - and stick with it for a couple of weeks to watch for signs of improvement. It may be annoying but it is a relatively easy solution.

And echoing J. Wilson, I'm not convinced "pooping awareness" is the issue. This really doesn't sound like a dog with poor pooping awareness to me:

When I looked out, she had pooped on the front hall mat. This is becoming really frustrating having to clean up poop all the time. She definitely knows she shouldn't be doing this, after it happens she skulks around with her tail between her legs and gives me sad doggie eyes.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 5:34 PM on July 23, 2014

The dog's advanced age, combined with its pooping history suggests there isn't much you can do to fix the problem. To mix metaphors, "you can't teach an old dog to shit in the woods."
posted by KokuRyu at 5:35 PM on July 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Our labrador (11-12, not sure on age, he's a rescue) has this too, and in my experience, it doesn't get better. In our dog's case it's probably something like a bulging disc, that is impinging on the nerve, so he can't really feel his back half. When he poops he literally doesn't know he's doing it. He can soooometimes feel when he has to go, he'll get up all of a sudden but it's always too late to do anything about it.

If we're industrious, we walk him in the evening until he poops. It's really the only way. Your dog isn't doing this because of a behavior problem (probably)

Our vet did suggest to moving to one feeding a day, to make the pooping time more predictable (to make it more likely he'd poop while on a walk)

He have hard surface floors everywhere so we are kind of just dealing with it as it happens, plastic bags and a little cleaner. You kind of get used to it.
posted by RustyBrooks at 5:35 PM on July 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'll also add that my friends with dogs usually try and take them on at least one walk per day that doesn't end until the dog has pooped. Timing is important here, so it may take some doing to figure out when she usually goes, but this could be another solution.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 5:35 PM on July 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Regarding the "poop awareness" comments above, it is definitely possible for a dog to poop without knowing it, but afterwards know they did it, and feel bad about it (or at least, display those signs). The display is kind of a learned thing anyway, they're reading your body language as much as anything.
posted by RustyBrooks at 5:37 PM on July 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

RustyBrooks, in my experience dogs usually poop on the doormat when they were trying to get out, couldn't, and had to poop as close to the outdoors as possible...
posted by schroedingersgirl at 5:38 PM on July 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

With our dog, he doesn't know he's about to poop until it starts happening. So he gets up and starts walking, and the poop tends to land wherever he was sitting. He might have been waiting by the door, I dunno.
posted by RustyBrooks at 5:43 PM on July 23, 2014

Response by poster: To answer the question, these are normal solid poops, so at least easy to clean up.

I think people are getting a little sidetracked by my inclusion of the episode today - in all the other cases, she has made no indication she wants to go out such as whining or standing by the door, or at least nothing we have been able to notice - the reason I mentioned it was that we had just been out within an hour of that time and she did go while we were out, so it's unusual that she was so desperate to go again so quickly. It's also not clear whether she actually was whining related to the pooping or if she really was just annoyed she couldn't come play with us. I didn't see her pooping, she doesn't usually whine to go out, and she definitely was trying to get into the living room. The front door mat is right next to the baby gate we were playing behind.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 5:45 PM on July 23, 2014

Response by poster: Also: she gets to go out at other times, those are just her 4 actual walks off the property where we go for more of a distance. Yes, the pooping problem has been mentioned to the vet, but since we have seen that it seems to have gotten worse we are going to make her another appointment as soon as we can. Was just looking for ideas to try in the meantime. Thank you for suggestions so far.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 5:48 PM on July 23, 2014

Best answer: Take this with a grain of salt, because I am not a vet and only have extremely limited experience with my own dogs, but I've had a couple of elderly dogs who developed degenerative myelopathy, which is a slow degeneration of the spine, and one of the symptoms is loss (slowing, anyway) of bowel and bladder control. I guess they can't feel when they need to pee and poop until it's imminent. I don't think you can really re-potty train if it's something physical, but you may be able to teach her to use training pads, which you can put around for her in case of emergencies.

Be warned if you look up the condition that it is not curable and the prognoses can sound pretty grim and scary, but I have had two dogs who had the condition who lived with it for years, neither completely lost use of their hind legs, and both died of unrelated conditions.
posted by ernielundquist at 5:58 PM on July 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I came here to say what ernielundquist said - we had a dog with degenerative myelopathy and she had a lot of accidents. Pooping as she walked down the sidewalk was an everyday occurrence. At first it did seem behavioral, because she knew she'd done something "bad," but it became clearer over time that she was just losing control. It was a really rapid decline at the end. Within 48 hours she had no bladder or bowel control whatsoever and couldn't walk or go down stairs.

