After a routine (or possibly not-so-routine) visit to your dog’s least favorite person: the veterinarian, you are horrified to discover that your best furry friend has been diagnosed with bladder stones. You never knew canines could suffer from kidney stones, let alone bladder stones, and you may feel confused, guilty, or nervous about the future. The medical world can often be overwhelming and full of frightening terms, but you don’t have to walk this journey with your pet alone.
Here are three things to keep in mind when treating your dog with bladder stones.
1. Early Detection
First of all, to have caught the bladder stones as they are forming or have formed is wonderful. Pet owners who are attentive and in tune with their dog’s moods, urination patterns, and eating habits are more likely to pick up on any cues that something may be off, with any medical issue but especially one that is related to bladder stones.
Bladder stones, also called uroliths or cystic calculi, are a close cousin to kidney stones. They are hard, rock-like mineral creations developed in the bladder that can be as small as a poppy seed to as large as a quarter. There are often infestations of multiple stones.
The most common types of bladder stones are struvite, calcium oxalate, and urate stones. While struvite stones are usually caused by infection in dogs, the rest of the stones are caused by metabolic abnormalities (such as liver disease or high blood calcium), nutrient imbalances from diet or supplements, or genetic conditions that the dog inherited from their parents. Sometimes there are crystals in the urine but no stones. These crystals may or may not be a warning sign of stone risk this depends on the type of crystals and the dog’s breed, and presence of a urinary tract infection.
Some of the most common signs that your dog may be suffering from bladder stones are struggling or straining during urination, or blood in the urine. Blood can appear in the urine as a result of the bladder stones causing damage to the interior tissues of the bladder. Dysuria, or straining while urinating, may be the result of either obstruction of the urethra or muscle spasming in the bladder, which in turn causes inflammation and swelling in the bladder.
As you can imagine, neither of these symptoms are comfortable for your dog to experience, so a vigilantly observing pet owner will note discomfort in their dog before or after urination. If your dog needs to go for surgery to remove or dissolve the stones, you will notice a remarkable difference in your dog’s mood and activity levels after their bladder stones have been removed.
Quick tip: Alkaline Urine causes stones! Dry food diets consisting of carbohydrates, especially grains and potatoes, can contribute to high alkaline urine. Dogs are designed to eat a meat-based protein diet that causes more acidic urine. A perfect urine pH of 6 – 6.5 can be achieved when feeding a meat-based, fresh protein rich diet. Alkaline urine is a more hospitable environment for infection to occur. Additionally, when urine pH is alkaline, minerals settle out of the urine and form crystals. For example, these two factors contribute to the formation of struvite stones.
2. Seek Professional Help
A second thing to note when discussing treatment with your veterinarian is to be aware that it is absolutely crucial to address bladder stone issues as soon as they are found. Left unattended, bladder stones can grow so large that they create a valve or a dam that blocks the neck of the bladder either completely or partially. Small stones, once formed, can be carried by a stream of urine and get stuck in the urethra, the exterior of the bladder, and cause a blockage there. Depending on the severity of the obstruction caused by the bladder stone, the dog may not be able to relieve themselves at all, and it is possible that the bladder may rupture.
Finally, there are three different types of bladder stones, and while not all of them will be able to be addressed by a change in diet, several of them will. Diet plays a crucial role in preventing future bladder stone formation as well. To decrease the chances of your dog developing bladder stones, or having them return once dissolved, you should avoid feeding foods that contain high levels of oxalate such as spinach, sweet potatoes, organ meat and brown rice. Instead, include foods with lower oxalate levels like apples (peeled), wild rice and meats and fish in their diet., Struvite stones, calcium oxalate stones, and urate stones. Struvite stones tend to appear in dogs as a result of a urinary tract infection, and generally require more than a change in diet to dissolve, but increasing fluid intact levels has been shown to have positive results in dissolution. Stones formed by calcium oxalate are unable to be dissolved by diet; they must be surgically removed, but future stones may be avoided by switching your dog’s diet away from one that causes high levels of calcium oxalate in the blood. Urate stones occur as a result of a genetic condition, or as a side-effect of liver disease. Typically, this type of bladder stone is able to be both dissolved and prevented from recurring by switching your canine to a diet that is low in purines. Purines are a compound that occurs in DNA, found in organ meats, some seafood, and other meats.
Check out the 21 Day Kidney & Bladder cleansing & balancing diet formulated by Wendy Volhard here: https://www.volharddognutrition.com/winter-diet/
When dealing with stones the best way to avoid their recurrence is to feed a fresh hydrated diet. Creating dilute urine is critical to avoiding recurrent stones and crystals. To dilute the urine, the best recommendations are to feed a fresh natural hydrated diet or to increase water consumption. Dogs fed a commercial dry food diet typically do NOT consume sufficient fluids.
Quick Tip: The recommended fluid intake for dogs on a dry food diet is 1oz of water for every 1 lb of body weight. This means a 50 lb dog should be drinking 50 oz (nearly 1.5 L) of water per day! I guarantee you your dog is not.
Switching to a fresh hydrated diet like Volhard provides the much needed moisture, as Volhard diets when hydrated properly provide 70%-80% moisture. For your reference, the ancestral canine diet contains approximately 80% moisture.
Dehydrated foundation mixes like Volhard allow you to choose the best proteins for dogs that are predisposed to struvite stones or crystals. This is helpful because you can rotate proteins and adjust the diet as needed without changing the foundation mix. Use fresh raw poultry or white meat while avoiding large amounts of organ meats and red meat proteins. Game meats (e.g. kangaroo, elk, venison, and bison) are also not recommended. The best choices of proteins to use are turkey, salmon, lamb, duck, and rabbit.
When faced with a medical condition, it makes sense to start with the least invasive, albeit effective treatment available, and depending on the type of mineral forming your dog’s bladder stones, you may be able to avoid surgery simply by a change in their diet. Some bladder stones may require surgery, while others may be flushed out of your dog’s system using a technique called urohydropropulsion. No matter the route you and your veterinarian decide is best for your puppy, taking a look at their diet and considering whether or not future bladder stones may be avoided by a change is a wise move.