Gout is a much-misunderstood condition. Mention gout and many people will picture obese, ruddy-faced men who eat and drink too much. This overindulgence was thought to cause gout, which is an excruciatingly painful form of arthritis affecting the joints.
However, now we know differently. Gout is due to needle-like crystals of uric acid deposited in the body tissues, especially the joints. This can result from a high protein diet but is also down to genetic factors, or liver or kidney disease, meaning uric acid is not adequately cleared from the system.
But what about dogs?
Can Dogs Get Gout?
Yes, our canine friends can get gout. But the condition is rare and looks very different in dogs than in people. Typically, the condition appears as a bladder issue.
Does my Dog Have Gout?
Gout in its arthritic form is exceedingly rare in dogs. A buildup of uric acid (the cause of gout) tends not to show up as arthritis in dogs but as bladder disease. Thus, if your dog is limping, has sore joints, and you are suspicious of arthritis, then know that gout is unlikely to be the explanation.
The red-hot favorite in terms of uric acid-related disease is the Dalmatian breed. This is because they have a unique metabolism that is not able to get rid of excessive levels of protein in the blood. The body, instead of producing a soluble waste product (allantoin) which can be peed out, in the Dalmatian, produces insoluble uric acid.
Signs of a problem are related to the urinary tract and include:
Straining to pass urine
Increased need to urinate
Producing small puddles at each attempt
The urine may appear cloudy or gritty
Straining, but not able to produce any urine (this is an emergency requiring immediate veterinary attention)
If you notice any of the above signs (regardless of your dog's breed), consult the vet for an immediate appointment.
How Do I Treat my Dog's Gout?
Excessive amounts of uric acid can be the result of:
Breed - being a Dalmatian is a predisposition and, in some cases, the English Bulldog is prone
Portosystemic shunt: A congenital condition where blood is shunted past the liver
Kidney disease: Causing an impaired ability to get rid of waste products
For the latter two conditions, treatment of the underlying condition is essential. In an ideal world, surgical correction of the shunt is the gold standard. However, this is expensive, and so management with drugs and a low protein diet may be the next best compromise.
For Dalmatians, it is often necessary to take a drug, allopurinol, to eliminate the uric acid.
How is Gout Similar in Dogs and Humans?
Technically speaking, gout is caused by excessive amounts of uric acid in the bloodstream. But this is pretty much where the similarity between people and dogs ends.
How is Gout Different in Dogs and People?
People are more likely to get deposits of crystals in the joints of the extremities (such as fingers and toes). Dogs are more likely to grow uric acid crystals in the urine. These chafe the lining of the bladder, causing inflammation and soreness.
Over time, untreated uric acid crystals can clump together and form bladder stones. There is then a risk that one of these stones gets flushed down the urethra and gets stuck. Much like putting a cork in a bottle, the dog can no longer urinate, which becomes an emergency situation.
A young Dalmatian has been passing blood-stained urine for a couple of weeks. Then one morning, he takes a dramatic turn for the worse. He is straining to pee, but nothing comes out. He seems distressed and the worried owner rushes him to the vet.
The vet feels a large, hard bladder, and there is an immediate suspicion the dog has a urinary blockage. An ultrasound scan shows a stone plugging the urethra. Consent is given for an emergency procedure and the dog put under anesthetic.
Fortunately, the vet is able to flush the offending stone back up into the bladder. The dog then undergoes a cystotomy to surgically retrieve the stone from the bladder to prevent a recurrence. On recovery, the Dalmatian is prescribed allopurinol, to lower his uric acid levels and reduce the risk of the same thing happening again.