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Health & Wellness

4 types of bladder stones that affect dogs

Bladder-stone symptoms look a lot like urinary tract infections.

Is your pup straining to pee or going often in small amounts? Or perhaps you’ve spotted blood in your dog’s urine. These are all signs that they need a trip to the vet as soon as possible — and the diagnosis could be bladder stones. 

Clumps of minerals stuck together to form solid stones in your pup’s bladder (aka bladder stones) can lead to serious health issues. If not dissolved or removed, they can cause life-threatening obstructions, which is why it’s important to take your dog to a vet immediately if you notice changes in their bathroom habits.

But there are different types of bladder stones, and each affect certain dog breeds or ages more than others. Here’s why.

‍What causes bladder stones in dogs?

Bladder stones form for different reasons based on their type. For example, some form because of higher pH levels or bacterial infections. 

Food can play a role in developing bladder stones, too, particularly if a dog is fed a low-quality diet. “Other causes are the result of underlying abnormalities in the way the body processes certain minerals, other underlying diseases and/or excessive quantities of certain minerals in the diet,” Dr. Emily Singler, VMD, Fetch by The Dodo’s on-staff veterinarian, says. 

‍Types of bladder stones in dogs

There are four different types of bladder stones, including struvite, calcium oxalate, urate and cystine — and some affect certain dog breeds, genders and ages more than others. However, Dr. Singler says that even if a pup isn’t in a higher-risk category, they’re still able to develop them (it’s just less common). 

Calcium oxalate and struvite bladder stones, typically caused by abnormalities in the urines’ pH, are the most common bladder stone types. “Struvite stones tend to form when the urine is at a higher pH, and calcium oxalate stones tend to form at a lower pH,” Dr. Singler says.

Here's what you should know about each bladder-stone type:

‍Struvite

Because female dogs are particularly prone to developing urinary tract infections (UTIs), it also predisposes them to develop struvite bladder stones. “Certain bacteria can raise the urine’s pH by using an enzyme to break down urea, making struvite crystals and stone formation more likely,” Dr. Singler says. 

‍Calcium oxalate

Pups that have issues processing certain minerals from their diet or underlying issues that cause their calcium levels to be high commonly have calcium oxalate stones, Dr. Singler says. However, researchers are still trying to determine why these stones form in some dogs.

These bladder stones are most common in middle-aged or older, neutered male dogs — except for the Bichon Frise breed, who are prone to developing calcium oxalate stones at a younger age. 

According to Dr. Singler, Miniature Schnauzers, Lhasa Apsos, Yorkshire Terriers, Bichon Frises, Pomeranians, Shih Tzus and Miniature Poodles are at higher risk of developing calcium oxalate stones than other breeds.

‍Urate

Young to middle-aged dogs, particularly those who suffer from a portosystemic shunt (abnormalities in the blood vessels bypassing the liver), are most at risk for developing urate crystals. 

“When the liver isn’t allowed to function normally due to a portosystemic shunt, it can’t adequately filter toxins from the bloodstream,” Dr. Singler adds. “These substances can combine in the urine to form urate crystals, and sometimes, stones.”

But genetics can play a role in urate stones forming, particularly in Dalmatians, English Bulldogs and Russian Terriers. But, these dogs often have an enzyme mutation that takes urate stones and empties them from their body, Dr. Singler explains. 

‍Cystine

Both male and female dogs are at risk of forming this crystal type when their kidneys don’t absorb the amino acid, cystine. These stones can also be hormone-induced in intact male dogs (it’s still being studied by researchers as to why this happens). 

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Symptoms of bladder stones in dogs

According to Dr. Singler, it isn't always obvious when a dog has bladder stones. “But when there are symptoms, they can be similar to signs of a UTI,” she adds. If you think your pup has bladder stones, look out for these signs:

  • Inappropriate urination, such as accidents in the house
  • Blood in the urine
  • Straining to urinate
  • Urinating small amounts frequently

Bladder stones can be very painful for some pups and could create a complete blockage if one or more become lodged in the bladder or urethra, which is always an emergency.

Create a plan with your vet to remove or dissolve the bladder stones, including an at-home pain management plan. And never give your dog human pain medications, including Tylenol, Aspirin or Advil (ibuprofen), as they are toxic to pets.

Treating bladder stones in dogs

There are no home remedies to cure bladder stones in dogs. However, because they can be painful and lead to dangerous obstructions, your pup should visit the vet at the first signs of urinary discomfort.

Once your vet confirms your dog has bladder stones, they may prescribe a special stone-dissolving dog food. The time it takes for bladder stones to dissolve or pass varies, depending on the number of stones, their sizes and type and how well the prescribed treatment works.

“Some bladder stones will not go away on their own,” Dr. Singler explains. In these situations, surgical removal of the stones may be recommended.

“The benefits of bladder stone surgery include an immediate removal of the stones and collection for analysis,” Dr. Singler shares. Surgery can be an option to quickly relieve your dog’s pain and reduce the risk of secondary complications, such as an infection or obstruction. Plus, your vet will analyze the collected stones for a targeted prevention plan.

Once your pup has had bladder stones, they’re at high risk of developing them again. While it won't always prevent their recurrence, Dr. Singler says to follow your vet’s feeding recommendations, which might include a long-term prescription diet.

‍The Dig, Fetch by The Dodo’s expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too. Fetch provides the most comprehensive pet insurance and is the only provider recommended by the #1 animal brand in the world, The Dodo.

Photo by Sandra Seitamaa on Unsplash

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