Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.
Many young puppies are unable to hold their bladders overnight. Just like babies who need middle-of-the-night and early morning diaper changes, puppies will need outside trips to empty their bladders.
And just like babies whose diapers are not changed at night will wake up with their diapers soaked, and with a possible skin rash, puppies who are not taken out at night will wake up soaked in urine which means washing the puppy and his bedding every morning. Not the ideal way to start your day!
Sure, we would all love to have uninterrupted sleep at night, but having a puppy is like having a baby in many ways and the first weeks and months can be physically and emotionally draining, causing new puppy parents to wake up with dark circles around their eyes.
Just for sake of comparison, consider that a 7 1/2 to 8-week-old puppy is the equivalent to a 4 to 6 month-old baby. You should therefore not expect your young puppy to hold it overnight just as you wouldn't expect a baby to wake up totally dry in the morning after a long night of sleep.
Fortunately, the good news is that puppies mature rather quickly and they should soon be on their way to being capable of holding their pee at night so you can both enjoy the perk of sleeping eight hours straight without any interruptions.
On top of this, there are several hacks to help expedite the potty training process so to set your pup for success and help him/her succeed in attaining better bladder control. This means you'll consequently be on your way to grant yourselves better sleep!
Why Can't My Puppy Hold Their Bladder Overnight?
It goes without saying that understanding why your puppy can't hold his bladder overnight can help you better understand your puppy and the steps you need to take to successfully potty-train him. So here is a little troubleshooting guide to help you understand what may be going on so you are better equipped to address the problem.
Little Sphincter Control
If your puppy is very young (under 4 months), the most common reason why he can't hold it overnight is because he has little control. Young puppies have a very tiny bladder and even a small accumulation of pee causes it to expel as a reflex action.
Your puppy requires a sufficiently mature body before you can start effectively potty training him. It will take a bit of time until he develops enough sphincter control that his brain can send out a signal telling him: "My bladder is full, I need to go to X-spot to relieve myself" versus reflexively peeing when there is even a small amount of pee accumulation.
With time, good habits and patience, just as children, most puppies will become potty trained.
Excessive Drinking Prior to Bedtime
When it comes to potty training puppies, there are several things that can put a dent in the potty training process. One of them is excessive drinking just prior to bedtime. Often, this takes place when puppies get very active prior to bedtime and guzzle down water like there's no tomorrow.
Excessive water consumption of course causes a puppy's bladder to over fill which can lead to overnight accidents in the crate if the puppy isn't taken out in a timely manner.
Going to Bed With an Empty Bladder
It's a good practice to implement a predictable bedtime routine. Puppies and dogs like routines, so make it a habit of taking your puppy one last time outside to go potty. Make sure your puppy pees prior to closing him in his crate.
A Matter of Not Being Heard
Is your puppy really not able to hold it, or is he trying really hard to let you know, but his cries of help go to deaf ears? Sometimes, puppies try really hard to let us know they need to potty, only that we don't hear them or recognize the signs.
A complicating factor is when dog owners keep the crate in another room (in hopes for a good night's sleep) only to wake up to a puppy drenched in urine.
In most cases, when puppies are in a crate of the correct size and are capable of having some level of bladder control, you'll hear them whine, bark or at least move around in the crate in hopes of not peeing where they sleep.
If you fail to hear him tough, they'll just go because they have to go. They can only hold it for so much!
Crate Is Too Large
Sometimes puppies may put little effort into holding it because of certain qualities of their crate or bedding.
Here's the thing: if your puppy is kept overnight in a crate that is not of the correct size (not too tight that he can't stand, turn around or lie down, but also not too large that he can comfortably pee in one corner and sleep in the other), you won't instill in him the instinct to hold it (the so-called den instinct).
When he'll need to pee, he'll therefore give little signs or maybe none at all because he can pee comfortably in his cage without getting wet.
Too Much Absorption
Another reason why a puppy may pee without much fuss in a crate is if there is a lot of absorbent material used as his bedding. Such puppies can pee in the crate with little consequence (they don't feel wet much) since the absorbent material does too much of a good job in keeping the puppy dry.
A History of Being Raised in Puppy Mills
Worthy of mentioning is that if you sourced your puppy from a pet store or he's a puppy mill rescue, he or she may have gotten used to going potty in the crate.
This is because sadly such dogs are kept in cages for most of their lives and they were therefore forced to pee and poop in them. These dogs are therefore habituated to peeing in their cages and have no or little den instinct inculcated in them.
If you crate your puppy mostly overnight and he's a puppy mill rescue, he may have come to associate the crate as a place to go potty.
An Underlying Medical Problem
Sometimes, medical problems may be the root cause of a puppy struggling to not pee overnight.
Urinary tract infections in pups are known for causing dogs to urinate frequently and in small amounts. Bladder stones, kidney or liver disease and neurological issues should also be ruled out in persistent cases.
A weak urethral sphincter (that structure that holds the urine in the bladder) may also be the issue at play, often causing dogs to leak urine while they are sleeping (urinary incontinence).
Female dogs spayed before 3 months of age have been found to be more prone to incontinence (urethral sphincter incompetence with leakage during rest). They usually show signs 2 to 3 years after being spayed though, although the first signs may even show weeks following the surgery.
