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?
But the condition is rare and looks very different in dogs than in people.
Does my Dog Have Gout?
OK, cards on the table: 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 favorites in terms of uric acid related disease is the Dalmatian breed. This is because they have a unique metabolism which is not able to get rid of excess levels of protein in the blood. The body, instead of producing a soluble waste product (allantoin) which can be peed out, in the Dalmatian it produces insoluble uric acid.
Signs of a problem are related to the urinary tract and include:
Blood stained urine
Straining to pass urine
Increased need to urinate
Producing small puddles at each visit
Straining, but not able to produce urine (This is an emergency requiring immediate veterinary attention.)
If you notice any of the above signs (regardless of the dog's breed) then contact your vet for urgent advice.
How Do I Treat my Dog's Gout?
Excessive amounts of uric acid can be the result of:
Being a Dalmatian
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 can be the next best compromise.
For Dalmatians, it is often necessary to take a drug, allopurinol, to eliminate the uric acid. Allopurinol is not licensed for use in dogs (but it is in people) and so your vet will ask you to sign a consent form giving permission for its use.
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). Whilst 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.