Bladder stones are mineral densities that form in a dog’s bladder. These structures can be small like sand or quite large, like river rocks. Regardless of size, the presence of stones within the bladder can be a source of inflammation and discomfort to the pet and should be considered a serious medical condition. In more serious cases, the stones can cause obstruction of the urinary tract leading to life-threatening consequences.
Causes: Bladder stones come in several different types which form for different reasons. The two most common causes are urinary tract infections (for “struvite” crystals & stones) and genetic (breed) predisposition. Many breeds of dogs are predisposed to stone formation including Lhasa Apsos, Schnauzers, Shihtzus, Yorkies and Dalmations. Additionally, any disease process that increases a dog’s chances of having a urinary tract infection can also increase the chances of them forming struvite crystals and/or stones.
Symptoms: Bladder stones irritate the lining of the bladder, leading to inflammation, bleeding, and discomfort for the pet. A dog with bladder stones may exhibit symptoms similar to a urinary tract infection, which include: inappropriate urination/accidents, straining to urinate, discolored urine, urgency to urinate with little urine production, and licking around the urinary opening. While these symptoms are similar to those seen with other urinary tract disease processes like infections, symptoms of bladder stones will not resolve with antibiotic treatment or will quickly return after treatments are completed.
Diagnosis: Your veterinarian will usually recommend a urinalysis to look for signs of infection and inflammation and to look screen for urinary crystals which can be are the building blocks of stones. It is noteworthy that not all crystals will form stones, and not all bladder stones have free-floating crystals in the urine. If stones are suspected, X-rays and/or ultrasound will be necessary to confirm the presence, size, and volume of stones. Bloodwork may also be recommended to screen your pet for concurrent medical conditions that predispose them to urinary tract infections and stone formation such as diabetes, Cushing’s disease and various liver disorders.
Treatment: Treatment recommendations are based on the type of stones present and the underlying cause of stone formation. Some stones can be dissolved using a prescription diet, while other cases may require surgical removal of the stones. In many cases, a urinary tract infection is also present, so dogs with stones will often need antibiotic therapy. Ultimately, the individual dog’s treatment may be based on many factors including results of the urinalysis, type of stones involved, size and/or quantity of stones, and response to previous therapies. Regardless of type, stones do not resolve without treatment and can be very uncomfortable for the pet, so quick early intervention is important.
Prevention: As with many conditions, effective prevention is key. Once the pet’s stones are resolved gone, dietary therapy plays an important role in preventing additional stones from forming. There are multiple prescription veterinary diets specifically formulated to prevent the formation of crystals and stones. These diets vary based on what types of stones/crystals we are trying to prevent, so one size does not fit all. In general, once a pet has been diagnosed with stones it is recommended that they remain on the prescription diet for life. Additionally, it is very important that increased water intake* is encouraged, as crystals are less likely to form in dilute urine. Even with these measures some pets are found to have recurrent bladder stone formation; for this reason, regular urine screening is recommended.
*For pets with bladder stones or urinary crystals, good hydration is very important. Ways that you can increase your pet’s water intake include:
- Try a new bowl or a bowl made of a different material (note: stainless steel, glass, and ceramic tend to be easier to keep clean are and less likely to harbor bacteria)
- Add more water bowls throughout the house and keep them full of fresh water (change water daily)
- Make sure water bowls are always easily accessible
- Offer ice cubes for them to lick
- Offer flavored ice cubes (be cautious if your pet has food allergies; if using broth, use only very diuted low fat/low salt broth)
- Feed your dog wet dog food
- If your dog eats kibble, add water to the kibble
- Try different types of water
- Cool the water offered
If you have any concerns about your pet’s bladder health, we encourage you to contact our hospital for information and to schedule an appointment with one of our veterinarians.