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Written by Megan McCorkle, LVT

If you have a four-legged family member, then you have dealt with house soiling to some degree!

House soiling is abnormal behavior for a dog and should be investigated for the cause to correct it. When a well-trained dog suddenly begins to have accidents in the house we typically find the cause to be a change in diet, a routine change, an inadequate number of breaks, or age-related changes.

Change in Diet or Medical Cause:

A change in diet or routine can easily cause distress in a dog’s intestinal tract. This can cause abnormal stools or urgency. We could miss their cues that they must go outside. Occasionally a dog will need an extra break or perhaps when he went out to pee, he forgot to do his other business. Suddenly he can’t hold it any longer – thus he has an accident.

It is a common misconception that dogs have accidents out of spite. Truthfully, they do not know how to feel “spite”. They simply have a natural bodily function in need of relieving and if the correct opportunity is not presented in time an “accident” will occur. Why do they act like they are guilty, you ask? Our natural human reaction is often one of disgust or disapproval and thus they react to our reaction not to the accident itself. Unfortunately, they have forgotten about the accident and moved on to the next thing on their doggie agenda. Our reaction causes the seemingly guilty reaction from them sparking us to misunderstand it as a true feeling of guilt. They needed to eliminate and so they did no “spite” attached. Simply cleaning up the accident and evaluating for a root cause is the best course of action to avoid any stress or upset to your dog at any age or training level.

Age-Related Causes:

A few age-related issues may also be the root cause of a house soiling accident. Dogs can develop anxiety as they age, and looser stools or more frequent stools are often a result of anxiety. Let’s be honest how many of us have never had a moment of anxiety and needed the privacy of a restroom? Storm anxiety could cause them to be hesitant to go outside at the normal time and thus an accident might occur if the dog cannot hold it until his next potty break. Watching for signs of anxiety and being more aware of stress triggers could help you determine the cause of recurrent accidents.


Finally, after experiencing this with my own 15-year-old dog, I know that pain from arthritis may be a reason for inappropriate elimination. As he got older, I noticed my dog having difficulty getting into position to defecate. The stance was too much for his hips and knees and sometimes he strained. If he was not feeling up to the struggle, he would hold it until he could not anymore, and then I would have a mess to clean up in the house. Once I finally realized it was becoming such a struggle and the two were connected, I started him on some joint supplements and additional therapy for his arthritis and noticed a drastic improvement in his overall quality of life and happiness as he was back to his usual routine etc.

Again, house soiling is not necessarily normal behavior. Discussing with your veterinarian is important to try to figure out the root cause. Behaviors can be corrected, but medical concerns should be addressed for the comfort of your dog and your sanity. For more tips check out the podcast on this topic.


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