Why Is My Dog Having Accidents All Of A Sudden? (Veterinarian Reviewed)

dog urinating near chair in home

Fact Checked & Reviewed By:

Picture of <a href="https://notabully.org/author/dr-nita-patel" target="_blank" rel="noopener">     <span style="font-size: 21px; color: black;"></span>     <strong style="font-size: 20px; color: black;">Dr. Nita Vasudevan Patel, DVM, MS</strong> </a>

Dr. Patel is a Florida-based veterinarian with over half a decade of experience.

Picture of <a href="https://notabully.org/author/zoie-keast-cpdt" target="_blank" rel="noopener">     <strong style="font-size: 20px; color: black;">Zoie Keast, CPDT</strong> </a>
Zoie Keast, CPDT

Zoie is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer with over a decade of canine experience.

Fact Checked & Reviewed By:

Picture of <a href="https://notabully.org/author/dr-nita-patel" target="_blank" rel="noopener">     <span style="font-size: 21px; color: black;"></span>     <strong style="font-size: 20px; color: black;">Dr. Nita Vasudevan Patel, DVM, MS</strong> </a>

Dr. Patel is a Florida-based veterinarian with over half a decade of experience.

Picture of <a href="https://notabully.org/author/zoie-keast-cpdt" target="_blank" rel="noopener">     <strong style="font-size: 20px; color: black;">Zoie Keast, CPDT</strong> </a>

Zoie is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer with over a decade of canine experience.

Housetraining is an important part of dog ownership. It can be a frustrating process, but a necessary one. Owners obviously want a dog that only goes to the bathroom outside, but sometimes that doesn’t always happen.

Dogs may have sudden accidents within a house due to training issues, health issues, or behavioral issues like marking, or stress, fear, and excitement. These accidents can happen even if the dog is considered fully housetrained.

The underlying reason for the accident will help owners determine how to prevent it from happening again.

In the article below, we’ll discuss some possible reasons behind any sudden accidents your dog may be having in the house, and how to potentially fix those issues. We’ll also discuss how to address occasional accidents and why they can occur.

Finally, we’ll discuss whether it’s a bad thing for your dog to have accidents in the house and what you shouldn’t do if your dog has an accident in the house.

Reason 1: Illness

A dog that is suddenly having accidents in the house (especially poop) may be suffering from an underlying illness. This is likely one of the more common reasons a dog may begin having sudden accidents in the house, and it can also be one of the more serious ones to deal with.

Dogs tend to explore the world with their mouths, and they often consume things they probably shouldn’t (it’s actually our job to help teach dogs what they can and cannot eat). Many times, eating these things can cause sudden digestive upset, and a dog may defecate in the house due to this upset.

They may also have to go more frequently, and if they don’t have free access outside and your schedule does not allow you to monitor them, then they may wind up going in the house even if they are potty trained. Not A Bully advisor Dr. Nita Patel explains that “Certain toxins and medical conditions like cancer, kidney disease, diabetes, urinary tract infections and other endocrine diseases like Cushing’s can cause a dog to have to urinate more frequently.”

Neurological diseases can cause a lack of muscle control, which can also lead to sudden accidents. If your pup is on medication for a medical issue, that medication can also cause an interruption to their digestive or urinary systems, which can cause an otherwise housetrained dog to potty in the house.

How To Fix:

If your dog is on medication or has a diagnosed illness that is known to cause certain issues with their digestive and/or urinary systems, speak with your vet on how to manage any accidents in the house. Sometimes a dog will adjust to the medication, and they’ll stop having sudden accidents.

In other cases, such as those related to illness, your vet will be able to help you determine a safe management plan to help reduce the number of accidents your pup is having.

If your pup is having sudden, uncontrollable diarrhea, you should reach out to your vet to see if they’d advise you to bring your pup in for an exam. Dr. Patel explains “If a large amount of blood is present in your dog’s urine or stool or your dog is showing other concerning symptoms (such as vomiting, dry heaving, lethargy, distended belly, abdominal pain, or signs of shock), take them to an emergency vet ASAP.”

While many times sudden accidents due to illness are usually minor and will go away with basic treatment, in some cases they can actually be the first sign of a more serious condition that needs veterinary intervention.

Reason 2: Injury

Trauma to a dog’s rear end, their urinary or digestive system, or even to their head (neurological damage) can cause sudden accidents. Trauma can cause a loss of control over the muscles related to defecating and urinating, especially if nerve damage occurred around the rear end of the dog.

