Bladder Stones in Dogs: Everything You Need to Know

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Bladder stones are mineral compounds that build up in your dog’s bladder or urethra. They may look like rocks or crystals, and can come as large as a piece of gravel. Fortunately, bladder stones in dogs are highly treatable, but they can be extremely painful for your dog, and when left untreated, they might create a blockage in your dog’s urethra.  This could be life-threatening.

In this article, we’ll cover the causes of bladder stones, the symptoms to look out for, and what you can do to protect your dog from this condition.

Let’s dig in. 

What Causes Bladder Stones?

There are two different types of bladder stones, and each has slightly different causes.

Struvite Bladder Stones

Struvite bladder stones occur when minerals in your dog’s urine become concentrated and stick together, forming crystals.1 This often happens as a result of a urinary tract infection, which changes the acidity of your dog’s urine and prevents the minerals from being broken down properly. Struvite stones are the most common type of bladder stone in dogs.

Oxalate Bladder Stones

Oxalate bladder stones are a mineral compound of calcium, oxalates, and citrates.2 There are a variety of theories about what ultimately causes these stones to occur. They are thought to be linked to metabolic diseases (such as liver disease).  However, some dogs may simply be genetically predisposed to oxalate bladder stones.

Symptoms of Bladder Stones in Dogs

There are a variety of symptoms that could be indicative of bladder stones, including:

  • Frequent Urination
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Cloudy urine
  • Blood in the urine
  • Abdominal pain
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Frequently licking the genitals

If your dog is experiencing bladder stones, he or she may exhibit one or many of these symptoms. However, there is also a chance that he or she will not show any signs at all.

Sometimes bladder stones pass through your dog’s system without us even noticing that they occurred. However, if your dog is experiencing abdominal pain, investigate. Contact your veterinarian so that your dog can be evaluated further.

If your veterinarian suspects your dog is suffering from bladder stones, he or she will likely order an X-Ray to confirm the diagnosis. This will help the vet determine the size of your dog’s bladder stones and how best to treat them.

According to the VCA, your dogs could have a large bladder stone, single bladder stone, or possibly even a collection of stones. These bladder stones can range in size from sand-like grains to gravel. It can also be common for your pet to have a mixture of both small and large stones at the same time.3

Again, in some cases, your dog may be able to pass the stones on their own. Your vet determines if further treatment is required.

How Are Bladder Stones Treated?

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 preforming surgery.

Dissolving struvite bladder stones with  a special diet or medication is common. However, dissolving oxalate bladder stones is not possible. Physically removing these stones is the only way.

Below is a break down some of the most common treatment methods for bladder stones.

Stick to a Diet 

According to Tuft’s University, struvite bladder stones can often be dissolved by feeding your dog a special, therapeutic diet, formulated to control the levels of protein and minerals your dog consumes and maintain healthy pH levels in the urine.4 This type of food typically makes your dog more inclined to drink water. 

Once your dog’s bladder stones have dissolved, he or she doesn’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 that would help prevent them. 

Antibiotics for Bladder Stones

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

Voiding urohydropropulsion is a non-surgical procedure for removing small, oxalate bladder stones. 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

Surgery

Surgery is never ideal, as it is stressful for both pets and parents, and often requires a longer recovery time. Unfortunately, surgery is the only way to remove certain types of bladder stones.

Large oxalate stones which cannot be expelled must be removed surgically, using a procedure called cystotomy.6

How to Prevent Bladder Stones

Once your dog has experienced bladder stones, it’s natural that you will want to prevent him or her from suffering through this condition again. There are some dog foods on the market that are formulated to prevent bladder stone formation. In general, these therapeutic foods are designed to promote water consumption and control the levels of protein and minerals in your dog’s food.

Helping your dog stay healthy and stay hydrated is a simple way that you can help prevent bladder stones. After all, minerals can compound much more easily in concentrated urine. Before you adjust your dog’s diet, speak to your vet about the best food choice for helping prevent bladder stones in your dog. 

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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 Struvite Bladder Stones in Dogs, VCA, Tammy Hunter

2 Calcium Oxalate Bladder Stones in Dogs, VCA, Tammy Hunter

3 Bladder Stones in Dogs, VCA, Ernest Ward

4 Remedies For Bladder Stones In Dogs - Dogs Naturally (dogsnaturallymagazine.com), Julia Henriques, 2021

5 Voiding Urohydropopulsion For Removal of Urinary Stones in Dogs and Cats, My Pets Doctor

6 Voiding Urohydropopulsion For Removal of Urinary Stones in Dogs and Cats, My Pets Doctor