By Dr. Beth Scheenstra, DVM

When a senior pet is having bathroom problems, it’s best to get a solid diagnosis from your pet’s veterinarian, which can be complicated. Then you have to learn how to live with the results.

Some things to think about before your veterinary appointments are: does your pet know what they are doing? Or is this true incontinence.  Is the pet physically healthy but just poops in the house because they have cognitive symptoms?

Other symptoms that are critical with a senior pet that should be investigated and you should take seriously are: weight loss, lack of appetite, diarrhea or abnormal stool, water intake, muscle wasting and/or neurologic impairment, and mental state changes. 

Based on the history and physical findings, now you must decide how far you want to go with the diagnostics, including blood work, fecal exams, radiographs, an abdominal ultrasound, further GI testing and surgical biopsies, if indicated.  Without some or all of these tests, you may not be able to get a true “diagnosis.” 

Unfortunately, sometimes even with all these you may still not have a treatment that will make this problem go away.  Once you and your vet have made peace with how much modern medicine can help, can you live with the result?

I see families in turmoil when they’re facing problems with a senior pet, especially when it has to do bathroom problems. In my clinical experience there isn’t often a quick fix for a chronic problem.  If it is a new problem, that hasn’t happened for long the chances of correction is much greater. And when it comes to fecal incontinence this can be very challenge to resolve.

 I will be honest, I am having turmoil with my own geriatric pet.  We have a 17 year old cat, who goes the bathroom on the floor multiple times a day.  She has been doing this for 3 years.  I have done every diagnostic and treatment.  She has horrible arthritis, and my feeling is it is just too painful for her to get in and out of the box properly.  Though she does to urinate, so that theory is only useful in making me feel better when I am cleaning the floor for the thousandth time.

I hope you too can make peace with your pets and their senior moments.  And do encourage you to reach out to a veterinarian if you aren’t finding peace, or it is getting worse.