Can Dogs Live with Bladder Stones?

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Introduction

Has your dog started having little accidents on the floor? Do they need to urinate more frequently, have trouble peeing, or have blood in their urine? If so, your un-paw-tunate furry friend could be suffering from bladder stones.

These rock-like mineral formations can develop in dogs just like they can in humans, and they produce a number of telltale symptoms that can be frustrating for owners and painful for pets. However, the good news is that canine bladder stones can be treated, and that there are a few simple things you can do to prevent your dog from ever experiencing their discomfort. Read on to find out everything you need to know!

Signs and Symptoms of Bladder Stones

Bladder stones start out small but will get larger over time. Some dogs could be affected by a large, single stone, while others could have a number of stones ranging from fine, sand-like grains up to gravel in size. If your dog has bladder stones, there are three common symptoms to keep an eye out for, and your pooch could potentially suffer from one, two, or all three of them:
  • Blood in the urine (hematuria). This occurs when the stones irritate and cause damage to the bladder lining, resulting in bleeding.
  • Straining to urinate (dysuria). Dysuria occurs due to inflammation and swelling of the bladder walls or the urethra, as a result of muscle spasms, or because the stones are acting as a physical obstruction to urine flow.
  • Increased frequency of urination (pollakiruia). This can result from the pain and swelling caused by the stones irritating the bladder walls.

So, if you notice your pooch having regular accidents, straining to urinate, going to the bathroom more often than usual, or even that they have discolored urine, it's time to take them to your vet for a full check-up. 

However, it's worth pointing out that these symptoms can also be associated with other conditions affecting the urinary tract, such as tumors and infections, so leave the diagnosis to an expert.

Body Language

Keep a close eye on your dog's body language for signs that they may be suffering from bladder stones, such as:
  • Ears drop
  • Pacing
  • Urine sprinkling

Other Signs

Other signs you should keep an eye out for include:
  • Bloody or discolored urine
  • Straining to urinate
  • Increasing frequency of urination
  • Bathroom accidents
  • Licking around the urinary opening

The Science of Bladder Stones in Dogs

Bladder stones are rock-like collections of minerals and other materials, and there are a few different theories as to why they actually develop. The most widely accepted theory is called the Precipitation-Crystallization Theory, which states that these painful stones are created when elevated levels of one or more stone-forming crystalline compounds are present in the urine.

However, the exact reason why those compounds come to be there can be affected by many factors. For example, they could be present due to dietary factors, due to a urinary tract infection, or potentially, due to some sort of problem with the body's metabolism.

Once the amount of the compound exceeds a certain level and can no longer be contained by the urine, tiny crystals are formed. These then irritate the bladder lining, which produces mucus in response. The mucus and crystals then bond together into clusters that gradually grow into stones. The stones can form in as little as two weeks or over a period of many months, but the speed of growth varies depending on the amount of crystals present and the degree of infection.

The majority of bladder stones in dogs are made from struvite, calcium oxalate, urate, or cystine crystals. Quite often, it'll also be possible to determine the type of crystal involved by examining a urine sample under a microscope.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Bladder Stones

After assessing your dog's condition, your vet will need to rule out other potential causes for their symptoms, such as a bladder infection or cystitis. While some bladder stones can be palpated (felt with the fingers) through the abdominal wall, X-rays or ultrasounds are typically required to provide a definitive diagnosis. 

Some stones are said to be radiolucent, which means their mineral composition is such that they don't reflect X-ray beams, so an ultrasound or a radiographic contrast study (which involves placing a special dye in the bladder) will be required.
Treatment of dog bladder stones centers around four main options:

  • Surgical removal. This is usually the quickest and most effective treatment option, and it involves opening the bladder through an abdominal incision. Most patients will show signs of rapid improvement within two to four days of the procedure, but surgery often isn't the best option for dogs with other health issues.
  • Non-surgical removal. The second option involves a technique called urohydropropulsion, which involves the insertion of a special catheter into the bladder to flush the stones out. This approach is only possible with very small stones and can be performed under heavy sedation or general anesthesia.
  • Dietary dissolution. Sometimes it's possible to dissolve a dog's bladder stones by feeding a special diet formulated to do exactly that. The diet can be tailored to target the specific type of stone the dog is suffering from, and it can be a worthwhile option for dogs who need to avoid surgery. However, there are a few key drawbacks, including the fact that it doesn't work on all types of stones and that it can take several weeks and even a few months to work. Of course, there's also the risk that the dog simply refuses to eat the special diet.
  • Ultrasonic dissolution. Available in some veterinary specialist centers, this option involves using high frequency ultrasound waves to break the stones into tiny particles that can then be flushed out of the bladder. It's a quick option and also ensures that your dog can avoid surgery, so check with your vet to find out if it's available in your area.

How to Prevent Bladder Stones:

  • Whenever possible, bladder stones that have been surgically removed or passed in your pet's urine should be analyzed to check their chemical composition.
  • Once the stones have been removed or dissolved, it's time to think about prevention.
  • The right diet may help prevent bladder stones, and there are specially formulated foods available that are designed to reduce the risk of struvite, calcium oxalate, urate, and cystine crystals forming.
  • Encouraging your dog to drink more can also prevent crystals from forming.

We Want to Hear About Your Dog's Bladder Stone Battle!