Your best friend is well past the potty-training stage—maybe several months or even years past—and suddenly starts peeing inside the house.
There can be many different scenarios when it comes to peeing accidents. You may have a young adult dog that’s acting like her usual, playful self with no obvious concerns, but she starts leaving puddles of pee in different areas of the house. Or you may have a senior dog suddenly peeing inside the house, but he’s straining to urinate, and his pee is also bloody.
Let’s explore several behavioral and medical reasons as to why a potty-trained dog would urinate in the house, some common symptoms associated with each issue, and how to address these issues.
12 Reasons Why Your Dog Is Suddenly Peeing in the House
Analyzing the situation and working with your vet can help determine the root cause for your dog’s sudden change in potty behavior.
Any dog who is feeling anxious or fearful may have urinary accidents. For some dogs, anxiety may be related to a specific situation, like hearing loud fireworks or dealing with new visitors (whether they are animals or humans). Even for adult dogs, being verbally reprimanded for “bad” behavior can elicit an anxiety/fear response.
For other dogs, there may be no obvious issue that is causing their anxiety, but they may seem restless, have changes in their appetite, or start panting more than usual.
Your dog may have just one urinary accident when feeling anxious or fearful, or they may have several accidents that occur over a few days.
An older dog who is experiencing discomfort or pain from arthritis can also have urinary accidents. Arthritis, or inflammation of the joints, causes degenerative changes in the joints that can cause pain when your dog is trying to stand up and walk around.
Because of this joint pain, it can be difficult for a dog to get up quickly enough to make it outside to go potty. This joint pain can be so severe that when your dog tries to stand up, they know it will cause them pain, so instead they urinate right where they’re sitting or lying down.
In young, healthy dogs, bad weather is a common reason to have a urinary accident in the house. From a simple rain shower to a severe thunderstorm or snowstorm, it may be enough for your dog to be reluctant to go potty outside.
Other major weather changes, like extreme heat or cold, can also make your dog not want to go outside to potty. Even a sunny but very windy day can cause hesitation to want to go out to pee.
Changes in the Home
Major and minor changes in the house can sometimes be overlooked as a cause of your dog having urinary accidents.
Major, more obvious changes that can cause urinary accidents include getting a new pet (cat, dog, or any animal in between), a new baby or relative being introduced into the house, bringing in new furniture, rearranging existing furniture, making home renovations, or moving to a new house.
Less obvious, minor changes in the house include having visitors over (furry friends or people) or making changes to your daily routine. Changes in your work or school schedule, or even changing the time of your dog’s daily walk, can lead to urinary accidents.
Elderly dogs with cognitive or neurologic disease may have urinary accidents. Canine cognitive disorder, or “dog dementia,” typically causes confusion and restlessness in senior dogs. The confusion from this disorder can also cause your dog to pee inappropriately. Other neurologic disease in dogs can cause problems with the nerves that control the bladder, which can lead to urinary accidents.
Incontinence is a common issue that can cause urinary accidents in both young and senior dogs.
For young dogs with incontinence, it is often first noticed after they have been fixed (neutered or spayed); however, young intact (not fixed) dogs can also have incontinence problems.
For senior dogs, incontinence typically occurs as they get older, and they don’t always have a history of previous urinary issues. Urinary cancer is a more common finding in senior dogs and can lead to incontinence.
In both young and senior dogs, changes in the pressure of the urethra (the tube where pee comes out), problems with nerve control of the bladder, and genetic changes with the normal anatomy of the urinary system can cause incontinence.
Urine marking may occur in both young and older dogs. However, urine marking is more common in young, intact dogs—especially male dogs.
Sometimes changes in the house can cause urine marking. If a new pet, baby, or piece of furniture is introduced to the house, your dog may mark the spot where the new pet, baby, or furniture has been.
This marking behavior can also be noticed with visitors to your house. Other times, there may be a disturbance outside, like a new neighborhood cat or dog, or wildlife wandering around. In these scenarios, your dog is typically just trying to establish that the house is their territory.
Certain drugs (e.g., chronic steroid use or toxin ingestion) along with a wide variety of diseases, such as diabetes, kidney problems, Cushing’s disease (hyperadrenocorticism), liver problems, and prostate problems, can cause urinary accidents in dogs.
With these different diseases, the urinary accidents can happen suddenly or gradually worsen over a period of time. Along with urinary accidents, your dog may also have other symptoms, such as increased thirst, decreased appetite, lethargy, gastrointestinal issues (diarrhea and/or vomiting), or skin problems.
