It is very common for old dogs to start pooping in the house after a lifetime of good potty manners. In fact, one of the comments that I regularly heard from the dog parents who brought their dogs to my therapy pool was “I stood outside for 30 minutes with Buddy and then he came in and pooped in the house!” Yep. It happens. And it can be very upsetting to an old dog who has spent his life going to the bathroom outside as he was taught to do.
Why does it happen? It can be a few different things. For many dogs, and in my experience especially dogs with disk issues in their lower back, the nerve compression affects them by making them somewhat oblivious to the “I need to poop” signal and by the time they realize it, they are pretty much pooping. This is not a sign from the universe that the end is near, nor is it painful. It is simply a lack of awareness because nerves aren’t working right. (Your dog might have back pain if he has a disk problem, but the act of pooping alone is not painful nor an indication that he is in pain.)
Similarly, a lot of old dogs poop in their sleep when they are super relaxed. When Gunny was old, he slept late. Most mornings there was a little poop in his bed that I was able to remove while he slept so that he never even knew it happened.
There can be other physical causes, or even doggie dementia, that are the problem. BUT your dog pooping in the house – by itself – does not mean it is time to euthanize your dog. Gunny had a perfectly happy life for many years, often smiling while pooping on the floor when he was laying down, oblivious to the whole affair.
The most important thing is that you not shame your dog for pooping in the house. It won’t help! I assure you that if a 13 year old dog poops in your house for the first time, it is certainly not because he wants to do it. And of course, you must keep your dog clean. I do not find that doggie diapers for pooping problems do anything more than make a mess. And there are actually ways to stimulate your dog to poop on your schedule so that there are fewer accidents in the house.
Remember, there is an entire aisle in your supermarket of adult diapers and products for incontinence. It happens to people too when they get old. It is not the end, it is a transition that can be managed with the proper information and a little patience and compassion.