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Bladder Stones & Urinary Tract Infections in Dogs

Bladder Stones in Dogs & Cats
By Jennifer Browning-Stone
Information Specialist University of Illinois College of Veterinary

Urinary tract infections are a very uncomfortable problem for humans and animals alike. In pets, especially cats, urinary tract infections can sometimes be accompanied by bladder stones, which can both initiate and promote infection in the bladder.

Dr. Christine Merle, a veterinarian at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana, says, "While dogs do get urinary tract infections, cats are much more susceptible." Female cats are also more susceptible than male cats. This may be because the urethra (opening from the bladder to the outside world) is very short in female cats, and it is close to the rectum, where there is a large amount of bacteria. In addition, cats do more grooming than dogs, which can spread bacteria.

Dogs are usually housebroken, and because they go outside, there is more opportunity for an owner to notice when there is a problem.

The owner may notice straining or blood in the urine sooner. Infections often go unnoticed in cats because the owner may not see the cat using the litter box. Often, cat owners don't notice there is a problem until their pet stops using the box. Dr. Merle says, "While some cats stop using the litter box for behavioral reasons, it is important to rule out a medical problem before assuming that the cause is behavioral."

Since urinary tract infections can be caused by a multitude of factors, it is often difficult to discover the cause. The origin of an infection could be as simple as an overgrowth of bacteria or as complicated as bladder stones.

The formation of a bladder stone is very much like the formation of a pearl inside an oyster. It often forms from a single irritating particle called a nidus, which consists of a tiny particle such as small bacteria. Minerals are deposited on its surface, and over time it grows larger and can become very irritating to the lining of the bladder.

In female cats, these stones can cause recurrent infections with signs such as straining and blood in the urine. Infections caused by bladder stones often respond to antibiotics but return once the antibiotics are discontinued.

In male cats, stones can cause infection and, if a bladder stone becomes lodged in the urethra, make the cat unable to urinate. Such an obstruction can result in the accumulation of urine in the bladder, which can cause the bladder to rupture, a medical emergency that is fatal if untreated.

If bladder stones are suspected, it is a good idea to take X-rays and do an ultrasound examination. Some stones can be seen on a regular X-ray, while others require ultrasound in order to see them. Ultrasound can also identify the presence of sandy residue and thickening of the bladder wall, both of which are signs of possible bladder stone formation.

Because there are several kinds of bladder stones, it is important to find out what kind of stone an animal has before starting treatment. Some stones can be dissolved with medication and others, such as calcium oxalate stones, cannot.

The only treatment for some stones is surgical removal. Surgically removed stones should be analyzed so a plan can be made to avoid the recurrence of stones in the future.

Prevention may include a change in diet, medication, and prevention of bacterial infections that can lead to the formation of stones. Chronic problems with stones and bladder infections that do not respond to standard treatments may require a consultation with a surgeon or specialist.

If you have any questions regarding urinary tract infections or bladder stones, please contact your local veterinarian.

What are bladder stones?

Bladder stones, more correctly called uroliths, are rock-like collections of minerals that form in the urinary bladder. They may occur as a large, single stone or as dozens of stones the size of large grains of sand or pea gravel.

Are these the same as gall stones or kidney stones?

No. Gall stones are in the gall bladder, and kidney stones are in the kidney. Although the kidneys and urinary bladder are both part of the urinary system, kidney stones are usually unrelated to bladder stones.

What problems do bladder stones cause?

The two most common signs of bladder stones are hematuria (blood in the urine) and dysuria (straining to urinate). Hematuria occurs because the stones irritate the bladder wall, causing bleeding from its surface. Dysuria occurs when stones obstruct the passage of urine out of the bladder.

Large stones may cause a partial obstruction at the point where the urine leaves the bladder and enters the urethra; small stones may flow with the urine into the urethra and cause an obstruction in this area.

When an obstruction occurs, urine cannot pass out of the body and the abdomen becomes very painful. Your dog may cry in pain, especially if pressure is applied to the abdominal wall.

When there is no obstruction occurring, hematuria, and dysuria are the most common signs seen in dogs with bladder stones. However, pain usually also occurs in the bladder.
This is known because when bladder stones are removed surgically, many owners tell us how much better their dog feels and how much more active it has become.

Why do they form?

There are several theories of bladder stone formation. Each is feasible in some circumstances, but there is probably an interaction of more than one of them in each dog.

The most commonly accepted theory is called the Precipitation -Crystallization Theory. This theory states that one or more stone-forming crystalline compounds is present in elevated levels in the urine. This may be due to abnormalities in diet or due to some previous disease in the bladder, especially infection with bacteria.

When the amount of this compound reaches a threshold level, the urine is said to be supersaturated. This means that the level of the compound is so great that it cannot all be dissolved in the urine, so it precipitates and forms tiny crystals. These crystals stick together, usually due to mucus-like material within the bladder, and stones gradually form. As time passes, the stones enlarge and increase in number.

