dog with questioning look on face playing with toilet paper

Dog Wakes Up in the Middle of the Night to Poop

Is Your Dog Waking Up in the Middle of the Night to Poop?  Here’s What You Should Know

The journey a dog takes through their life can follow many roads. More and more, they are being considered a close member of our families, and are enjoying the benefits that come along with it.

As they age, they will experience health problems associated with getting older, and many will want to provide them the same level of care as they would for a human family member.

One common problem is a seemingly constant need to go to the bathroom. Whether it’s the middle of the day or night, when a dog’s bowels are out of control it can have a noticeable impact on the household.

Of course, this problem can occur at any age and is common for a family to experience at least once in the dog’s life. So, we decided to find out what can we do to help support families who are facing this challenge.

 What do you do if your dog is waking up in the middle of the night to poop? When your dog is waking up in the middle of the night to poop the first step is to figure out why. Your dog may need more outside time, a smaller space at night, or more time spent on house-training. It could also be due to an age-related or medical problem. For behavioral issues, easy changes to your routine or household can help solve the problem.

Reasons Your Dog Wakes Up at Night to Poop

dog pooping at night

Behavioral Issues

Any dogs can have issues with bowel movements. If your dog is woken up in the middle of the night, he or she might suddenly feel the need to go to the bathroom.

It could be that your dog has eaten something that is causing problems with their stomach, or perhaps they just ate dinner too late at night.

Once your dog is actually awake, he or she will need relief either by soiling in the house or being taken outside.

If you have just gotten a new dog, anxiety and separation issues can occur. It will take time for your dog to get used to your house and family, so there could be a bit of an adjustment period before night-time bathroom breaks are eradicated.

As your dog becomes comfortable and learns to trust you, accidents at night time will decrease.

Sometimes, house-training is the issue. You might be working on training a new puppy or need to go back to basics with your dog.

You can expect some accidents to occur while you are training your dog, but these should decrease as your dog learns the expectations of your household and how to “ask” you how to go outside when he or she needs to go. 

In a study published by the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, house-soiling cases brought to the veterinary practice at Cornell University were analyzed to find the causes and effects of the treatment plans (source).

In the 70 cases studied, the lack of being fully potty-trained was the most prevalent cause of dogs going to the bathroom in the house (84% of total cases), with separation anxiety being the most common underlying cause (39% of total cases). 

There is a good chance that your own dog is pooping in the house for one of the reasons discussed in this study, too.

However, if you cannot find the cause or solution to your dog’s soiling issue on your own, you should consider the possibility that it might be a medical issue and contact a veterinarian.

Medical Issues

If you are concerned that your dog has a medical issue that is causing him or her to poop in the middle of the night, taking your dog to the vet for an exam can help answer a lot of your questions.

Pooping at night could be caused by an infection or medication, or could be a sign of aging.

Dr.’s Debra Horwitz and Gary Landsberg, veterinarians with the VCA Animal Hospitals recommend monitoring both your dog’s eating and pooping habits to figure out if the accidents have a medical cause (source).

Here are some things to pay attention to:

Stool Frequency

If stool frequency has changed; whether stool consistency has changed (hard, soft, diarrhea, mucus or blood in the stool), whether your dog appears to have less control, whether the stool passing appears to be painful, whether stool volume has changed (constipation versus large amounts) or lacks awareness of its elimination.

Illness

Things like parasites, viral infections, inflammatory bowel disease, and joint issues can cause your dog to have accidents at night.

If your dog has recently had a medical procedure, especially spaying or neutering, pay close attention to their bowel movements.  He or she will be especially susceptible to infections right after a procedure.

The symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are similar to those in humans and your dog might just not be able to control where he or she poops. 

Physical Limitations

Some dogs, especially older ones, suffer from joint and arthritis issues. These issues can make it difficult to use the bathroom and your dog might be having more accidents in the house.

Additionally, canine Alzheimer’s (or cognitive dysfunction) can cause your dog to forget the house-training you worked on, or he or she might become disoriented and not know whether he or she is pooping inside or outside.

Serious Disease

Sometimes the problem can be more serious.

Things like bowel cancer, liver disease, kidney stones, and diabetes can all cause a dog to go to the bathroom inside your house. Your best recourse is to visit your vet and have your dog examined to find the root cause.    

Quick tip to potty train your dog in this guide here:

What You Can Do to Help Your Dog Stop Pooping in the House at Night

help dog stop pooping at night

Whether your dog pooping in the house at night is caused by a behavioral or medical issue, the American Humane Organization has several tips for how to initially approach the issue.

First, they recommend not to rub your dog’s nose in his or her mess because it will teach the dog to fear you, not to go to the bathroom outside.

Second, dogs don’t instinctively know to go outside to go to the bathroom; they must be taught and the lessons must be reinforced.

Third, “You must be patient. Regardless of whether you have a puppy or have recently adopted an adult, the dog will not automatically understand the routine in your house or know where the door is” (source).

One thing you can do to help prevent pooping in the house is to change your dog’s eating habits. Maybe you are feeding your dog a late dinner, or too much or too little food.

If you are feeding your dog too late, then he or she might wake up in the middle of the night having to go to the bathroom.

Sticking to the recommended amount of dog food and limiting food intake to three hours before bedtime can help eliminate the pooping at night problem.

Additionally, adding nutrient boosters like eggs (including the shell!), and pumpkin seeds. to your dog’s diet can help with overall digestion and health.

Taking your dog for frequent walks for the purpose of both exercise and waste production can also help to solve the soiling issue.

The general movement of walking helps with digestion and bowel movements, and exercising your dog can tire him or her out so he or she sleeps through the night.

If the weather is not so great, a quick trip outdoors followed by a few games at night can also help to relieve and exhaust your dog.   

Thinking about the space your dog occupies at night is also important. If your dog has too much space to roam, he or she might become restless and need to go outside. Keeping your dog in a crate at night is one way to limit the movement.

If this strategy does not work for you, putting your dog in a small space at night (bathroom, closet, etc.) can help with accidents at night. Dogs are not likely to go to the bathroom in the area in which they sleep.

Final Thoughts

Just like the American Human Organization mentioned, staying calm when accidents happen should be a top priority for ensuring your dog stops pooping at night. 

If you create a sense of fear, your dog might feel shame and try to hide where he or she goes to the bathroom.

Remember, these accidents can be caused by both behavioral and medical issues, neither of which can be solved through anger.

Even if you suspect your dog is going to the bathroom at night due to a behavior problem instead of a medical issue, taking your dog to the vet can help answer a lot of questions.

With his or her help, you will be able to figure out why your dog is pooping at night and how to stop it from happening in your house.