It was just over a year ago that Jet began experiencing fecal incontinence.
The first time it happened was when he had an intestinal bug.
At the time, we put his incontinence down to the bug and didn’t think much of it…until he recovered from the bug and it began happening with increased frequency.
Today, Jet is partially fecally incontinent and almost always goes to bed wearing a diaper. This is a result of muscle wasting in the hind end and is not uncommon in senior dogs, particularly larger breeds.
Is Fecal Incontinence a Reason for Euthanasia?
People sometimes ask if his incontinence is too much to bear, if he can be “truly happy” if he doesn’t always have the ability to function like a “normal dog” should. My answer to this question is two-pronged.
Firstly, there are PLENTY of differently abled dogs out there with fecal incontinence, this is no reason to put them to sleep when they are otherwise healthy and happy. I would like to think that my own family wouldn’t consider putting me to sleep in my senior years if I require diapering…
Secondly, after fifteen years taking care of my boy, I believe that I am quite a good judge of his quality of life. He still very much enjoys the things he has always enjoyed and while yes, there may be difficult days, those days are still outnumbered by the good days.
So no, changing a few diapers and cleaning up accidents once in a while is not “too much to bear.”
But, is canine fecal incontinence something that you can survive? With the right tools on board, definitely!
Supplies for Coping with Canine Fecal Incontinence
The starting point to tackling fecal incontinence with your dog is making sure that you have the right supplies on board.
- Diapers – Jet is a large breed dog, at his prime he was between 80 and 85lbs. In his older age, he averages 70lbs. We use diapers designed for special needs youths in size XS. These diapers are designed to handle fecal and urinary incontinence. We use the overnight variety to handle large accidents if necessary. We have tried both the pull-up elastic waist diapers and the tab diapers, but due to the canine anatomy, the pull-up diapers work best. We use Tranquility brand and have never veered away from them since they work so well for us.
We make these diapers work by turning the diaper so that the rear is facing upwards – the rear has a set of blue horizontal lines at the top of the waistband. Then we cut a straight line on the back of the diaper at about the same height as the bottom of the leg hole (see the image above with the black dotted line). Jet has a rather thick tail, so we have to cut a rather long line. Then we make two shallow cuts downward on either side of the straight cut to create a flap that will sit under his tail and make sure that his bottom is covered. He then wears the diaper like any human would, but he has a small flap that fits under his tail. Just be sure not to make the tail hole too large or you will get leakage.
- Optional Pull-ups – Goodnite pull-ups are an optional added layer of protection, we use them specifically for added protection around the legs to prevent “leg leaking”. We have tried various brands of pull-ups but the Goodnites brand are by far the most durable. We use XL size in the boy’s designs, but if the girls are on sale or clearance, we will use those too since no one but us sees them! We use pull-ups back to front since the boy pull-ups are designed for more absorbency at the front. We then cut another slit just like we do with the diapers so that they fit.
- Diaper Cover – We use the waterproof dog diaper cover pictured above, it has a cinch on the tail to size it to your dog’s needs and the sides fasten around your dog’s waist with velcro. We used various washable covers before, but the waterproof covers fair much better for fecal incontinence. We have a size XL in this cover, but it’s actually a little too large and we would be better off with a large instead. The purpose of this cover is to hold the diaper in place so when your pup scoots around at night, they don’t end up with their diaper around their knees. The one thing I dislike about this cover is that the velcro wears out after a while so the diaper cover falls off, but we have had ours for about a year now.
- Wipes – You can use any wipes you like, but you will want to buy in bulk. Things get messy sometimes. I use the cucumber green tea Huggies because I like the scent. We used to use cheaper wipes and scent-free wipes, but after a while, the cheaper scents began to remind us of dog poop. So far the cucumber and green tea wipes haven’t reminded us of poop, though! One thing I will say about these “One & Done” wipes, however, is that you won’t use just one, you’ll use quite a few actually, but they are worth it.
- Wipes Dispenser – A weighted wipes dispenser like this one from OXO is invaluable. When your dog has an accident or when you’re changing a diaper, you will likely have one free hand. Trying to tear off wipes from a flimsy container with one hand while trying to prevent an unpleasant situation from becoming even more unpleasant is HARD. Spend $20 for a weighted wipes dispenser and avoid a trail of wipes across the floor or flinging a roll of wipes around like a man-man.
- A PVC-free shower curtain liner – A PVC-free, anti-bacterial shower curtain liner will come in handy for covering your dog’s bed. Accidents and leaks will happen and when they do, you don’t want to have to wash your dog’s bed every time. Wrap the cushion of your dog’s bed in the shower curtain liner and then cover with their blankets and you will make their bed waterproof and leak-proof.
