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Bladder stones (or cystic calculi) are mineral compounds that build up in your dog’s bladder or urethra. They may look like rocks or crystals and can come as small as a grain of sand or as large as a piece of gravel. Fortunately, bladder stones in dogs are highly treatable, but are extremely painful for your dog. When left untreated, they can create a blockage in your dog’s urethra. This could develop into a life-threatening situation.
In this article, we’ll cover the causes of bladder stones, the symptoms to look out for, and what treatment options are available. Read on to learn how to protect your dog from bladder stones.
Bladder stones are primarily caused by bladder infections or urinary tract infections (UTI). They can also be caused by genetics, depending on the type of bladder stone. There are actually five different types of bladder stones in dogs: struvite (most common), calcium oxalate, urate, cystine, and silica or silicate bladder stones.
Struvite stones form when minerals in your dog’s urine become concentrated, which causes them to stick together and form crystals.3 This often happens as a result of complications from a UTI. UTIs change the acidity of your dog’s urine to a high pH and prevent the minerals from breaking down properly. Struvite crystals are the most common type of bladder stone in dogs.
Calcium oxalate bladder stones are a mineral compound of calcium, oxalates, and citrates.4 This stone type needs a low pH to develop. Oxalate stones are a combination of high dietary calcium and genetic predisposition.
Urate stones are caused by a problem with your pup’s uric acid metabolism.5 This can be the result of genetic abnormalities or liver diseases.
Cystine stones result from a genetic problem where your dog’s kidneys are unable to absorb cystine.6 However, only certain dog breeds are predisposed to cystine stones, and even then, nearly all dogs with cystine stones are male.
Little is known about the development of silicate stones.7 Veterinarians believe they have to do with the ingestion of silica and silicates.
Preventing bladder stones starts with keeping your dog healthy and hydrated. After all, minerals compound much more easily in concentrated urine.
You may be asking yourself, what food causes bladder stones in dogs? While no food specifically causes bladder stones in dogs, you can feed your dog a special diet to help combat them.
There are some dog foods on the market formulated to prevent bladder stone formation. In general, these therapeutic foods promote water consumption and control the levels of protein and minerals in your dog’s food. Before you adjust your dog’s diet, speak to your vet about the best food choice for helping prevent bladder stones in your dog.
There are a variety of symptoms that could be indicative of bladder stones, including:
Dogs with bladder stones may exhibit symptoms. However, there is also a chance they will not show any clinical signs at all. Sometimes bladder stones pass through your dog’s system without pet parents even noticing that they occurred.
If your dog appears to be experiencing abdominal pain, contact your veterinarian so they can help you figure out what’s wrong with your dog.
If your veterinarian suspects your dog is suffering from bladder stones, they’ll probably order x-rays or ultrasounds to confirm the diagnosis.
This helps the vet determine the size of your dog’s bladder stone (or stones) and how best to treat them. It’s common for your pet to have a mixture of both small and large stones at the same time.8
The exact treatment for bladder stones depends on the type and size of the stone your dog has. Stones may be treated by changing your dog’s diet, administering antibiotics, or performing surgery. In some cases, your dog may even be able to pass the stones on their own.
Below is a breakdown of some of the more common treatments for bladder stones in dogs.
Dissolving struvite bladder stones with a special diet or medication is common. However, dissolving calcium oxalate, urate, cystine, or silicate bladder stones is not possible.
Struvite bladder stones can often be dissolved by feeding your dog a special, therapeutic diet.8 Work with your vet to find food formulated to control the levels of protein and minerals your dog consumes, as well as maintain healthy urine pH levels.9 This type of food typically makes your dog more inclined to drink water.
Once your dog’s bladder stones have dissolved, they won’t need to continue eating the special food. However, if your dog suffers from frequent bladder or urinary tract infections, your veterinarian may suggest dietary changes to help prevent them.
Bladder infections are a common cause of struvite bladder stones. If your dog is suffering from struvite stones, your vet may prescribe antibiotics to treat his or her bladder infection. In the case of struvite stones, it’s essential to treat the underlying issue that caused them, as well as the stones themselves. If the condition at fault is left untreated, your dog could develop struvite stones again.
Voiding urohydropropulsion (VU) is a non-surgical procedure for removing small bladder stones.8 Your veterinarian inserts a catheter into your dog’s urethra and then flushes the bladder with a fluid solution to expel the stones. Of course, for this technique to be successful, the bladder stones must be small enough to fit through the catheter tube. Usually, this requires sedating your pet.5
Bladder stone surgery in dogs is never ideal. It’s stressful for both pets and parents, and often requires a long recovery time. Unfortunately, surgical removal is the only way to remove certain types of bladder stones if they’re too large for VU.8
Large oxalate stones that cannot be expelled must be removed surgically, using a procedure called a cystostomy.8
Ultrasonic dissolution is a cutting-edge treatment that’s only available at certain clinics.8 A high frequency is used to break up the bladder stones into smaller, more manageable sizes. Your vet can then either perform an urohydropropulsion to flush out the tiny fragments, or let them pass naturally. This procedure is minimally invasive and can be used on all types of bladder stones.
Diagnosis, antibiotics, voiding urohydropropulsion, dissolution, and surgery all add up. These medical expenses can become a burden on pet parents who just want to keep their dog healthy. Dog insurance may help cover the diagnosis and treatment costs associated with bladder stones, removing the burden and letting you focus on helping your dog recover.2
Get started today with a free quote from MetLife Pet Insurance,1 winner of the “Pet Insurance of the Year” Award in the 2022 Pet Independent Innovation Awards Program.
Nothing in this article should be construed as financial, legal or veterinary advice. Please consult your own advisors for questions relating to your and your pet’s specific circumstances.
1 Pet Insurance offered by MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 485 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10022, and Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886, in those states where MetGen’s policies are available. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is the policy administrator authorized by IAIC and MetGen to offer and administer pet insurance policies. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC was previously known as PetFirst Healthcare, LLC and in some states continues to operate under that name pending approval of its application for a name change. The entity may operate under an alternate, assumed, and/or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions as approved, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota), MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois), and such other alternate, assumed, or fictitious names approved by certain jurisdictions.
2 Provided all terms of the policy are met. Application is subject to underwriting review and approval. Like most insurance policies, insurance policies issued by IAIC and MetGen contain certain deductibles, co-insurance, exclusions, exceptions, reductions, limitations, and terms for keeping them in force. For costs, complete details of coverage and exclusions, and a listing of approved states, please contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC.
3 “Struvite Bladder Stones in Dogs,” VCA Animal Hospitals
4 “Calcium Oxalate Bladder Stones in Dogs,” VCA Animal Hospitals
5 “Urate Bladder Stones in Dogs,” VCA Animal Hospitals
6 “Cystine Bladder Stones in Dogs,” VCA Animal Hospitals
7 “What causes bladder stones in dogs and how are they treated?,” VetHelpDirect
8 “Bladder Stones in Dogs,” VCA Animal Hospitals
9 “Remedies For Bladder Stones In Dogs,” Dogs Naturally