Ingestion of foreign materials or the passing of urinary stones can also lead to trauma to the digestive tract and urinary tract, both of which can cause a loss of proper function and can lead to sudden accidents within the house.

Trauma to the head or spinal cord, which can cause brain injuries and neurological damage, can cause an overall loss of function to the entire body, including the digestive and urinary systems.

How To Fix:

If the trauma is mild and your vet concludes that the dog will regain full function of his systems upon healing, then the sudden accidents should lessen and eventually stop once the dog is fully recovered.

Unfortunately, if the trauma causes permanent damage, then your pup will likely be more prone to sudden accidents for the rest of their life.

Discussing management with your vet is the best solution, as there are many ways to help an injured dog with bathroom habits including more frequent potty schedules, stricter feeding schedules and diet plans, and reducing the amount of excitement and stress the dog has that could cause a sudden loss of muscle control. Doggy diapers are also a great option!

Reason 3: Fear

Dogs in extreme states of fear will suddenly urinate or defecate as a natural response to the state of fear. This is especially true if the dog is unable to get away from the thing that’s causing the fear.

It’s important to remember that our dogs may find things scary that we wouldn’t think twice about, so if your dog is suddenly urinating or defecating when around certain objects, areas, or people, or when they are involved in certain situations (such as when your kids have their friends over), it might be worth thinking about whether your pup is afraid or not.

Dogs will also urinate or defecate in response to being yelled at, hit, pushed, yanked, or when experiencing any other form of physical or mental trauma. Dogs don’t understand things in the way that we do, so if they are put into situations in which fear and uncertainty surface, they may suddenly urinate or defecate.

How To Fix:

Determining whether it is fear or another emotion causing the sudden urination or defecation is the first step to fixing this issue. Dogs communicate primarily through their body language, so it’s important to look at the whole picture before determining what emotion (if any) may have caused the sudden accident.

If the fear is related to a specific thing or person, going through a counter-conditioning or desensitization process with a reputable trainer can help the dog develop more confidence and overcome that fear.

If the accident is due to suddenly becoming afraid of someone who is scaring the dog, then it’s a wise idea to help educate the person scaring your pup (even if that person is yourself!) to help eliminate any future accidents.

Occasional fear-related potty-training accidents that occur due to sudden, random things (such as a loud noise or seeing something “scary” during the holidays) are best approached from a prevention standpoint by socializing our pups early and often.

Positively reinforcing any interactions our dogs have with the world is important in making sure they don’t become scared when encountering new things. It’s also important to remember that you can’t prepare your dog for EVERYTHING they may experience in the world, so having patience during those moments when an accident may occur is important.

Consider checking this video if your dog struggles with their confidence!

Reason 4: Stress

Like fear, stress can also be a cause of sudden accidents, even in a fully housetrained dog. Dogs can experience stress in a variety of ways and due to a plethora of different causes, so it can be tough to determine why a dog is stressed or even prevent it in the first place.

Dogs can experience good stress and bad stress (just like people) and each of those has the chance of causing an accident to happen (usually urination).

Submissive urination frequently occurs and is a natural behavior in dogs of any breed, age, gender, or size. Submissive urination occurs in response to something that triggers fear, stress, or excitement, and is a way for the dog to appease the trigger (either passively or actively). It is NOT considered a housetraining accident, but rather a normal way in which dogs communicate with each other.

In many cases submissive urination is in response to other dogs, but for some dogs (especially puppies or those that come from a trauma background or who have poor socialization with people) submissive urination can occur with people.

How To Fix:

Because submissive urination is a normal behavior, it’s generally not something that can be “fixed” in the traditional sense. If your dog only has accidents when around other dogs and you’ve determined that it is submissive urination, you can try to manage the situation by immediately getting the dogs out into the yard or working with a trainer to help your dog develop an alternative behavior to the submissive urination.

A similar training and counter-conditioning plan can be used for dogs who only submissively urinate when around people, and a trainer is your best source for coming up with a plan that is specific to your dog and their emotional state.

If the sudden urination or defecation is due to general stress rather than part of submissive urination, determining the stressor is your first step and then working to reduce or eliminate the stress in your dog as it relates to the stressor is your next step.

