When an adult dog has an accident in the house, you know there’s an issue. While many pet parents may jump to the conclusion that their dog is angry at them or trying to tell them something, it could be a medical condition causing frequent, painful urges to urinate.
In fact, urinary accidents are one of the most common signs of urinary tract infections (UTI) and bladder stones in dogs. If this is the case, instead of a time out, your dog may need a trip to the vet.
What Are Bladder Stones?
Bladder stones are collections of mineral crystals that develop in the bladder or lower urinary tract. The medical term for these stones is “urolith,” which refers to a stone within the urine that may be in the bladder or urethra.
Kidney stones (nephroliths) may be formed of the same minerals as bladder stones, but they are found in the kidney or occasionally the ureter (the tube that connects the kidney to the bladder). Most kidney stones do not cause problems in dogs unless the stone blocks the urine from flowing out of the kidney or leads to repeated urinary tract infections.
For a serious illness, bladder stones are fairly common in dogs. While urinary tract infections are much more common, bladder stones occur frequently enough in dogs that family veterinarians are very experienced in treating them.
What Causes Bladder Stones in Dogs?
Microscopic mineral crystals are often found in urine and may never become a problem. However, when conditions are right – such as higher acidity of urine, incomplete emptying of the bladder, and low water intake – these crystals may form into stones. Unless conditions in the bladder change, the stones will continue to multiply and grow.
Some types of bladder stones develop because of the way the body processes proteins and minerals. As these metabolic processes are under genetic control, there are known genetic risk factors for specific types of bladder stones in many dog breeds.
Types of Bladder Stones in Dogs
There are several types of bladder stones that are common in dogs, each named based on the mineral that is most prevalent. By far the most common are struvite (magnesium ammonium phosphate) and calcium oxalate.
These types of stones account for about 90 percent of all bladder stones in dogs, with struvite stones being more prevalent in females and calcium oxalate stones being more prevalent in males.
Struvite bladder stones in dogs are most often associated with urinary tract infections, which is why female dogs are at much higher risk for their development. (Male dogs are at low risk for urinary tract infections due to their long, narrow urethra that acts as a barrier to bacteria reaching the bladder.) Specifically, females with hooded vulvas or those who are obese and unable to clean themselves properly are more prone to UTIs.
Breed Risk of Bladder Stones in Dogs
As mentioned above, there are certain breeds that are genetically more at risk for certain types of bladder stones .
Some breeds that are at increased risk for struvite stones include:
Breeds at increased risk for calcium oxalate stones include:
- Standard Poodle
- Miniature Schnauzer (both male and female)
- Brussels Griffon
- Miniature Pinscher
- Bichon Frise
- Yorkshire Terrier
Beyond these two most common types of stones, we’ve broken down a few others types of bladder stones that may arise in dogs, as well as the breeds that are at higher risk for them:
- English Bulldog
Symptoms of Bladder Stones in Dogs
Symptoms of bladder stones in dogs are similar to those of UTIs and other types of lower urinary disease. Most often pet parents notice that their dog needs to urinate more frequently, will attempt to urinate frequently on walks, or is straining to urinate. Having urinary accidents in the house is also a sign of lower urinary disease, as is foul smelling urine and urine with blood in it.
Urinary disease is painful, especially in the abdominal area, and dogs may show signs of pain by hunching their backs, not wanting to be pet, or otherwise being protective of their bellies. If left untreated, dogs can become very ill from their lower urinary disease and may vomit, have diarrhea, be lethargic, or not want to eat.
If a dog is unable to urinate for 12 hours or more despite trying, they may have a urinary obstruction, which is fatal if left untreated. This is a medical emergency and you should seek veterinary attention immediately.
Diagnosing Bladder Stones in Dogs
Most bladder stones are diagnosed through a combination of urine testing and X-rays. Occasionally it is possible for a veterinarian to feel bladder stones on a physical exam. Your veterinarian will also assess the size of the bladder, pain associated with it, and overall physical health. Urine testing can tell your veterinarian what type(s) of stones your dog has, which is important information because different types of stones require different treatments.
Most, but not all, types of bladder stones are visible on X-rays, which can show the size, shape, location, and relative quantity (one, a few, or many) of the stones. Some bladder stones are not visible on an X-ray and require an abdominal ultrasound to confirm their presence. Bloodwork is also useful in forming a complete diagnosis and designing a tailored treatment plan.
Bladder Stones in Dogs Treatment
Veterinarians treat bladder stones with medical or surgical management. Medical management may include antibiotics for a concurrent urinary tract infection, anti-inflammatory pain control, and a prescription diet that dissolves existing stones and reduces the risk of new ones developing.
Your veterinarian can write your pup a prescription for a urinary dissolution diet, and there are several companies that make prescription dog food, including Royal Canin, Hill’s, Purina, and Blue Buffalo. If your dog is prescribed this kind of diet, they should stay on it for the rest of their life unless specifically directed otherwise by a veterinarian.
Urate, xanthine, and silica stones may have different treatment protocols. Dogs with urate stones may be placed on medication called allopurinol and started on a vegetarian diet. Dogs with xanthine stones may also be started on a vegetarian diet, and dogs with silica stones should be offered purified water and given a specific limited-ingredient diet low in silica.
Depending on the size and type, some bladder stones in dogs are treated with surgical removal during a procedure called a cystoscopy. Calcium oxalate stones, for example, are not dissolvable with diet and typically require surgery, which involves going in through the abdomen, making an incision in the bladder, and scooping out the stones. The surgery can be complicated by stones stuck in the urethra, especially in male dogs.
Once the stones are removed, a sample is sent out for analysis so that a long-term treatment or prevention plan can be designed. Dogs who have surgery will also be placed on prescription diets to reduce the risk of recurrence.
Lithotripsy (laser treatment to dissolve bladder stones) is not routinely performed in dogs but may be recommended for some ureteral, urethral, and kidney stones, or in dogs with other complicating medical issues.
There are no effective home remedies for bladder stones. Over-the-counter supplements, such as those containing cranberry extract or other plant derivatives, are not effective at treating bladder stones or symptoms in dogs. If your dog is displaying signs of a urinary problem, it is best to take them to a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Cost to Treat Bladder Stones in Dogs
The cost of bladder stone care in dogs depends on the treatment.
When it comes to prescription diets, the size of your dog and how much they eat factor into the cost. A 20 lb bag of food or case of 24 cans can range from $90 to $150, regardless of which brand you and your veterinarian select. These diets are also part of the long-term treatment and prevention plans for most types of bladder stones in dogs, so the cost will be ongoing.
The cost of surgery is typically in the range of $2,000 to $5,000, depending on whether your primary veterinarian or a specialist surgeon performs the procedure, how complicated the stone removal is, and how quickly your pup recovers. If the surgery is performed as an emergency due to stones preventing your dog from urinating, it will be more expensive. Similarly, if the urethra has ruptured, the cost of surgery will increase and involvement of a surgical specialist is usually required at that point.
How to Prevent Bladder Stones in Dogs
Bladder stones are not fully preventable. However, making sure your dog always has access to plenty of clean, fresh water can be helpful in reducing the likelihood of stone developing. Similarly, regular bathroom breaks, such as walks that are long enough to ensure your dog fully empties his bladder, can also help reduce the risk of bladder stones.
For dogs with a history of urinary crystals or bladder stones, a special prescription diet can reduce the risk of recurrence. There is no known benefit of dissolution diets for dogs without a history of bladder stones.