It’s hard not to feel a sense of dismay when you all of a sudden discover your dog’s been leaking urine in her sleep. If she’s a golden oldie, you’ll probably worry that she’s entering a new phase which you’ll either have to learn to live with, or face the unspeakable alternative.
If on the other hand, your dog’s still in her prime, you’ll probably wonder what on earth’s going on. All sorts can race through your mind, from illness to behavioural issues.
First things first - don’t panic! There’s lots of possible causes of bedtime urinary incontinence in dogs and even if your dog is entering old age, there’s usually plenty of options to help you deal with the issue.
Below, we’ll discuss possible causes, treatments and equipment to help you to stop this becoming a big issue for you and your dog.
Common causes of urinary incontinence in dogs
There’s several possible reasons a dog may start leaking urine all of a sudden when lying down. But first of all, it’s important to establish what it’s not caused by - behaviour.
Your dog doesn’t intentionally pee in her sleep. In fact, she probably doesn’t even know she’s doing it - so don’t punish her for it. When a dog pees in her sleep, the reason is highly likely to be a medical one. But before you begin to panic, know that it’s also highly likely to be manageable with medication. Yes, there is light at the end of the tunnel!
The number 1 cause of nocturnal incontinence in dogs
The most common cause of bedtime incontinence in dogs of all ages is a weak sphincter. “A what?” I hear you say. Let me explain.
The sphincter is a circular band of muscle that wraps around your dog's urethra (otherwise known as the tube they wee out of). You have one yourself, as do all other living mammals. In its usual state, it’s permanently contracted (tight). When you feel the urge to pee you allow the sphincter to relax, which allows urine to flow.
In a dog (or a human) with a weak sphincter, you can guess what happens. They struggle to control their bladder. Little leaks can begin to happen - and in the case of dogs this is usually much more apparent at night as they relax and drift off to sleep. They’re often completely unaware they’ve had a leak, so punishing them in the morning is totally confusing for them.
If you can’t relate to this, wait til you hit middle age - especially if you’re a mother. If you can handle a hard-hitting aerobics class without a single leak, you’re luckier than most in your position!
Most cases of a weak sphincter in dogs occurs in females, especially those who have been spayed. In fact, as many as 1 in 5 spayed dogs leak. The reason for this is simple. When a dog is spayed, her levels of the female hormone ‘estrogen’ take a hit. The problem is estrogen happens to be the single most important hormone when it comes to maintaining muscle tone in the sphincter.
At first the sphincter muscle remains relatively strong, but over time as the dog ages and with the constant reduction in estrogen levels it begins to weaken. One of the first signs this is becoming an issue is a small damp patch on her bedding, which can become bigger as time goes on until suddenly you’re presented with quite a puddle each morning.
Although it’s much less common, male dogs can also suffer from nocturnal bladder weakness. The cause is often the same, especially in neutered dogs.
In male dogs, the leakage may also continue after the dog has got out of his bed, due to the sphincter not tightening back up as quickly as it used to. Just as with females, this can worsen with age, but there’s still treatment options available.
Treatment for a weak sphincter in dogs
Your vet may call a weak sphincter something more technical such as primary sphincter mechanism incompetence (PSMI), urethral sphincter hypotonus, idiopathic incontinence, estrogen-responsive incontinence, hormone-responsive incontinence or spay incontinence. They all mean the same thing - your dog’s leaking and they can’t help it!
In humans, we like to tell people to do ‘pelvic floor exercises’ to resolve their problem. These exercises directly target the sphincter and bring it back into shape, but in dogs of course there’s no way of teaching them to do this. So we have to resort to medication.
There are a couple of different medications available to treat a weak sphincter in dogs:
This drug tends to be a vets first port of call when presented with a dog with nocturnal bladder issues. It actively increases urethral sphincter tone - which basically means it makes the muscle stronger. It alone can solve the majority of issues if a dog has just begun to struggle with a leaky bladder at night.
It’s not without its side effects, however. Reported issues include:
- Urine retention
Many pet parents recoil in horror on hearing of these side effects, but consider this before you dismiss the drug. If your dog becomes fully incontinent, what will your options be? For some owners, the only practical and humane answer becomes euthanasia. It may be easy to dismiss this right now if your dog’s only leaking slightly, but the condition will worsen over time without medication and as with most things prevention can be better than cure.
When Phenylpropanolamine fails, most vets will give Diethylstilbestrol a try. This drug is a type of estrogen which basically replaces the estrogen your dog is missing. In most cases, this allows the sphincter to build up muscle tone once more and restores balance in the dogs body.