Using reward-based training and working with a trainer to help change your dog’s association with the stressful thing or event will also have a huge impact on your pup.

Reason 5: Excitement

Sudden urination and defecation when an animal is excited occurs in many, MANY species including dogs, cats, horses, and even people! Excitement often tags along with stress (usually the good kind), and an overly excited dog may have little control over her system, especially her bladder.

Submissive urination may also occur when dogs are in an excited state, but accidents can occur due to a lack of muscle control, too. Female dogs tend to have more of an issue with this, as female dogs have more difficulty controlling their bladders than male dogs do, though both sexes are equally prone to accidentally defecating when in an excited state.

How To Fix:

Like stress and submissive urination, it can be hard to “fix” accidents that occur due to excitement. We should never punish our dogs for being excited about something, but we CAN work towards helping them manage their excited emotions a bit better and teach them some alternative behaviors to help get that energy out in a less messy way.

If you know something exciting is going to be happening soon, exercising your dog physically and mentally before the event is a good way to help get out some of their energy and reduce the chance of an accident.

Figuring out what motivates your dog and gets their attention is also important in the chance you encounter some unpredictable excitement, such as a squirrel running across the road or a burrito someone had tossed into a bush on the side of the road (true story!).

Being able to distract your dog away from the exciting thing and redirect them to a different focus or activity can help prevent any sudden accidents from occurring. If an overly excited pup is something you struggle with daily, reaching out to a local trainer is a good idea.

Reason 6: Reinforcement History

Dogs are constantly learning from the world around them, whether we realize it or not! If your dog is having sudden accidents and they tend to occur on a regular basis or schedule, then it could be that at some point your pup was positively reinforced for going to the bathroom in the house.

Dogs are smart, and if they figure out that a behavior gets them something they want, they’ll continue to do it.

For example, say you were stuck on a long call, and you missed the signs that your pup needed to go outside, so they peed in the kitchen in front of you. You hang up your call and, feeling bad that you ignored your pup, you take them outside to play their favorite game. The next day, your pup pees in the kitchen again, and then looks for you to take them outside to play.

Your dog has made the connection that if he pees in the kitchen, he gets to go outside and play his favorite game! In many cases, this unwanted behavior chain doesn’t occur quite this quickly, but for some smart dogs, it can happen without you ever realizing you were reinforcing an unwanted behavior.

On the other side of things, if your pup was ever punished outside while going to the bathroom, then he may opt to go inside instead, even if he was previously potty trained.

It is a myth that rubbing your dog’s nose in their accident will teach them not to go in the house, and owners who still believe this myth will usually drag their dogs outside and yell at them to go to the bathroom outside, thus scaring the dog.

This has the opposite effect and uses negative reinforcement to teach the dog that going outside is scary and results in being yelled at. Many dogs will instead seek somewhere in the house where you aren’t likely to find the mess so that they can avoid the punishment.

How To Fix:

Thankfully, if your dog is having sudden accidents due to their reinforcement history it is usually a fairly easy thing to adjust provided you are consistent and patient with the process.

Being mindful of what behaviors you want to reward and what behaviors you don’t want to reward is important. Timing is everything! You may need to go back to the potty training basics, too.

Punishment should never be used for any type of accident within the house. If you are struggling with a dog who has reverted to going in the house and there is no other cause behind it (like illness or injury), a local dog trainer or behaviorist may be able to assist you.

Reason 7: Not Being Let Out

In many cases, a sudden accident in the house might just be because your pup’s signals that they need to go outside were missed. Dogs can sometimes be very subtle in how they ask to go outside.

When my youngest German Shepherd was finishing up her potty training, her only signal that she needed to go outside was a brief glance at the back door. If I missed that look, she’d potty right in front of the door! She’s gotten clearer with her indicators on when she needs to go out, but some dogs will always be very quiet when they need to go out.

Sometimes it might be that our schedule has changed, and we aren’t able to let our pups out as often as they were being let out previously, so they’ll suddenly pee or poop in the house even if it’s been quite some time since they had an accident in the house.

Dogs really like routine, and this includes their potty schedule (this is especially important for puppies!). If that routine is changed, even temporarily, then a dog may start suddenly having accidents in the house until their systems have adjusted to the new routine.

How To Fix:

Usually just giving your pup a bit of time to adjust to a new schedule will eliminate any future accidents. Being more mindful of your dog’s body language and really paying attention to the behaviors they are doing prior to going to the bathroom is important so that you know if they need to go out or not.

