Dog in a Diaper
There are many joys to living with an old dog, but there are also certain potential difficulties. Some of those challenges include sharing your home with dogs who have difficulty urinating appropriately. That can include conditions like incontinence, which can actually make pets dribble urine while walking or sleeping, as well as conditions that cause more frequent urination, such as kidney disease or diabetes, or side effects from medications like diuretics, which cause dogs to urinate more frequently.

“Urinary incontinence is defined as the inability to hold urine in the bladder between normal urinations,” Dr. Michael S. Stone, an internal medicine specialist at Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University, says. He also says that this occurs most commonly in adult, spayed female dogs and is noticed when owners find small volumes of urine on the floor or in the bed after the dog wakes up.

Dr. Stone adds that urinary incontinence is not simply a dog having house-training accidents indoors. “Unawareness by the patient of leakage is key to diagnosing urinary incontinence."

Some dogs may not have true incontinence but may experience difficulty controlling where and how often they urinate. Disorders that cause excessive thirst — which causes your pet to drink more water — include diabetes and kidney disease. Pets with urinary tract infections or bladder stones tend to urinate more frequently than normal. In addition, medications that cause excessive thirst, such as diuretics used to treat heart disease, may also be at fault, Dr. Stone says.

If you notice your dog having accidents in the house, it’s important to take him to the veterinarian immediately to get an accurate diagnosis. Without that, manageable medical conditions may go undiscovered.

“Spayed female dogs are frequently affected by urinary incontinence, and the majority respond to oral medications,” Dr. Stone says. “Treatment of an underlying disorder, such as diabetes or urinary tract infection, is key to successful treatment." In some cases, Dr. Stone says, canines who do not respond to conventional treatments will require surgery, but he adds that "the vast majority of dogs will stop being incontinent with appropriate therapy.”

Whatever the cause of your dog’s inappropriate urination, the situation isn’t something your dog can help. He may even appear to feel mortified by his accidental loss of house-training. The good news is that you can take steps to manage it, so he will be more comfortable and your home will stay cleaner and odor free.

Environmental Solutions

If your dog tends to hang out in a specific area of your home, the easiest way to deal with inappropriate urination may be to put down puppy pee pads, washable throw rugs or towels. If you have a room with an easy-clean hardwood or tile floor, it may be a good idea to limit your dog to that area. Choose a spot where he doesn’t feel isolated from the rest of the family. (Keep in mind, though, that this approach will not work well for incontinent dogs, who tend to "go" wherever they are — so the dog probably won’t make it to the rug or pee pad in time to avoid a mishap.)

When my dogs started to urinate more frequently because of the diuretic they were taking for mitral valve disease (a type of heart disease), they made an effort to urinate in our entryway, presumably because it was as close to “outside” as they could get if we weren’t there to take them out. They didn’t like using pee pads, but we solved the problem by covering the pads with inexpensive washable throw rugs. The dogs would urinate on those, and the pee pad underneath would soak up the urine, protecting the stone floor. When we returned home, we would toss the rugs into the washing machine and the pee pads into the trash.

Some dogs with true incontinence leak urine while they’re asleep. Protect dog beds and furniture with crib mattress covers or washable incontinence pads like those used in hospitals and nursing homes. You can find them at drugstores, medical supply stores and online. Look for one with a nonslip bottom layer to help keep it in place.

For dogs who must urinate frequently because of medication, illness or excessive water intake, you may consider bringing the outdoors in with an artificial grass pet potty. Place it on a balcony or deck or in a bathroom or laundry room — anywhere that is easily accessible for your dog. These potties may be washable with soapy water or have features such as regular grass replacement or washable collection basins. You can purchase one from a number of brick-and-mortar or online outlets or make your own with a wood box and real or artificial turf.

If your small dog was litterbox trained as a pup, he might take to using one again if he develops urinary problems. A number of box and litter options are available at pet supply stores and online outlets.

Dogs who are incontinent because of a spinal injury may benefit from having their bladders expressed at home, a procedure your veterinarian can show you how to perform. Dr. Stone notes, however, that this is rarely necessary.

Doggy Diapers

A diaper can be an alternative or a supplement to indoor potty options. Diapers of all sizes are available for dogs, tail hole included, or you can make your own.

Diapers work best when your dog’s shape or size allows for a snug fit. You may need to try different styles or sizes until you find one that works best for your individual dog. Large dogs may need diapers or incontinence briefs made for adults. Line them with incontinence or sanitary pads to help absorb urine.

To make your own doggy diapers, try using boys’ underwear — when you turn them around backward, the fly hole offers a convenient spot for the tail. Women’s underwear works, too, with a hole cut out for the tail. The size depends on your dog, but Michigan dog trainer Kim Bell Toepfer’s Keeshonden wear size-5 high-cut bikinis. She says the panties are lightweight, inexpensive and easily washable. In both cases, line them with absorbent pads. Make several so you always have a pair available when others are in the wash.

Have a tail-free dog? Try using a onesie to keep the diaper in place. You can find some made specifically for pets here.

Whether you make your own doggy diapers or purchase them and make modifications, they can have one drawback: It can be difficult to keep them on your pet, especially if you have a larger dog. A calming wrap may offer a solution to this problem. The wrap, which is designed to help alleviate anxiety or stress, can be worn over the diaper and will help keep the diaper in place.

Putting diapers on a dog may seem like an assault on his dignity, but many dogs accept them well. The presence of a diaper can help to relieve some of the dog’s anxiety about inadvertently breaking house-training.

If your dog will wear a diaper, it can free you to leave home for more than a couple of hours at a time, knowing that you won’t return to a puddle of urine. On the other hand, some dogs don’t like them, and forcing them to wear a diaper can be stressful for all involved. If that’s the case with your dog, it’s important to find an option that works for you and your dog.

Cleanup Tips

Your best friends during this time of your dog’s life are a good washing machine and a supply of enzymatic cleaning solution. Enzymatic cleansers contain enzymes that break down organic waste and eliminate odors. You can use them on sofa covers and other fabric items before putting them in the wash, as well as directly on carpets and floors. Be sure to test an inconspicuous area of the carpet first to make sure it’s colorfast. Some common household products can also help to reduce or eliminate stains and odors.

It’s also important to make sure your dog stays clean and dry, so he doesn’t get painful diaper rash or urine burn. Bathe the urogenital area daily (baby wipes can be a good way to do this) and dry it thoroughly. Cornstarch or similar products can help to keep your dog dry between baths. Having a groomer give the dog a sanitary clip in the urogenital area can also help you keep the area clean and dry.

Finally, the simplest measure — if possible — is to take your dog out more often. With our old dog, Bella, we made a habit of taking her out anytime we noticed she was awake. Since she spent most of her time sleeping at my feet while I worked, any activity from her was a good excuse to take a break from writing and give her a chance to potty outdoors.

With commitment and care, you can still enjoy your dog’s company, keep him more comfortable and help keep your home looking and smelling nice.

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