Accidents Happen

By Angelia Oliverei, LVT, CVMRT

Urinary and fecal incontinence

Urinary and fecal incontinence is the lack of ability to control the bladder and bowel movements. This issue can occur in cats and dogs, just like humans – after all, they make Depends for a reason! Reasons for urinary incontinence may be hormone induced, drug reactions, disease process, trauma to the central nervous system, and/or damage to the pudendal nerve (the nerve that controls the bladder and colon). Some common causes for fecal incontinence include difficulty or pain when posturing to defecate (which happens with arthritis), or decreasing communication between the nerves of the colon and the brain.  Urinary and fecal incontinence is unfortunately one of the leading reasons why our pets are euthanized. It is important to understand that these pets are not intentionally having these accidents and it is a medical issue so always consult your veterinarian to see if the underlying cause can be found. Sometimes, looking at incontinence from a rehabilitation perspective is also helpful. What if there was a way we could combat this issues from a neurologic standpoint?

Neurologic Anatomy

The nervous system includes the brain, blood vessels, muscles and nerves. But why is that important, you may ask? Let’s first go over some basic concepts of neurology (the study of the nervous system). There are two major branches of the nervous system. The first is the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord. The second is the peripheral nervous system which includes all of the nerves that branch out from the brain and spinal cord and extend to other parts of the body including muscles and organs like the bladder and colon.

The retention center is an area in the brain that is responsible for urination and defecation. The retention center is controlled/stimulated by the cortex, which is the outer portion of the brain. By stimulating the cortex, you can help stimulate both bladder and bowels.  Examples of stimulating your pet’s cortex include:

  • Introducing new smells to your pet (i.e different types food or foods that have strong odors, heating up your dog’s food).
  • Introducing your pet into new environments with new smells (i.e a new walking path or a new park).
  • Introducing them to brain games (i.e puzzle toys, treat dispensing toys, snuffle mat).

Jump Start the Nerves!

Stimulation of the peripheral nervous system can also improve bladder and colon control. There are several nerves that branch off the spine near the sacrum that control the different sphincters of the bladder and anus. If we were to introduce a stimulus over the sacrum, we could stimulate the bladder and colon. One way to do this is using a hand-held massager over the sacrum for a few seconds before going out to void. You can also place the massager under the belly to stimulate the bladder.


Other Ways to Stimulate the Nerves

Furthermore, there are millions of sensory nerve receptors located in the fascia (under the skin), making acupuncture a great way to stimulate these nerves! Veterinary spinal manipulative therapy (aka animal chiropractic) also has benefits in maintaining efficient signaling from the peripheral nervous system to the central nervous system.


Knowing that there are possible options that can help decrease, or potentially eliminate, fecal and urinary accidents can offer a lot of relief to concerned owners. The important thing to remember is that our pets are not intentionally having these accidents and that there are things that can be done to help limit them from occurring. Before trying any of the modalities talked about in this blog, your pet should have an exam performed by your regular veterinarian or by a rehabilitation veterinarian.