Bladder stones (or urinary calculi) in dogs develop from minerals that start out as crystals, which combine with small specks of material. Think of the texture of sand; this is how small they first start out. Once precipitation begins to form on the surface, they slowly grow into full-fledged stones, sometimes reaching up to 4” in diameter.
Bladder stones are painful, to say the least, because they affect a dog’s kidneys, bladder, and urethra. They are most commonly found in the bladder and can cause your pup to strain when urinating or lick his genital area more than normal.
However, depending on the bladder stone size, your dog may not experience any symptoms at all, which gives the stones time to develop and cause infection, discomfort, and pain. Bladder stones in dogs may occur due to a bacterial infection, genetic predisposition, or an imbalance in your dog’s urine PH.
If your dog has a bacterial infection in the bladder, this can cause the urine to be more alkaline, which means crystals are more likely to form. When your dog’s pH reaches greater than 7, the urine can’t dissolve the crystals and they will continue to become bigger.
Certain dog breeds may run a higher risk of developing bladder stones. These include mixed breeds, Miniature Schnauzers, Shih Tzus, and Cocker Spaniels. If your dog is one of these breeds, it doesn’t automatically mean he will get bladder stones at some point in his life. It just means you should be extra aware of signs that he’s in pain, especially when urinating.
Finally, to help regulate your dog’s urine pH level, make sure your pet stays hydrated and is always drinking from a fresh, clean source of water. Your dog’s diet and metabolism can also affect his pH balance. Ask your veterinarian what kind of foods or ingredients are best to help regulate it. When the pH balance is off and there is a higher urine concentration (due to dehydration, typically), then there is more of a chance that crystals and eventually, stones will form.
The hope is to have the stones naturally pass through the system. This is typically the least painful and costly treatment. Watch to see if your pet is experiencing trouble urinating, as this is a common sign of bladder stones or at the very least, problems in the bladder or kidneys. Any time your dog is experiencing unusual behavior, make an appointment with the veterinarian so the problem is accurately detected and treated as soon as possible.
Treatment for Bladder Stones in Dogs
A veterinarian will determine if your dog has bladder stones through x-rays. Upon diagnosis, there are several options for treatment depending on how many bladder stones your dog has, how big they are, and your dog’s general health. If it is feasible, your veterinarian may recommend at-home dietary management to start with, in the hopes of dissolving the stones without the need for surgery.
One key factor for this kind of treatment is to prevent urinary tract infections, which will cause a recurring infection and worsen the condition. Your dog may be prescribed antibacterial medication to help with this, in addition to an altered diet.
A changed diet will take a few months to work, which generally includes a decrease in protein and an increase in water consumption, plus a slight increase in salt intake. If your dog is eligible for this type of home care, keep track of the foods you are feeding him and schedule a check-in with your veterinarian for progress updates.
Surgery is another option for treatment, reserved for more serious cases of bladder stones. A procedure called a cystotomy is performed to open the dog’s bladder and remove the stones. The bladder and urethra then get flushed with saline solution to prevent any remaining crystals from forming new stones. Surgery is always more taxing on a dog’s body and most likely will require an overnight stay for observation. The bladder stones are sent to the laboratory for analyzation for what the next steps are for recovery and future treatment.
Once your dog’s bladder stones have dissolved or been removed, ask your veterinarian about special dietary recommendations or other health tips to prevent them from coming back. Even small changes or additions to the diet can make all the difference when it comes to the health of your pet. Bladder stones are never fun to deal with, which is why prevention could possibly be your best route of care.