- Washable Blankets – We pick up our blankets from Walmart. This basic queen sized blanket is $8.88 and we simply cut it into four pieces yielding four blankets. Each of the four pieces covers his bed completely and washes well, but they are not so expensive that if Jet has an accident that can’t be cleaned up very easily, we can throw the blanket out without too much worry.
- Poop Bags – Something you will need as a dog owner anyway, we buy these dog poop bags because they are quite large and will fit a diaper. They also have handles so that they can be tied tightly.
- Diaper Pail- We have always used a diaper pail like the Munchkin from Arm and Hammer to contain our tied up used canine waste bags, they are ideal for containing waste outdoors without the awful smell that comes with using traditional trash cans. Now that Jet wears diapers, we also use our pail for his diapers.
- Surface Wipes – Accidents aren’t always going to happen in designated areas which is where surface wipes come in. They aren’t “green” and may be considered wasteful, but they make cleanup so much easier that I’m willing to give up the green factor. I know many of you prefer not to use chemicals, particularly ones like Clorox, but honestly, when it comes to dog poop, I want to eliminate every trace.
- A Carpet Cleaner – For a while, we used the handheld aerosol Woolite carpet foam to clean up any accidents that soiled the carpet. After a few months, however, that got to be expensive and so we invested in a carpet cleaner. We use the Bissell SpotClean Professional Portable Carpet Cleaner and highly recommend it.
- A Harness – We invested in our first Help Em Up harness in 2012 when Jet ruptured his CCL and underwent surgery. We have used the Help Em Up harness ever since and don’t hesitate to recommend it to EVERYONE we meet. The harness seems quite complicated, but it’s actually rather easy to use once fitted and clips in place with four clips. It features a sturdy handle on the back and over the hips which means that you can lift your dog without straining their belly like a sling would do and without them falling face first like they do with the single strap harnesses (those that look like you are carrying your dog like a purse!) The Help Em Up is durable (trust us, we’ve used them for going on five years) and even has a special fitting for male dogs so that they can urinate without the harness getting in the way. So, why does this pertain to fecal incontinence? One of the reasons why larger, older dogs experience fecal incontinence is due to weakening in the hind end. This weakening also makes it hard for your dog to climb stairs and sometimes just do their business outside. The handles on this harness allow you to support your dog in these activities without placing added strain on any part of their anatomy.
- An Extra-Long Bathtub Mat – Not all accidents are going to be cleanable with wipes. Sometimes it’s going to be easier to put your pup in the tub. When you have to do this, keep in mind that it is extremely difficult for them to stand up in a slippery tub. We use this anti-bacterial, extra long bath tub mat to prevent Jet from slipping. Just always make sure that you pull up the mat and rinse it thoroughly after scrubbing your pup clean!
- Gentle Natural Shampoo – You really don’t need to shampoo your pup everytime you give them a bath, but sometimes it’s going to be necessary. When you have an incontinent dog, these necessary shampoo baths are going to be a little more frequent than they once were so you really have to invest in a gentle, natural shampoo. This will help to prevent overdrying of skin. We use Aroma Paws all natural Mandarin Green Tea all in one shampoo. It has a light smell that isn’t overpowering and it’s an all in one which means Jet’s coat gets conditioned without him having to stand any longer than necessary. The one thing I don’t care for too much with this shampoo is that you do need quite a bit of it, one bottle lasts us around 5 baths.
- A Handheld Showerhead – You can try to wash your pup in the tub without a handheld showerhead, I did it for a while, but ultimately, it’s just a pain for you and your dog. Washing suds out is time-consuming and your pup’s weaker hind end will be tired, grab a good quality handheld shower head and use the more powerful (but still gentle) settings to get rid of suds. Also, the stronger settings are helpful for accidents that happen overnight and dry in your dog’s fur. We use the ShowerMaxx showerhead with 6 settings it works well and it was affordable.
- A Faucet Cover – It may seem ridiculous, but a faucet cover comes in handy to have the hard metal of the bathtub faucet covered to protect your pup from hurting themselves. Unsteady seniors frequently fall, especially in the slippery tub and the last thing you want is a laceration from the faucet while cleaning poop off your pup.
What Else Do You Need to Know to be Prepared For Canine Fecal Incontinence?
Today we covered the physical things that will help you to survive canine fecal incontinence, but that’s not all you need to know. Tomorrow, we will take a look at some tips that will help you to know what to expect from life with a fecally incontinent dog.