Updated at: 01-01-2022 - By: petstutorial

Housetraining is one of those drags of dog parenting that we’re all SUPER thrilled to get on the other side of. But what happens when your normally reliable adult dog starts having accidents? Frustration, yes. But also fear that something’s up.


Why are these accidents even happening?

“A veterinarian should evaluate all dogs presenting with house soiling issues,” cautions Board certified veterinary behaviorist Kelly C. Ballantyne in her article Canine House Soiling: Back to Basics. Several medical conditions may cause the sudden failure of housetraining, so they’re important to rule out before jumping to other conclusions. Your veterinarian will look for signs of issues that can cause pain during elimination, increased urgency or frequency, mobility challenges and even memory decline as potential causes.

Mike Paul, DVM, owner of Pelican Mobile PetCare and former president of the American Animal Hospital Association, cautions that sometimes dogs lose control due to certain medical conditions, including:

  • Infections, especially bladder
  • Issues with the nervous or spinal systems
  • Obstructions in the urinary tract
  • Loss of awareness, especially in old dogs

If a health or age-related condition isn’t the source, consider what else is going on. Is your adult dog a recent adoptee, or moved into a new environment? “With appropriate preventive counseling, most puppy and new dog owners are able to house train their dogs within 1 to 2 months of adoption,” notes Dr. Ballantyne’s house training protocol on Today’s Veterinary Practice. However, every new dog or puppy being introduced to a house can use a refresher. No matter your dog’s age, if your pup is new to your home, try bringing them back through the basics of housetraining.

What is leading up to the accidents?


“Does your old dog seem to be increasingly forgetful? Does he come into a room and then act as though he doesn’t know why he’s there? Or, worse, has he started having accidents in the house, as though he has forgotten that he has a dog door to the yard?” asks Dr. Marty Becker, in his article 4 Signs of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. As pets are living longer, cognitive decline is an increasing discussion in many dog-parent households.


What can be surprising to dog parents is that dogs with CCD (also known as CDS) can appear to “forget” their housetraining, or get lost while trying to get to an appropriate place to go. If you see your dog struggling with other common places or known activities, telling your veterinarian can help them get to the root cause.

Loss of control:

Other factors your vet will want to determine are whether your dog is having accidents,  whether they’re deciding to pee somewhere or if they’re struggling with incontinence. For example, if you see your dog squat or lift their leg, this is usually intentional, but if your dog’s bed is urine-soaked in the morning this can be a sign of urinary leakage.

Fear or stress:

While medical conditions are important to rule out, other common reasons for an adult dog to have accidents in the house lead back to another big factor—stress. Over-excited dogs, dogs being greeted or dogs engaging in high-energy behaviors can experience submissive urination. Other dogs who are stressed about being without their people may urinate or defecate in the home as a form of separation anxiety.

Why Having Accidents in the House Occurs in Dogs

More often than not, accidents are going to happen because of the dog’s age. When a dog is a puppy, it can only hold the contents of its bladder for a certain amount of time. The general rule is a puppy can control its bladder for one hour to every month of age. So if you have a 3-month old puppy, theoretically, he should be able to hold his pee for about 3 hours. After that, he will need to be taken out or an accident will happen. The same thing goes for dogs of an older age; accidents will occur if they don’t get frequent bathroom breaks.

Besides age, there are a few common reasons why accidents may occur such as, hormone incontinence, side effects from a medication, urinary tract infections, changes in the dog’s environment, and feelings of stress or excitement. While none of these issues are necessarily life threatening, it is important to understand these problems and speak with your vet or a behavioral specialist on how to correct the problem.

Hormone Incontinence

Put simply, this issue comes about after a dog is spayed or neutered and is caused by a weakening of the sphincter muscles. This is most common in female dogs as it comes about from a lack of estrogen, but it can occur in male dogs as well. Hormone incontinence can be helped through regular walks and speaking with your vet about any potential medications.

Side Effects from Medications

If your dog has been placed on any recent medications, sometimes accidents can be triggered by those medications. It is important to communicate with your vet in order to find the right medication for your dog that won’t cause him to have accidents in the house.

Urinary Tract Infections

This is a common cause of house accidents for all ages of dogs. If your pet is having frequent accidents in the house, get him a checkup in order to rule out any UTI’s. If your dog is diagnosed with a UTI your vet will be able to help you determine the right medication for your pet in order to fix the issue.


Change in Environment

Pets can be extremely sensitive to any new changes that take place within their life. Perhaps you have moved, gotten a new pet, or renovated the house. If that is the case, your dog may be having accidents simply because he is stressed from the new changes. If that is the case, speaking with a behavioral specialist and giving your dog lots of love will most likely help curb that behavior. It is important to remember that your dog is not doing this on purpose and punishing him for it will only make matters worse. Love and careful retraining may be the best solution to this situation.

Feelings of Stress, Anxiety, or Excitement

Some dogs, when extremely excited or intimidated, may have a little trickle of urine that leaks out. This is due to lack of control over the bladder muscles when extremely excited. In this situation it would be best to speak with a behavioral specialist on how to help your dog overcome that habit.

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