Side effects aren't so common when treating female dogs with low estrogen levels. However, there are still some possible issues to look out for:
- Lack of appetite
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Increased thirst and urination
- Bone marrow suppression
Again, if ignoring the situation will eventually lead to the dog having to be euthanized, giving this drug a try can still be worth it. It’s unlikely your dog will experience these side effects if their estrogen levels were previously low, as all you’re aiming to do is simply restore the correct hormone balance.
Other possible causes of incontinence in dogs
There are a number of other possible causes of incontinence in dogs of all ages. These include:
- Bladder stones
- Urinary tract infections
- Spinal cord injury or disease
In any instance, a trip to the vet will be required to get a proper diagnosis and the correct medication to treat the problem.
The importance of cleaning well
Remember when you were puppy training your dog? You had to clean up any tiny accidents immediately and with great care. Failure to do so didn’t just lead to a stinky house - it showed your dog that peeing on the floor was perfectly acceptable and that the spot she chose last time was fair game for next time.
The same principle applies with a smelly bed. Not only will your dog stop sleeping in it, she may just start peeing in it instead. Then you have an even bigger problem on your hands!
Even if by some miracle, your dog has no sense of smell, do you really want her lying in stale pee? It won’t be long before she begins to smell of it herself.
For these reasons it’s imperative you keep on top of hygiene at all times. Luckily, there’s a number of things you can use to make that task a little easier.
Equipment to help deal with a leaky dog
Medication can be extremely effective but it’s rarely 100% foolproof, so it’s always better to prepare yourself for a slip-up before it happens. There’s a few pieces of equipment you can buy to help you to deal with any little leaks simply and effectively.
Yes, dog diapers are a real thing. As crazy as it sounds to make your dog use something which is the equivalent of a Tena lady, it can save you a lot of issues when you’re at home. Obviously, when you go for walkies you’ll want to take this off, not only to protect your dog’s pride but also to allow her to pee normally. Remember, she’s completely capable of going to the toilet normally, she’s just a bit prone to leaking in between!
Doggie diapers can be purchased from most good pet stores and if you’re worried about the environment, you can even buy reusable ones.
When it comes to cleaning up dog wee from hard surfaces, bleach won’t do the trick. Not only do the chemicals in bleach react with the ammonia in urine to form a toxic gas, you’ll also find the smell just doesn’t go away. For this, you’ll need a special disinfectant such as Zoflora. It’s chemical composition is completely different to that of bleach and it’s completely safe to use in pet areas, so long as you ensure it’s fully dry first.
Machine washable dog beds
This is one essential item you’ll struggle without. If her bed doesn’t stand up well against washing machine wear and tear, you can imagine how expensive it can become buying new beds every few weeks.
There’s no two ways about it. A non-waterproof wee-soaked bed HAS to be washed. Sponging just isn’t an option!
For a really thorough clean, you need to make sure you pick up a bed which has both removable covers and a washable filling.
The ultimate low-maintenance option
If you don’t want to wash your dog’s entire bed every time they have an accident, or if medication isn’t proving very effective for them and leaks are an inevitable part of every night, we have the perfect option for you.
Our heavy duty dog bed is extremely affordable and completely waterproof. The only part you’ll need to wash with this bed is the cover. It’s perfect if you have an aging dog with aching joints, as it’s actually an orthopaedic bed too.
Washing a bed once or twice a day can be time consuming, especially when the entire bed has to be dried inside and out. That’s why we’ve eliminated the need for you to wash the filling with this bed. Simply whip off the waterproof cover and quickly wash it. It’ll be dry in no time.
The waterproof nature of our heavy duty dog bed means if your dog’s wearing doggie diapers which catch most of the pee, you can even get away with a quick wipe-down in the majority of cases. It’s the ultimate combination for a stress-free life with a leaky dog!
Our heavy duty dog bed comes in 3 different sizes and even features a raised pillow area which dogs love to rest their heads on.
The cover is waterproof throughout - including the bottom. So no matter how big the puddle is, or how often they happen, you won’t need to replace this bed!
The best part about this bed? The price.
Not only will this bed not need replacing after several accidents, it won’t break the bank in the first place!
The luxury option
If your dog’s accidents aren’t too frequent and you want something a little more cosy for her, we have lots of options available.
We’re pleased to say that every dog bed on our site is 100% machine washable (including the filling), so you really are spoilt for choice.
We know that every dog is an individual, which is why we’ve made a wide range of beds in different shapes and sizes.
Take a look at our range of:
To view all of our available dog beds, try out our Dog Bed Selector Tool >
With prices starting from just $22.90, getting a practical bed for your leaky dog will be no issue at all!
Have you got a leaky dog? Did medication work for her? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below!