There is therefore general agreement that the risk of urinary incontinence increases in these dogs, especially the larger-sized ones, explains board-certified veterinarian Dr. Julie K. Byron. Although occasionally urethral sphincter incontinent occurs in male dogs, it has not been definitively associated with neutering.
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Anatomical issues should also be mentioned. An ectopic ureter (a ureter that does not enter the bladder in the correct position leading to incontinence specifically in young female dogs) or a pelvic bladder (malposition of the urinary bladder within the pelvic area) may both be issues at play.
80-89% of canine ectopic ureters occur in female dogs. It is usually found in dogs prior to one year of age. In male dogs it is uncommon and when it does occur, affected dogs are often asymptomatic.
Although the majority of pelvic bladders occur in large-breed female dogs, it has also been reported in male dogs.
How I Can Fix This Issue?
As you can see, there can be various reasons why your puppy can't hold his bladder overnight. Troubleshooting the issues is therefore important. If you are struggling to find out what may be going wrong, don't hesitate to consult with the pros. Here are a few tips based on several possible underlying causes.
Increase the Frequency
Take your puppy out at night more frequently. Young puppies may need to be taken out to pee at night anywhere between 1 to 3 times. This means you will have to set your alarm at timed intervals so to take him out before he has the opportunity of having an accident.
Keep Track of Accidents
If you wake up to a wet puppy, mark the time you suspect the accident may have happened and aim to set your alarm clock at least half-hour prior, in hopes of preventing it. If it doesn't work, set it up an hour earlier or more until you can prevent it from happening.
Talk to Your Veterinarian
If your puppy keeps struggling to hold their bladder overnight, mention it to your vet. Based on your pup's history, your vet may want to run some diagnostic tests. If no medical causes are found, ask your vet whether you can restrict access to water a couple of hours prior to bedtime.
Keep Your Puppy Calm
Avoid over-the-top play or exercising right before bedtime. Too much romping around will trigger excessive drinking. Encourage calm activities such as chewing something safe.
Ensure Your Puppy Is Empty
Always take your puppy out to the potty before crating her for the night. Make sure to go out with her to make sure she empties her bladder. A lot of female dogs tend to need to urinate a few times before they fully empty their bladder. So give her some time. When you take her out, let her pee, praise her and give her a few moments to go again if needed.
Listen/Watch for Signs
Keep the crate nearby your bedroom so you can hear your puppy and recognize signs your puppy needs to potty. If you are too far, you may miss these important signs. If your puppy must be kept out of the bedroom, use a baby monitor.
Use a Crate of the Correct Size
Puppies learn to hold it as they mature and a crate of the correct size helps inculcate the instinct of puppies not wanting to soil where they sleep. Make sure the crate is of the correct size for potty training.
Create a Den-Like Enclosure
Give your puppy a comfy mat to sleep on, safe toys to chew and feed your puppy treats her in her crate so she associates the crate as her den-like enclosure. Dogs don't like to pee where they eat, play and sleep.
Clean up Accidents Correctly
Make sure to clean up areas soiled with pee with an enzyme-based cleaner such as Nature's Miracle. Enzyme-based cleaners help remove odors that may encourage your puppy to pee on the same areas over and over. Avoid ammonia-based products as they remind dogs of pee and may encourage undesirable peeing.
At What Age Can Puppies Hold Their Bladder All Night?
In general, we expect puppies to hold it all night by the time they are five months old, although some pups can sometimes take a little longer. Just as with children, potty training is an individual matter. Some puppies get there earlier, others get there later, but most puppies eventually get there if you help them out.
- Urinary Incontinence in Dogs: Diagnostics and Management StrategiesWorld Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2008 Jodi L. Westropp, DVM, PhD, DACVIM University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine, Dept. of Veterinary Medicine and Epidemiology Davis, CA, USA
- Internal Medicine Compendium August 2006 (Vol 28, No 8) by Mark J. Acierno , MBA , DVM , DACVIM , Mary Anna Labato , DVM , DACVIM (Small Animal)
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2021 Adrienne Farricelli
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 23, 2021:
I remember those days well! As you mentioned, they mature quickly, so the sleepless nights do not last very long.
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on April 23, 2021:
Been there, done that! Those first few months of potty training are challenging. But as you note, consistency with going out times, and eventually working them into a potty schedule is really important.
We've had a couple of female dogs who had nighttime potty issues. In one case it was due to recurring urinary and e.coli infections. She didn't even realize she was doing it and slept right through it. So cleanup was just part of our routine. The diapers weren't an option since our dogs would be "creative" and turn them into toys. ;) Then we got easily cleanable bedding. Just part of being a dog parent.
Great tips that I know work! Thanks for sharing!
FlourishAnyway from USA on April 23, 2021:
Very informed tips. I've never had a puppy. This makes me wonder how in the world people foster a litter of puppies.
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on April 23, 2021:
alexadry My friend's dog had a bladder infection and knew then it couldn't hold his bladder and this would be a health problem. You have enlightened me on the facts. It is helpful and in detail. Interesting and unique about dog issues.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on April 22, 2021:
I haven’t had a puppy in my home for a long time, but your article brought back memories. Thanks for sharing the advice. It’s very helpful.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on April 22, 2021:
I don't have a young puppy, but I found this article to be interesting and very informative, Adrienne. You always give such good advice about raising or training dogs. Thank you.