If your schedule has changed and you are unable to let them out as frequently as they are used to, hiring a dog walker to let them out during the day is helpful and will keep them from having accidents in the house.

Crate training is also a good way to try and reduce any accidents in the house and help get your pup back on a better routine for potty time.

Reason 8: Presence Of Urine Or Feces

If your normally housetrained pup starts having sudden accidents in the house, it could be because somewhere in the house there is still residue of urine or feces. Dogs have incredibly powerful noses, and even if we can’t see or smell anything, they might be able to!

The presence of urine or feces residue can trigger a bathroom response in a dog, and they may think that it is OK to potty in that area. I see this happen a lot when clients bring their housetrained dogs to a friend’s house and the dog uses the bathroom in the house.

It’s often discovered afterwards that the friend’s dog was pottying in the house and the client’s dog just assumed he could, too!

How To Fix:

Dog urine and feces contain enzymes that can only be removed through the use of enzyme-specific cleaners. If at any point your pup went potty in the house (especially during the potty-training stage), make sure you are using those special cleaners to clean the area up.

A UV light can really help you make sure you clean up every last bit! If even a hint of the scent remains, some dogs may still take it as an invitation to potty there.

If the scent is really set in (as in you didn’t see it when it was fresh, or if you moved into a new house and the previous owners had dogs), it’s especially important that you use a dog-specific cleaner to get out those smells.

In extreme cases, you may even need to pull up any carpet or flooring and clean underneath. Typical household cleaners (not bleach!) can be used if the accident just happened, but an enzyme-based cleaner is still your best bet.

Reason 9: Marking Behavior

Contrary to popular belief, both male and female dogs can mark, and even spayed and neutered dogs may mark. Dogs generally engage in marking behavior (usually by urinating, but they can also mark by defecating or even “pretending” to pee) due to hormonal changes or due to increased stress, anxiety, or frustration (especially when there are changes or disruptions to a house, such as the arrival of a new baby or dog).

Even fully housetrained dogs may start marking, especially as they reach the adolescent stage and enter puberty. If you start noticing sudden accidents and it’s only in very specific areas or only a tiny amount of urine is present, then it may be that your pup has started marking.

How To Fix:

Marking is normal, and if done outside in appropriate areas you can generally ignore it. However, once a dog starts marking inside a house (or another inappropriate area), it’s important to nip the behavior in the bud right away as it can be a very difficult behavior to fix later on.

Spaying and neutering dogs from a young age might help with some marking behaviors, but it’s not a guarantee.

The best thing to do is make sure you clean up the accident with an enzyme-based cleaner and pay special attention to your pup if you notice him investigating the area. If you start seeing behaviors that indicate he may mark, immediately interrupt him and take him outside to potty, making sure to praise and reward him heavily if he goes outside instead.

If it’s difficult for you to monitor your pup during the day, keeping them in a crate or blocking off access to the places they have marked can help get them back on schedule.

This is especially helpful if you’ve got an adolescent dog who is going through puberty, a new dog who just arrived in your home, or if there is an expected disruption to your household’s normal day-to-day routines (like the arrival of a new baby or a home remodel).

If the marking is due to stress behaviors, providing enrichment toys as well as plenty of physical and mental exercise can help. If it’s severe enough, a veterinarian or behavior consultant can be a good source for other ways to help keep your pup from marking in your home.

As with anything training related, punishment should not be used as this can make the marking behavior worse and can cause additional behavioral issues.

Reason 10: Household Changes

Dogs like routine, and if anything disrupts that routine, it could trigger a sudden accident within the house. Like many other reasons on this list, household changes can cause stress, fear, anxiety, excitement, or a combination of those emotional states, all of which could lead to changes in a dog’s bathroom behavior.

Often when something changes in the household, our own human behaviors and schedules change. We do what we can to try and adjust to the new changes, but we might not always think about the impact they have on our dogs.

Getting a new job with different hours, having a baby, moving from the rural countryside to a busy city…all of those things (and more) can impact a dog’s routine and potty habits.

If your housetrained dog is having sudden accidents in the house and you’ve recently changed something in the household or your life, then these accidents could be an unintended side effect of those changes.

