How to Care for an Incontinent Dog

By Mia Carter

Canine incontinence can be associated with conditions such as spinal cord injury or old age. Caring for an incontinent dog can be difficult, but the key is to develop a strict feeding and bathroom schedule. Such a schedule, combined with regular diaper changes or manual bladder expression (depending on the dog's precise needs), will help to prevent infection, discomfort and illness.

Visit your veterinarian. The cause of the incontinence must be diagnosed. Some reasons for a dog's uncontrolled bathroom activities, like a bladder infection, can be completely cured with antibiotics. Spinal-cord injuries, on the other hand, are associated with chronic incontinence; the same can be said for incontinence that's most often seen in elderly dogs.

Ask the veterinarian about your dog's specific needs and bathroom abilities. Depending on the cause of the incontinence, the dog may have no control over urination or other functions. These dogs will urinate and defecate involuntarily, and therefore will require diapering. Other dogs--such as a dog who has suffered a spinal cord injury--will be unable to initiate bathroom activities. Therefore, manual bladder or bowel expression will be required.

Know that, if manual expression is required for an incontinent dog, your veterinarian will provide you with lessons and detailed instructions on how to perform this procedure.

Once you get him home, be prepared to assist an incontinent dog every 4 to 6 hours. Depending on his needs, you will need to schedule diaper changes or manual bladder/bowel expressions. In the beginning, setting an egg timer can be a good way to stay on schedule. Leaving a dog with a soiled diaper or a full bladder will result in infections, which can be difficult to heal and very painful.

Make alternate arrangements if you cannot be present to assist your dog with her bathroom activities. For just a few dollars a day, a dog walker can be hired and trained to assist an incontinent dog while you're at work.

Implement a regular feeding schedule. A dog who eats at the same times every day will typically need to go to the bathroom at the same times every day. This makes it much easier to anticipate the dog's needs, resulting in less time for the animal to suffer through a dirty diaper or a full bladder that's in need of expression.

For a dog who requires diapering, trim or shave the fur around the genitals, on the inside of the rear legs, and on the rear portion of the underbelly. This will prevent the urine from soaking into the fur, resulting in prolonged contact with the skin--a common cause of infection and skin rashes.

During a dog's diaper changes, use a baby wipe to clean the genitals, underbelly and any other regions that have come in contact with urine or feces. Once cleaned, apply a dusting of baby powder to the dog's belly and genital area. If redness, irritation or a skin rash occurs, skip the baby powder and apply a diaper rash-ointment and wash the area twice daily until healed. For difficult-to-heal skin rashes or sores, apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment to the area before applying the diaper-rash ointment.

At least once a day (and as needed, depending on the degree of the mess), wash the genital region using an anti-bacterial soap. Use a clean towel to pat the skin dry. Then apply a dusting of baby powder to the region. Twice-daily washings will be required if the dog develops a skin rash or redness. And washings should also be performed if urine or feces come in contact with unshaven fur, in order to avoid irritation and infection.