How to Care for Dogs with Diapers

A guide to preparing for life with an incontinent dog

October 19, 2020In Health & Wellness

As a foster who specializes in caring for dogs that require diapers, I get a lot of questions about what’s involved with their care. In this article, I will address the top concerns most potential adopters have. Please keep in mind that while these methods work for me, dogs are individuals with unique needs that will change as they grow. Most of my knowledge was learned through trial and error, and advice from other adopters and my bulldog experienced vet. It can be frustrating at times but don’t give up. The rewards of caring for these dogs far outweigh the challenges!

Dogs that require diapers generally have some degree of incontinence, which is the loss of the ability to control urination and/or bowel movements.

Incontinence can be caused by many different things, including neurological issues such as spina bifida, hydrocephalus, and IVDD, bladder infections and other bladder conditions, anatomic abnormalities, and old age.

bulldog puppy with diaper and suspenders

What is your diaper changing routine and what supplies do you use?

Every morning, each pup gets a bath to clean up residue from any creams, products, or urine, and I let them all air dry (sans diaper). It’s important to keep them clean and dry to prevent skin infection and breakdown.

When it comes time for a diaper change, I have a changing station set up similar to what you’d see in an infant’s room. The station is always in the same spot and stores all my diaper changing supplies. When we head to the changing station, the dogs know its diaper time! When I leave the house with the pups, I carry disposable pee pads for easier, on-the-go diaper changes.

For each change, I put a reusable cloth pee pad on our changing table. This protects from any accidents and provides some texture that makes it easier for the dogs to stand up. To clean their behinds and genitals I use baby wipes. There are many brands to choose from but to avoid irritation, I suggest using wipes without fragrance or additives. Next, I use butt paste as a barrier cream to prevent irritation from the diaper rubbing against their skin, and I like to sprinkle a little powder in there to keep the paste from sticking to the diaper. It also helps absorb moisture! If one of the pups gets especially soiled (ie: from diarrhea), I’ll give it a full bath to make sure all the nooks and crannies get cleaned out.

Frankie the bulldog wearing a diaper

In between diaper changes, I like to use a peri cleanser, which is a no rinse perineal cleanser for washing the genital and anal areas. These cleansers help prevent skin breakdown, burning, odor, and infection. There are many brands out there, but I prefer Aloe Vesta.

The products and routines outlined above are what work for me and my pups, but everyone, and every pup, is different. If you use different products and your process is a bit different, that’s ok! The most important thing is to make sure that whatever your routine is, it’s keeping your diaper dog as clean and dry as possible.

What type of diapers do you use and how do you keep them on?

This is where your creativity comes in! Type of diaper is very owner/dog dependent. Body type, age, and gender all play a part in choosing the right diaper. What works for one may not for another.

My favorite diapers are the Honest brand disposables. After trying out a few different kinds, I found that Honest Brand fit Lila the best and prevent leaks and irritation. But there are many different diapers out there to choose from and you may find a brand that you like better.

To keep them in place, I use a diaper cover over the diaper and clip it to a harness using children’s mitten clips, though many sites do sell dog suspenders that will also work. For puppies, a children’s onesie works well.

You can buy dog diapers, but they tend to be expensive, which is why I use baby diapers. Sizing can be a bit tricky because baby diapers are made for humans and human bodies. Bulldogs tend to have larger waists and smaller butts, so my suggestion is to choose diapers based on the size and shape of your pup, not by its weight. It usually takes a bit of trial and error to find the perfect fit.

diaper dog reusable diaper and mitten clips

As the dog grows, pull up diapers or adult diapers may fit better. For male dogs, it can be helpful to provide some added protection at the top of the diaper to prevent leaks. You can try using an incontinence pad with a reusable diaper cover or adding a pad across the top of a disposable diaper. If a male dog is affected only by urinary incontinence, you can also try reusable belly bands.

While I prefer the disposable kind, some people elect to use reusable diapers that can be washed after each use. Amazon, Etsy, barkertime.com, Target, Walmart, baby stores, and grocery stores are all good places to look for diaper dog supplies. And you can find so many cute styles and brands!

Do you need to express your dog's bladder?  

Bladders need to be emptied completely to prevent complications like urinary tract infections. Some dogs are able to do this on their own, while others need help. Everyone has a “trick” or method they find easiest, for example standing the dog up, laying the dog on its side, doing it out in the grass, or even over the toilet! If your dog leaks urine constantly, it will still need to have its bladder expressed.

This also goes for bowel evacuation. Many dogs need stimulation to have a bowel movement, however, you can have a dog that has urinary incontinence but can poop on their own, a dog that has bowel incontinence but can control urination, or you may have a dog that needs help with both! This can be done in a variety of ways – holding an ice cube on their anus, stimulation with a Q-tip or baby wipe, or even squeezing it out.

Watch this video to see one way to properly express your dog’s bladder. We have a bladder expression video coming soon, but for now, you can find many videos online that demonstrate some of the ways to safely and efficiently express your dog’s bowels. For additional help, have a discussion with your veterinarian and ask for a demonstration of proper technique.

*If your dog does develop a bladder infection, it is important to get a urine culture to find out what antibiotic will be effective. This will help prevent resistance and recurring infections.

What diet do you feed your dog?

Many owners prefer a raw diet for diaper dogs, which definitely cuts down on poop production! There are many brands of raw dog food, but availability may vary depending on location. I like to start with Dr. Harvey’s Veg-To-Bowl Grain-Free dehydrated pre-mix, add water, then some home cooked protein, in addition to goat yogurt, probiotics, canned pumpkin, Omega-3 oil, blueberries, and a cranberry supplement.

Honest Kitchen and Stella & Chewy’s make similar raw food options that are quite popular. If you feed dehydrated raw food, you can add more than the recommended amount of water if the dog needs it. Some dogs benefit from added lactulose, which softens stool and helps avoid straining when emptying their bowels.

If a dog is sensitive to certain proteins such as chicken (which is common), try turkey, beef, salmon, sardines, or eggs. If your dog seems to have trouble with many of the common proteins, there are other options out there, like kangaroo (availability may vary based on location).

Each dog and family are different, so what food you feed will depend on the needs of you and your pup. But we highly recommend a high quality, well-balanced diet.

What does Road Dogs look for in potential adopters who want to adopt a dog that needs diapers?  

Road Dogs looks for adopters who are home all day, can take the dog to work with them, or have flexible schedules that will allow them to be at home for regular diaper changes. Diapers need to be changed at least every 3-4 hours (sometimes more). It is extremely important that they’re changed often to prevent urine scald and urinary tract infections.

Some dogs may also require rehabilitation services, sometimes as often as 2-3 times per week. Potential adopters must have the time and freedom in their schedules to be able to attend those visits.

Rehab can also be expensive and may not covered by pet insurance. In addition, some dogs need assistive devices such as carts, strollers, and braces. Potential adopters must be financially able to provide the care needed.

I hope this has helped! Remember, these suggestions are from my own personal experience and are what works best for me and my dogs. It’s not wrong to use a different brand or technique if it meets your dog’s specific needs.

Having a medical team, including rehab specialists and holistic veterinarians, that are experienced in the care of bulldogs (especially spina bifida and IVDD) is incredibly helpful and will save your sanity. Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask questions! And do your research!