Bladder stones, also called uroliths or cystic calculi, can form in many small animals, including our dogs. And they can be caused by a variety of issues — each requiring a unique treatment plan. Because of this, dog bladder stones require diagnosis from a doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM).
If your dog has already been diagnosed with bladder stones or if you're concerned your dog might be suffering from this condition, you can use this resource to learn more. However, this article is for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. If you're concerned about your pet's health, consult your veterinarian.
Here's a look at the types of dog bladder stones, common causes, signs, and treatment options you can discuss with your vet.
Types of Bladder Stones in Dogs
Dogs can have several different types of bladder stones. Each has a different mineral composition and has its own causes and treatments.
When a DVM diagnoses your dog with bladder stones, they will also want to identify the type of stone in order to find the proper treatment. Here are the most common types of bladder stones in dogs.
- Struvite stones: Also called struvite crystals, these stones are made up of magnesium ammonium phosphate. They're the most common type of dog bladder stones, though they're more common in female dogs than male. These stones are often associated with urinary tract infections.
- Calcium oxalate stones: These stones are believed to be caused by a kidney abnormality that leads to calcium buildup. They can affect any dog, but they're more common in miniature schnauzers, Lhasa apsos, shih tzus, Yorkshire terriers, bichon frises, and miniature poodles.
- Urate stones: This type of kidney stone is less common, but it can affect Dalmatians, which are genetically predisposed to be missing the enzyme uricase, leading to highly acidic urine. Dogs with congenital portosystemic vascular shunts are also at risk.
- Cystine stones: Another bladder stone with a suspected genetic link, cystine stones are associated with cystinuria, an abnormality that leads to a build-up of amino acids in the urine. This type of stone is extremely rare in female dogs and occurs much more commonly in male dogs.
- Silica stones: Made up of silica, these stones are also more common in male dogs. While veterinarians aren't entirely sure what causes silica stones, diets high in plant-based proteins, especially those made with corn gluten feed or grain hulls, are on the list of suspects. German Shepherds also appear to be prone.
What Causes Dog Bladder Stones?
Bladder stones form when the conditions in your dog's bladder are abnormal. Their urine pH may become too low, causing minerals to build up in their system and create a climate that encourages stone formation. However, urine pH isn't typically the root cause of bladder stones — it's more likely to be a symptom of a broader issue. Here are the most common causes of dog bladder stones:
- Chronic bacterial infections: Urinary tract infections and other bladder infections are the most common causes of bladder stones in dogs. When they lead to bladder stones, they typically cause struvite stones.
- Kidney abnormalities: When the kidneys fail to clear away enough calcium, it can build up in your dog's urinary bladder and lead to stone formation, particularly of calcium oxalate stones.
- Liver disease: If your dog's liver isn't able to clear out the uric acid in your dog's body, it can lead to stone formation. Portosystemic vascular shunts are the most common liver disease to cause this issue.
Signs of Bladder Stones in Dogs
If your dog only has small stones, you might not notice any clinical signs. It's only once bladder stones get big enough to cause a full or partial blockage that symptoms begin to emerge. These are common signs of bladder stones in dogs:
- Frequent urination
- Difficulty urinating
- Dysuria or pain during urination
- Whimpering or whining during urination
- Blood in the urine
- Accidents in the house
- Inability to urinate
- Pain in the lower back when touched (especially in the area near the dog's kidneys)
If your dog is experiencing any of the last four symptoms in this list — inability to urinate, vomiting, lethargy, or pain in the lower back — talk to your vet immediately. These could be signs or a urinary obstruction, a complete blockage of your dog's urinary tract that could be life-threatening if left untreated.
Diagnosing Bladder Stones in Dogs
When you talk to your vet about your pet's urinary symptoms, they may perform any combination of the following examinations to determine if your pet has bladder stones:
- Physical examination: While most bladder stones can't be felt during a physical exam, some can. So, your vet will likely feel the area, looking not just for a palpable bladder stone, but also for any signs of pain when the area is touched.
- Urinalysis: Your DVM may collect a urine sample to perform a urinalysis in which they look for signs of an underlying infection, or a kidney or liver issue. They may also be able to detect signs of bladder stones. Most veterinarians can perform this test in-office, but some may need to send the sample to a lab for testing.
- X-rays: X-rays or radiographs can show stones in the kidneys, bladder, or urethra. Your vet can typically perform this test in the office.
- Ultrasound examination: Not all bladder stones will show up in X-rays — ultrasounds can pick up stones that X-rays miss. Your vet may be able to perform this test in-office or you may have to visit a specialist.
Diagnosis and treatment isn't a linear process for bladder stones. After your dog's initial diagnosis, your vet will likely recommend one of the treatments below. If your dog's treatment involves removing the stones, your DVM may run additional tests to identify the type of stones your dog has, and they may adjust your dog's treatment plan based on the results.
Treatment Options for Dog Bladder Stones
Once your dog is diagnosed, your vet will work with you to develop a treatment plan. Any plan will include treating the underlying cause of your dog's bladder stones as well as the stones themselves. Here are some of the remedies your vet may recommend, as well as when they're most likely to recommend them:
- Antibiotics: If your dog is suffering from a bacterial infection, your vet will prescribe antibiotics to treat the underlying infection.
- Prescription diet: Typically paired with antibiotics for dogs that have an infection, a special diet can help your dog's body breakdown the stones without surgical intervention. It can also help prevent the recurrence of bladder stones — with different specialized diets for each different type of stone.
- Urohydropropulsion: If your dog has small stones, your vet may use this technique to help them pass the stones through their urinary tract. In urohydropropulsion, dogs have to be sedated. A vet will then inject a saline solution into the dog's bladder and use manual pressure to help your dog empty their bladder.
- Lithotripsy: This treatment uses lasers to break up bladder stones. Although it's a non-surgical treatment, it's still a serious procedure that requires your dog to undergo sedation.
- Cystotomy: This procedure involves making a small incision through a dog's bladder wall for the surgical removal of bladder stones. Your dog will be sedated and, as is typical of surgeries, they will need two weeks to recover and get back to their normal happy self.
- Laparoscopy: Made with a smaller incision, this surgery is less invasive than typical surgery and often has a shorter recovery time.
Once your vet removes the stones, they may recommend an ongoing treatment plan, especially if your dog is prone to bladder stones. Ongoing treatment can include medication to treat your dog's underlying condition, a special diet to prevent future stone formation, or increased water consumption to regularly flush out your dog's bladder.
While it can be hard to force your dog to drink more water, you can encourage them by making sure they always have fresh water available, and feeding them wet food instead of dry. You can also soak their dry food in a nutritious bone broth for a few hours before serving.
Help Your Dog Find Relief From Bladder Stones
Dog bladder stones are painful for our pets and can cause accidents in the house, which can be a source of stress for a trained dog (and their owner). But, this condition is treatable with help from your DVM.
Your veterinarian can help you identify the cause of your dog's bladder stone formation, and develop a treatment plan. To help keep your dog's bladder healthy, make sure they drink plenty of water.
You can also try an all-natural bladder supplement for dogs. Made with cranberry for your pet's urine pH, D-mannose to protect against infection, and probiotics to add protective microbes to your pet's symptom, this supplement helps to naturally address the common causes of dog bladder issues.
To learn more about your pet's health and wellness, check out the Native Pet blog.