Bladder stones in dogs are relatively common and seen in both female and male dogs of any age, but they can cause dogs serious pain and health issues.
There are a number of potential causes of bladder stones, but the sequence of events that trigger them isn’t understood fully. The good news is there are things you can do as a pet owner to support your pup’s urinary tract health and lower their chances of developing bladder stones.
In this article, we’ll dive into what bladder stones are, why dogs get them, symptoms of bladder stones in dogs, and more.
What Are Bladder Stones?
Bladder stones are hard concretions of minerals that form in the bladder. Not to be confused with kidney stones — which are similar stones that occur in the kidneys.
Bladder stones can vary in size, number, and composition. They can cause discomfort for dogs and lead to health issues if untreated. Common mineral compositions of bladder stones include calcium oxalate, struvite, compound, urate, mixed, and cystine.
Are Bladder Stones a Serious Issue With Dogs?
Without treatment, bladder stones can be a life-threatening issue. Bladder stones can cause a urinary obstruction, blocking urine flow and potentially leading to kidney damage. However, proper treatment and intervention can resolve both small stones and large stones, so it’s important to consult with a veterinarian if you have any concerns about potential bladder stones.
Why Do Dogs Get Bladder Stones?
Even though researchers have not identified a clear sequence of events, there are a number of reasons a dog may get bladder stones. This includes genetic predisposition, urine concentration, low water intake, mineral imbalance, and certain health conditions.
Certain breeds are more prone to developing bladder stones due to genetic factors. For example, smaller breeds are more at risk for calcium oxalate stones, including miniature schnauzers, bichon frise, Lhasa apsos, Yorkshire terriers, and shih tzus.
Highly concentrated urine can increase the risk of stone formation. In certain cases, things that normally dissolve in urine, like calcium, oxalate, and phosphate, can become too concentrated and separate out as crystals.
Low Water Intake
Inadequate water intake can also contribute to the formation of bladder stones. Water intake helps to dilute things that pass through the urinary tract, so if there isn’t enough water consumed, it can cause crystals to form.
An imbalance of minerals in a dog’s diet can lead to stone formation. As noted above, calcium, oxalate, and phosphate are common minerals that can crystallize into bladder stones, so ensuring your pup doesn’t get too much of those minerals in their diet is key.
Certain Health Conditions
Finally, it’s important to be aware of any health conditions your dog already has because some come with an added risk of developing bladder stones. Cushing’s disease, certain types of cancers, and hypoparathyroidism (a health condition that impacts calcium regulation) are examples.
Symptoms of Bladder Stones in Dogs
Now let’s get into some clinical signs of bladder stones in dogs that you can look out for. As you read, remember to check with your veterinarian if you notice any of these symptoms in your pet.
If your dog is drinking more water than usual, it could be a symptom of bladder stones or kidney stones.
Keep in mind that other symptoms often accompany extreme thirst if a dog has bladder stones, so this symptom alone might indicate several other issues. So, if your dog keeps draining their water bowl, it’s a good idea to check in with your vet.
Urinating More Frequently (or Difficulty Urinating)
Any changes in urination patterns are also a key symptom of bladder stones. This could include straining to urinate, urinating a small amount frequently, and urinary accidents, such as peeing inside the house when that’s an atypical behavior.
Change in Color of Urine
Sometimes, a change in the color of your dog’s urine can indicate bladder stones. Pay close attention to your pup’s urine if you notice a change in color, as it may indicate blood. If you believe your dog has blood in their urine, call your veterinarian.
Spurting Stream of Urine
As noted above, changes in urination can be a sign of bladder stones — specifically, a disrupted urine stream. Urine should come out in a solid stream, so if there’s spurting, it may indicate pain or blockage from bladder stones.
Straining to Urinate
Finally, straining during urination is another tell-tale sign of bladder stones. Take your pup to the vet right away if you notice straining, as it can be painful for them and cause significant medical issues.
Types of Bladder Stones and the Most Susceptible Breeds
A veterinarian is necessary to diagnose and treat bladder stones in dogs. Using x-rays or ultrasounds, they can identify the type of bladder stones and the best course of action to get rid of them and prevent them from returning in the future.
With that said, it's still important to be familiar with the different types of bladder stones and the breeds susceptible to each type. This can help you, as a dog parent, be more proactive in your pup’s wellness.
Struvite Bladder Stones
Struvite bladder stones are one of the most common types found in dogs. These types of stones are composed of magnesium, ammonium, and phosphate and often form in a dog’s bladder or urethra from urinary tract infections (UTIs).
Though struvite stones can occur in any breed, some breeds are predisposed, including miniature schnauzers, miniature poodles, bichon frise, and cocker spaniels.