How To Fix:

Unlike many other reasons on this list, the best way to “fix” sudden accidents that are due to household changes is to just give the dog some time to adjust. There’s no real quick fix, but patience and being mindful of your pup’s needs will help make this adjustment period go faster.

Depending on the household change, making sure to let your dog out a little more frequently in the beginning might be beneficial. You’d gradually work towards getting them set up with a new schedule and routine. A pet sitter or doggy daycare are also good options.

Positively reinforcing any outside potty behaviors is also important.

Reason 11: Diet

Just like with us humans, our dogs may need a dietary adjustment period if you are introducing new foods into their system. Some dogs can be highly sensitive to changes in their diet, and this can lead to sudden accidents in the house if the food does not agree with them.

Dr. Patel explains that “If we change diets too quickly without a transition period, this does not give the GI tract enough time to get used to the protein, fiber and fat content of the new food and can cause acute GI upset which presents as diarrhea and vomiting. It’s not uncommon for a dog with diarrhea to have an accident inside.”

How To Fix:

If you plan on changing up your pup’s food, it’s important to do it at a gradual pace rather than all at once. Many pet foods have guidelines for switching foods on the back of the bag or container. Individual dogs may have greater or lower tolerances for food changes, too, so even with the guidelines it’s important to monitor your individual dog’s bathroom habits as you are making the change so you can adjust as needed.

If your pup has a sensitive stomach, adding in probiotics, digestive enzymes, or pumpkin can also help facilitate a smoother transition to avoid any of those household accidents.

For sudden accidents that are the result of a new treat or chew, it might be a good idea to make note of any odd ingredients within that product so that you can avoid them in the future.

With any type of food, treat, or supplement, always monitor the ingredient label and make note of any ingredients where you notice softer or more frequent stool in your pup, or which cause increased gas, belching, or even increased urination.

Why Does My Potty-Trained Dog Still Have Occasional Accidents?

Occasional accidents (just one or two every few weeks rather than more consistently) in the house are more likely due to a normal setback within the potty-training process and are nothing to be concerned about. If you are patient and consistent with the training process, then the occasional accidents should cease.

If your pup is having occasional accidents in the crate, then they may be experiencing additional training issues related to a regression in crate training.

In some cases, a housetrained dog having a sudden accident in the house is exactly that…an accident! Perhaps we did not catch the signals the dog was giving off at that moment, or maybe the dog got distracted while outside and only realized too late after coming back in that they still needed to go potty (my senior guy does this all the time!).

As dogs age, many of them will also start having incontinence issues and it may become more difficult for them (and us) to know when they need to go out and potty.

Sometimes these occasional accidents are related to something unexpected, like being away from home longer than you expected or you got busy with a work call and did not see that your pup had asked to go out several times.

There’s not much to fix here, since usually these occasional accidents are just a one-off. If you can determine what led up to the accident (for example, if you came home a bit later than normal from work) then you can make a mental note to be more mindful of that in the future.

If the accident was due to the normal aging process, you can speak with your vet about possible medications that can help with incontinence. Diapers, wraps, and waterproof bedding can also be of use for senior pets who are having accidents in the house.

Check out his video that talks more in-depth about urinary incontinence in dogs!

Is It Bad If My Potty-Trained Dog Is Still Having Accidents?

This depends on the underlying reason for the accident, whether sudden or occasional. Nobody wants their pup to continue having accidents in the house, so it’s important to determine WHY your dog had an accident in the first place.

In most cases, the accident is a result of a schedule interruption, illness, or a training issue. In other cases, the underlying issue may be harder to determine, and a trainer or veterinarian may need to intervene, especially if the reason is medically related.

No matter the reason why your dog may be having accidents in the house, it’s important to never use punishment. Punishing your dog if they use the bathroom in the house can create a host of unintended behavioral consequences.

Closing Thoughts

Housetrained dogs that have sudden accidents in the home can be a frustrating situation for many owners. Training issues, medical issues, behavioral issues…all of those can cause sudden accidents. Determining why your pup had an accident is the first step in fixing the issue.

In most cases, it’s easy enough to determine the reason why the accident occurred and then you can take steps to prevent it from happening again in the future. In some cases, a trainer or veterinarian may need to assist you in helping your pup out.

No matter what the underlying reason is for the accident, you should never punish your dog. You may need to go back a few steps in the housetraining process, but if you are consistent, patient, and use lots of positive reinforcement, the majority of the time the accidents will stop.

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