September 6, 2011

Healthy Pet Guide

Inflammation of the bladder (cystitis) or urethra, as well as formation of crystals and infections, is surprisingly common in dogs, and especially cats. The symptoms include straining, increased frequency of urination and the appearance of blood in the urine.

Any time urinary tract problems occur there is a potential risk for serious illness to result, so it’s always important to get a proper veterinary diagnosis before treatment begins. Urinary tract infections can track back towards the kidneys if left untreated, resulting in a really painful and debilitating kidney infection.

Urinary tract or bladder inflammation, infections and crystals can also be extremely painful. Vomiting, lethargy and blood in the urine along with prolonged straining and crying out in pain when attempting to urinate, are serious red flags which signal that immediate veterinary attention is needed.

Infections
Urinary tract infections often require prescription antibiotics, to help overcome the bacterial overgrowth. However, many holistic vets dispute whether antibiotic use is actually justified in many cases, claiming that most bladder problems are not actually caused by infections. Any time antibiotics are prescribed, it’s a good idea to supplement with a probiotic to help replenish any good bacteria in the GI tract that may get destroyed as the antibiotics do their work. Adding a couple of tablespoons of plain, live-culture yogurt to the food can also help.

It’s important for Fido to be able to relieve himself frequently, especially if he’s prone to urinary tract problems. Having to ‘hold it’ for long periods of time can trigger off infections. In addition to making proper arrangements for a pup who’s home alone all day to get out for bathroom breaks, it’s also important to schedule rest stops when travelling. Some pets are anxious outside of their normal surroundings and stress can make the problem worse, as well.

Crystals
Urinary tract crystals do not always signify a medical problem that needs treatment. Crystals are a normal finding in many dogs and are simply a way of eliminating the normal products of metabolism. However, some pets can experience health concerns such as blockages from crystals, which may also develop into stones. Only a licensed veterinarian can determine if a patient needs medical management for urinary crystals. If crystals are detected in the urine, it’s important to diagnose of the type, because they require very different treatment protocols. It’s also important that urinary samples are tested for pH promptly; the longer a specimen is left, the more alkaline the urine can become, which sometimes leads to an inaccurate reading.

The two main types of crystals (struvite and calcium oxalate) are diametrically opposed to one another.

Struvite crystals are more likely to occur when the urine is too alkaline (or not sufficiently acidic). The approach here is to try to make the urine more acidic, which may dissolve existing crystals and also help to prevent the development of new ones.

Animals with urine that is too alkaline (those prone to struvite crystal formation) can also be susceptible to urinary tract infections. Research is ongoing to determine whether one condition causes the other, or the two things just flare up when the pH becomes high. Antibiotics will help to correct a true infection but they should not be used indiscriminately and it’s not recommended to use them long-term use in an attempt to ‘prevent’ infections.

Calcium oxalate crystals tend to develop when the urine is too acidic – or not sufficiently alkaline. Typically these crystals are treated with a product called potassium citrate, which acts to alkalinize the urine and dissolve these crystals as well as help prevent the development of more calcium oxalate.

Years ago, many pet food manufacturers began adding acidifying substances to their ‘prescription’ foods to help combat struvite crystals, which at the time were the most common crystals to affect pets. Over the longer term however, these strongly ‘acidifying’ diets caused urine that was too acidic and as a result, the prevalence of calcium oxalate crystals has increased dramatically.

A holistic approach to health is all about balance, and helping the body to heal itself. You can monitor the pH of your pet’s urine yourself if you wish, using pH strips which are now quite commonly available. Any variances in the pH, which may indicate susceptibility to an infection or crystals developing, can be addressed with occasional supplement use, based on whether the urine has become more acidic or alkaline. Left untreated or undetected, crystals can form into stones which are even more difficult to address.

Incontinence
For issues of incontinence, where the dog loses control of her or his bladder, resulting in accidents and leaks, proper veterinary diagnosis is vital. The problem may be hormonal, behavioral or physiological and the treatment will depend on the cause.

Diet & Nutrition
Most holistic vets recommend feeding a good quality commercial food (not one of the ‘prescription’ diets which tend to be full of by-products and artificial ingredients including chemical preservatives) or better still – a homemade diet, along with a supplement that is suited to the type of crystals the pet has.

A diet that is higher in moisture is always best. More moisture or fluid intake helps to keep the whole urinary tract hydrated and ‘flushed out’, removing toxins like bacteria, and any crystals that may be starting to form.

Dry kibbled ‘pellet’ diets are the worst type of food for pets who have already experienced a urinary tract problem, or who are prone to infections and crystals. Dry food actually robs the system of moisture.

By definition, raw (BARF) and homemade (fresh and cooked) diets are much higher in moisture than their kibbled and baked counterparts. Canned food is another option for increasing the total moisture intake.

Home Remedies
While it’s not advisable to try treating urinary tract infections at home, there are some natural supplements that can help your dog before you reach the vet, or to maintain urinary tract health in between flare-ups. The homeopathic remedy Cantharis (Spanish Fly) is the most popular choice for cystitis.

Cranberries have been shown to contain a compound that prevents bacteria from adhering to the bladder wall and tissues of the urinary tract, so cranberry juice can be added to the food or drinking water. Always choose a natural, pure juice that is not sweetened. Fresh or dried cranberries can also be added to the diet. Blueberries have also been shown to have the same effect.

Herbs can also help to support long-term urinary tract health and provide soothing relief for certain conditions.

  • Echinacea tincture is often recommended for acute infections and can be helpful for UTI’s.
  • Uva ursi is also recommended for bladder and kidney infections. It is believed to have an antiseptic action which cleanses the urinary tract.
  • Horsetail helps to eliminate urinary tract infections and is especially useful for conditions where blood is present in the urine.
  • Marshmallow herb is very soothing and helps to reduce inflammation and irritation of the urinary tract.
  • Nettle has a strong affinity for the genitourinary tract. It is a natural diuretic and has a history of use for urinary tract infections and inflammation.
  • Corn silk is a diuretic, demulcent, antiseptic that has long been used as an herbal remedy for bedwetting

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Check out some other articles on pet urinary tract health:
Tips for Maintaining Dog and Cat Urinary Tract Health
Bladder Control – Keep Fido’s Urinary Tract Crystal Clear
Benefits of a Higher Moisture Diet