How To Treat Them
Treatment for struvite bladder stones typically involves antibiotics and therapeutic diets prescribed by a veterinarian to dissolve the stone. In some cases, though, surgery may be necessary to remove the stones.
Calcium Oxalate Bladder Stones
The second most common type of bladder stones among dogs are calcium oxalate bladder stones. These stones are composed of calcium and oxalate and may be connected to an increase in urinary calcium concentration after feeding.
Breeds that are more prone to these types of bladder stones include bichon frise, miniature schnauzers, shih tzus, Lhasa apsos, and Yorkies.
How To Treat Them
Calcium oxalate bladder stones typically require surgical removal, as they aren’t responsive to dietary changes. One other option that some veterinarians may try before surgery is to administer a calcium chelator, which binds to calcium and can potentially break up the stones.
Urate Bladder Stones
Urate bladder stones are less common stones composed of urate, which is a type of salt. They can form in one of two ways: from a genetic defect in the metabolism of uric acid, which causes build-up, or from a liver disease called portosystemic shunt. Urate bladder stones form most commonly in dalmatians and English bulldogs.
How To Treat Them
A prescription diet administered by a vet, medications, or physical removal are the best treatment options for urate stones. Additionally, you can decrease the risk for urate bladder stones by feeding at-risk breeds a diet low in purines (found in organ meats, fish, and seafood). You can also feed your pup a high-moisture diet to help decrease urine concentration.
How To Prevent Bladder Stones in Your Dog
Now that you have an overview of the most common types of bladder stones in dogs, you’re likely wondering how to prevent them altogether. Prevention tips include ensuring proper hydration, a balanced or special diet, regular exercise, and managing underlying health issues.
It’s important to note that these solutions may not be able to completely prevent bladder stones in dogs that are most susceptible to developing them, so be sure to speak with your veterinarian if you have any concerns.
The importance of proper water consumption to help prevent bladder stones can’t be overstated. Dogs, on average, should drink about one ounce of water per pound of body weight each day. They can certainly drink more but try to meet at least that minimum.
A Balanced Diet
A well-balanced diet also can play a large role in preventing bladder stones in your dog. The right amount of nutrients, minerals, proteins, fat, and carbs is essential for whole-body functioning. Finding dog food to mix with water is a plus if your pup needs to up their water intake.
Specialized Diets (for At-Risk Dogs)
If your dog is predisposed to bladder stones, consider talking to your vet about a specialized diet to decrease the risk of bladder stones or UTIs. The type of bladder stone your dog is predisposed to will determine what kind of specialized diet they need.
Regular exercise can help prevent bladder stones in dogs, as well as other health problems like obesity. Regular walks will give your dog plenty of chances to urinate, and exercise also helps to keep everything moving in a dog’s body, which is ideal for lifelong health and wellness.
Manage Underlying Health Concerns
Managing underlying health conditions with a trusted veterinarian, like Cushing’s disease, hypoparathyroidism, and UTIs, can further help prevent bladder stones. For example, if your female dog is prone to UTIs, be sure to keep their vulva clean and trim the hair in the area. When you decrease the chance of UTIs, you also decrease the chance of struvite crystals.
What To Give a Dog Suffering From Bladder Stones
If your pup is dealing with bladder stones, here are some things you can give them to provide relief in addition to working with your veterinarian.
Fresh water, again, is key to bladder stone prevention and bladder stone recovery in dogs, so make sure they have fresh water at all times. Encouraging regular drinking, as it helps dilute the urine and flush out minerals that could form stones.
You might also consider trying dehydrated dog food recipes from The Honest Kitchen, as you can add as much water as you like to help with water intake.
The Honest Kitchen’s Goat’s Milk Bowl Booster
An additional supplement to consider feeding your dog if they have bladder stones is The Honest Kitchen’s Goat’s Milk boosters for dogs. This human grade, highly digestible dehydrated goat’s milk has 1.25 billion active probiotics and digestive enzymes, which can help support healthy digestion, immune systems, and well-being.
Low-acidity dog foods can also be a dietary consideration for dogs with bladder stones. These dog foods are formulated to have a lower acid content (higher pH), which can be beneficial for dogs with certain health conditions or predispositions to specific types of bladder stones.
Optimizing Your Dog's Health With The Honest Kitchen
Though bladder stones can be a serious health concern for dogs, there are plenty of strategies and practices you can implement to help maintain your dog’s health. Diet, hydration, and lifestyle all play a huge role in bladder stone prevention and overall urinary system health.
As a pet parent, you can encourage a healthy diet and proper hydration by choosing the right food for your pup. The Honest Kitchen has tons of wholesome meal options, from dry food and wet food to slowly dehydrated food that you rehydrate for an added boost.Explore The Honest Kitchen’s entire dog food collection and find the perfect food for your dog’s needs.