Here is a question I recently answered regarding dog bladder control problems. Please note that I am not a vet, and the most important note below is the first one: please make sure you rule out any potential health issues with your veterinarian. A vet will also have advice to provide if the root of the problem is not related to health.

The question

Our dog is 11 years old and we’re noticing some dog bladder control problems (e.g., even though we walked her at 10PM, she had an accident this morning before we could walk her at 7AM).

Have you experienced this with your dogs? Part of us is thinking of reducing access to water after we give her her evening walk and then restore access at breakfast but that seems cruel. Any tips or tricks?

My advice

The first thing, which you very well may have already done, is to rule out any potential health conditions causing the problem, such as obesity, mass, or inflammation. Certain drugs that your dog might be taking can cause incontinence. There might be a way to reduce or eliminate the problem by sorting out a root cause. There are quite a few natural options too, so you may want to consult with a holistic vet. For example, there are even some herbs that can help senile pets with incontinence.

But if a root cause is not determined for the bladder control problem, treatment doesn’t work, or as is often the case – old age – then you must manage the problem as you mention here. Sometimes adjusting diet could help, such as a switch to grain-free or raw food. Switching diet, particularly from a kibble to a moist or raw food, can change the amount of water intake and might help get her through the night.

A healthy dog can technically go overnight without water. Some dogs simply love drinking water, sometimes even drink more than they need (I had one like this! But my current dogs only drink water maybe twice during the day.) A dog like this might not want to go overnight without water. You could try removing water overnight and see if she seems stressed or anxious to get at the water during the night, or first thing in the AM. If so, then you’ll need to sort out if that’s behavioral (a change of routine, an obsession with water), or a health issue.

If you do need to go the management route, as many do, there are a lot of tools available to help. There are potty pads that you can get in bulk (pretty cheap at Costco). You can line the inside of dog beds or couches with these to help with dribbles. You can train your dog to go to a spot in the house with these pads in abundance in a certain location (inside the bottom half of a large crate, say) if he can’t make it through the night. Or perhaps install a dog door if this is available to you. There are also dog diapers (can find these custom and not… diaper-y) or belly bands that work for this too – they are a lifesaver to dogs on meds like prednisone that cause constant dribbling.

Just a disclaimer – I’m not a vet. So if you do adjust diet and/or notice your dog seems stressed about not having water around, it’s something you should consult with an expert first. Good luck!

This question and answer originally appeared in a Yabbly AMA that I hosted.

About Author

Jen deHaan is graphic designer, small business owner, and dog person living in Bay Area, California. Jen enjoys learning about dog training and behavior, and has taken several courses and seminars since 2010. She also contributes articles to leading websites, such as Victoria Stilwell's Positively . It all started with a great dog called Mikey (aka "dude"), loved and lost but remembered forever. Jen also runs a freelance business focusing on graphic, web, and UI design at FoundPixel, and a small business creating hand crafted dog products at Stylish Canine.

  • I dealt with some bladder issues in my young dog last summer. I love that you recommend raw/grain free/canned food. Carbs promote alkaline urine, which promotes bacterial growth and UTI’s whereas raw/grain free promote acidic urine. Fortunately, we made it through our rough patch, but it wasn’t fun while it lasted.

  • Chester is 11 and pees in his crate a lot now when we leave him over 4 hours. When we are home, and he is out, we put him out every 3 hours or so to potty and never have any accidents in the house. I am not sure if it is true “incontinence” or just that he relieves himself every 4 hours, inside or not.

    Someone recently told me that they use human incontinence pads. They said they are cheaper and more absorbent. haven’t tried it myself though.