While “happy peeing” is more common in puppies, adult dogs can still exhibit this behavior. “Happy peeing” generally occurs when your dog becomes overstimulated with their surroundings.
Examples that may trigger this behavior include greeting your dog when you come home, when a visitor initially comes to your house, when your dog is around other dogs, or when your dog is about to get a tasty treat or favorite toy.
Many times, this behavior is transitory in nature and is not a chronic issue. For some dogs, however, they may have repeated episodes of “happy peeing,” which may occur unexpectedly.
Setbacks in Housetraining
While most dogs are fully potty-trained well before they are considered an adult, it is not uncommon to see setbacks in housetraining that can lead to urinary accidents.
Adult dogs that have been relocated between multiple families and households, especially those from a rescue situation, can have issues with urinary accidents.
Moving to a new apartment or house can cause setbacks in housetraining, especially in younger adult dogs. Introducing a new puppy to your family may also cause your adult dog to revert back to inappropriate habits, like urinating in the house. Any adult dog who is accustomed to going potty on puppy pads can have urinary accidents if you are attempting to transition them to go potty outside.
Submissive urination is a common issue in adult dogs. There are a variety of causes for this issue, including dogs rescued from an abusive environment, dogs who live in a multiple-dog household, and even dogs simply responding to cues from their pet parent.
Dogs who have lived in an abusive environment can exhibit submissive urination even with gentle interaction with other dogs and humans. Likewise, dogs in multiple-dog households can display inappropriate urination simply because they are not the alpha dog.
Even if they are the only dog in the house, and they are otherwise happy-go-lucky, they may display submissive urination when you pet them or ask them to sit, lie down, etc. An adult dog may urinate after being verbally reprimanded, which can also be a sign of submissive behavior.
Urinary Tract Issues
A very common reason for an adult dog to have urinary accidents is from a urinary tract infection or urinary tract crystals/stones. In older dogs, urinary tract cancer in the bladder or in the tubes that carry urine is also a possibility.
These urinary issues often occur with no other underlying medical issue present. A urinary tract infection (UTI) occurs when bacteria enters the urinary tract through the urethra and causes inflammation and pain.
Urinary crystals and stones develop when there are significant changes to the urine pH (how acidic or basic the urine is). Sometimes, a UTI and urine crystals and/or stones can occur together. The most common symptoms to look for with these urinary tract issues are:
- Urinary accidents in the house
- Straining to pee
- Urinating more frequently
- Blood in the urine
- Odor to the urine
How to Stop Your Dog From Peeing in the House
Figuring out if your best friend has a behavioral or medical issue causing them to pee in the house can be frustrating. Be patient with your dog and do not punish them in any way (yelling, scolding, confining to a crate, hitting, rubbing their nose in the pee, etc.).
These negative responses will not improve the situation, whether it is a behavioral or medical issue, and may actually make the accidents worse.
Medical vs. Behavioral
To help uncover whether the issue is medical or behavioral, there are several things you can check at home in addition to consulting with your dog’s veterinarian.
First, evaluate your home, surrounding environment, and daily schedule/routine for any specific changes.
Next, evaluate and monitor your dog for any changes. If they are only having urinary accidents in the house but otherwise acting like usual and eating normally, and their urine looks and smells normal, then it is likely a behavioral issue.
Alternatively, if your dog is having other symptoms along with the urinary accidents and/or the urine looks or smells different, then it is likely a medical issue.
Going to the Vet
If you think there is a behavioral cause, you can try to increase the number of times your dog goes outside to potty or put down potty pads in the house (especially for senior dogs). You will also need to address the underlying cause to see how you can relieve your dog’s anxiety. Your vet can help you identify the cause and form a plan.
As with many concerns, it is important for your dog to be examined by your primary veterinarian, especially if you are not noticing any improvement with her urinary accidents after evaluating your home and monitoring your dog.
At your dog’s appointment, be ready to provide a detailed history about your dog’s symptoms, including when the symptoms started and any obvious changes to your home or your dog that you are aware of.
Your veterinarian will most likely want to run a urine test to check for obvious issues, like a UTI or urine crystals. If your dog has other symptoms along with urinary accidents, then a full bloodwork panel, abdominal x-rays, and an abdominal ultrasound may be recommended to help determine the cause of the symptoms.
- Veterinary Information Network (VIN). Accessed February 8, 2022.
Featured image: iStock.com/Capuski