How fast do they grow?

Growth will depend on the quantity of crystalline material present and the degree of infection present. Although it may take months for a large stone to grow, some sizable stones have been documented to form in as little as two weeks.

How are they diagnosed?

Most dogs that have bladder infections do not have bladder stones. These dogs will often have blood in the urine and will strain to urinate, the same symptoms as a dog with bladder stones. Therefore, we do not suspect bladder stones just based on these clinical signs.

Some bladder stones can be palpated (felt with the fingers) through the abdominal wall. However, failure to palpate them does not rule them out.

Most bladder stones are visible on radiographs (x-rays) or an ultrasound examination. These procedures are performed if stones are suspected. This includes dogs that show unusual pain when the bladder is palpated, dogs that have recurrent hematuria and dysuria, or dogs that have recurrent bacterial infections in the bladder.

Some bladder stones are not visible on radiographs. They are said to be radiolucent. This means that their mineral composition is such that they do not reflect the x-ray beam. These stones may be found with an ultrasound examination or with special radiographs that are made after placing a special dye (contrast material) in the bladder.

How are bladder stones treated?

There are two options for treatment. The fastest way is to remove them surgically. This requires major surgery in which the abdomen and bladder are opened. Following two to four days of recovery, the dog is relieved of pain and dysuria. The hematuria will often persist for a few more days, then it stops. Surgery is not the best option for all patients; however, those with urethral obstruction and those with bacterial infections associated with the stones should be operated on unless there are other health conditions that prohibit surgery.

The second option is to dissolve the stone with a special diet. This avoids surgery and can be a very good choice for some dogs. However, it has three disadvantages:

  1. It is not successful for all types of stones. Unless some sand-sized stones can be collected from the urine and analyzed, it is not possible to know if the stone is of the composition that is likely to be dissolved.

  2. It is slow. It may take several weeks or a few months to dissolve a large stone so the dog may continue to have hematuria and dysuria during that time.

  3. Not all dogs will eat the special diet. The diet is not as tasty as the foods that many dogs are fed. If it is not consumed exclusively, it will not work.

Can bladder stones be prevented?

The answer is a qualified "yes." There are at least four types of bladder stones, based on their chemical composition. If stones are removed surgically or if some small ones pass in the urine, they should be analyzed for their chemical composition.

This will permit us to determine if a special diet will be helpful in preventing recurrence. If a bacterial infection causes stone formation, it is recommended that periodic urinalyses and urine cultures be performed to determine when antibiotics should be given.


Why Bladder Stones and Crystals form in Dogs & Cats

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Why Tippy no longer has Bladder Stones

Tippy Says

I know all about bladder stones...OUCH!!!

I got them twice. Thankfully the first time my vet did a good job removing them surgically. He put me on a special diet that was supposed to prevent them from happening, but guess what?

Two years later, back to the vets I had to go to get more of them removed. So much for the Hills SD. Besides, I really didn't like the taste of that stuff and it had this terrible toxic chemical in it called ethoxyquin.....

Oooooh, it makes my hair shed just thinking about how that stuff made me feel.

Anyway the second time I had them stupid stones, I almost died. I hurt sooooo bad and couldn't move around and had blood in my urine...I felt awful.

So back to the vets I went...I Hate going to the vets!

He kept me for a long time, then I had to go back and stay cause the stitches came loose and all my inards fell out on the floor. Dave freaked out and rushed me back to the vets in the middle of the night.

Finally, finally I came back home for good, but it was a long time before I got to feeling better.

In the meantime, Dane felt really bad and got to doing some serious research on what's really in commercial pet food.....What A Shocker!!!

So Dave found this food called Life's Abundance. He bought a bag of it and the Daily Supplement and the Agility supplement (cause I had beginning arthritis symptoms) and .......

Let me tell you this...WOOF WOOOF WOOOOOF!

Man oh man did I ever start feeling better, and quick. Now I have more energy than most dogs half my age and I no longer limp around and I can now easily jump up into Dave's big truck and I run, yea you got that right...Run up the stairs.

I love to chase cows and I can now run faster than any of those funny looking bovines....they're scared of me and I do a great job at keeping them off the fences and in the pasture where they belong. They don't dare get out with me on guard!

Dave's got this big, I mean really big bull. he weighs about a ton. But I'm not scared of him. I get right in his face and make him move where I want him to go! HAH!

Of course, I now expect and Deserve to get the very best food, supplements, and treats. You know it pal, I want treats, and I want good quality treats too.

So Dave gets them for me cause he knows now that giving me a high quality food like the Life's Abundance will help me live the longest life possible and keep me the healthiest I can be.

Go here and try the Daily Nutritional System for your dog or cat, I know you will be most pleasantly pleased.

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