There's a blood test for the genetic marker, so you can ask the vet about that.
posted by desjardins at 6:52 PM on July 23, 2014

Has she had any accidents in her crate?

Also, I am wondering if your living in the house has increased her stress. A change in routine can be stressful, and contribute to problems.
posted by annsunny at 7:25 PM on July 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: No accidents in the crate - only time that has ever happened was if she ate something that made her sick. Also I realized this might not be clear from my post: she always poops on walks with me too so this inappropriate pooping is in addition to that. The higher calorie food and the myelopathy things seems like great ideas to ask the vet about.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:12 PM on July 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm not your vet, so this isn't medical advice.

Sounds like you will want to talk to your vet about a neurological problem. What you are describing sounds like poor anal/rectal tone combined with some nerve damage, which combine to cause the dog to have feces essentially fall out without her knowledge. Some of this is mechanical, which will explain why it isn't happening when she is being still in her crate. Sometimes a high fiber food helps, it makes the stool less difficult to deal with, amplifies the gastrocolic reflex and may increase sensation depending on how far along the problem is.

Myopathy is going to present with a stilted gait and exercise induced weakness whereas peripheral neuropathy she will have a plantigrade stance and limited or total loss of sensation. Memail me if you want a quick run down of how to do a neuro exam on her.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 9:41 PM on July 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

+1 to a possible neurological issue. They can lose sense that they need to go - this can even be present for YEARS on a limited scale (i.e. while walking outside) and start to progress as the dog gets older (i.e. while inside, after a walk.)

What type of food is she eating? Specifically - which brand and category (i.e. adult, senior, etc.)? So much of the mainstream dog food is FILLED with complete and utter crap. It is filler and it makes more poop because it's not digested in the same way. Dogs on that type of food tend to have more bowel movements.

If she's on something from the grocery store or most pet stores, I'd probably try another food with less grain and better protein - something like Orijen 6 fish or Orijen Senior. Acana and Taste of the Wild can also be good options depending on the dietary needs.

If you post the type of food she's on, I can offer some other suggestions, but those are the first things I'd try.
posted by barnone at 9:31 AM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I strongly suspect she's just losing control with age. There might not be anything you can do if that's the case.

You have my sympathies, but it could be worse--my friend's dog had sudden diarrhea all over me one day in bed. I honestly don't think the dog had any warning of what was going to happen herself and clearly she felt bad about it. At least so far they're solid, right?
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:52 PM on July 24, 2014

Response by poster: Probably no one is watching this thread anymore, but she eats whatever type of food is on sale at the grocery store, so pretty much the stuff with all the filler crap in it (I think the most common one they use is Purina Dog Chow). I sent these suggestions on to my mom and she liked the idea of trying the puppy chow at smaller amounts, so that's what's happening this week, but I'm not sure how it's working because she's staying with my aunt while my parents are on vacation. If the puppy chow doesn't do the trick and it doesn't seem like a neuro thing, I will definitely encourage her to try a better food next.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:53 PM on July 28, 2014

There are really two different things going on.

1) Weight loss. Could be thyroid, could be many other things, could be they weren't feeding her enough. An 11lb lab shouldn't be eating a 'fraction of a bowl' in most cases, especially of crappy dog food which tends to have more filler and thus require more food for the calories. I'd honestly try a higher quality dog food for adult or senior dogs before moving onto a puppy food, as the fat can be too high for an aging dog. My first suggestion would be one of the Acana foods, maybe the Grasslands, Pacifica or Wild Prairie. Look at the recommended amounts and monitor her weight - sometimes they suggest too much food for the activity/size of dog.

2) Loss of bowel control. This seems much less likely to be from food specifics, though it's certainly true that better food will mean LESS POOP OVERALL. And I suppose it's possible that some filler or allergen in the crappy dog food is not sitting well, and needs to come out in a hurry. But I would wager there is something else going on -- neuro or other medical issue.

So the first thing I'd do would be to change to a higher quality food and see if that helps the first and possibly the second issue.
posted by barnone at 12:53 PM on July 29, 2014

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