Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Managing Incontinence in Older Animals

Photo courtesy of Federico Stevanin
     One of the top reasons for euthanizing animals is incontinence.  It's a tough, smelly, frustrating, dirty and unpleasant condition, but with the right tools and information, your animal can live comfortably and your home can survive this phase of your animal's life.

     In human hospice, it is almost a given that many, or perhaps even most, of those who approaching the end of life will become incontinent.  All humans are born incontinent and most will die that way.  It's just the way it is.  We don't get angry at a baby for being incontinent and we do not (or should not) get upset with the elderly or the ill for facing those challenges either.

     The same is true for our animals.  Here are our suggestions for addressing, managing and living with incontinence:

     1.  See Your Vet First.  Incontinence may be a symptom of aging or illness, but it may also be a sign of a treatable condition.  Urinary tract infections, bladder infections, kidney infections and kidney stones can all cause incontinence.  As can spinal cord injuries, tumors putting pressure on nerves and lack of muscle tone.  Make sure you understand the root of the problem.

     2.  Ask Your Vet About Medications that May Help.  Propalin (phenylpropanolamine) tightens the urethral sphincter and is often helpful.  In spayed females, estrogen replacement may help and in males, adding testostrone may be useful.  Used less frequently, Tophranil (imipramine) works to relax the muscles of the bladder which enables it to hold urine better.  Ask your veterinarian if any of these medications are appropriate for your animal.

     3.  Explore Holistic Remedies.  Homeopathic, Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture and chiropractic offer natural alternatives to drugs.  To find a holistic practitioner near you, check the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association's directory.

Photo courtesy of Federico Stevanin
     4.  Embrace Diapers, Piddle Pads and Dog Wraps.  There are many excellent products for keeping your animal - and your home - dry.  Just like a baby, frequent changes and ensuring your animal stays dry are critical to maintaining skin integrity, avoiding sores and infections.  Please use caution when using human diapers and sanitary pads - many of them contain a gel substance that expands when it comes into contact with liquid.  If your animal chews on the diaper and swallows the gel, you could have a veterinary emergency.  Not all diapers work for all dogs.  You may have to try a few to find the best match for your animal.  And no, your animal isn't embarrassed by wearing a diaper; they are happy to be with you and will adjust to the new feeling.  Some animals take a little more time and encouragement to accept these aids, while others take to them readily.  Gauge your animal's reaction, go slowly if necessary and offer rewards and encouragement.

     5.  Consider Confining Your Animal.  Stepping in a puddle in the middle of the night or coming home from work to find a mess is no fun and tests the patience of even the most compassionate and forgiving animal lover (let alone their less empathetic spouse or family members!).  You may manage to cope with it for some period of time, but after a few days, weeks or months, it will get old.  Many animals are perfectly happy in a crate, but if that doesn't appeal to you, there are other options.  Soft sided play pens (made for animals or human babies) work well for animals who are not likely to jump or chew.  Or choose a room or area of your home that can be blocked off to limit the areas you will have to monitor and clean.

     It does take work, an investment of time and ingenuity, but many animals can live with incontinence in a way that does not have to be overwhelming for the the humans in their lives.  If you have other ideas or suggestions, we would love to hear them!

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