Bladder Stones in Dogs

Bladder Stones in Dogs: Types, Symptoms, and Treatments

Bladder stones in dogs are mineral formations that develop in the urinary bladder. Bladder stones are called urocystoliths or urinary calculi. Types of bladder stones include struvite, calcium oxalate, urate, cystine, and silica stones, and each type has distinct causes and characteristics. The answer to the question “How do dogs get kidney stones?” is mineral over-saturation, often coupled with urinary tract infection (UTI) or diet issues. Bladder stones increase the risk of kidney disease.

Common symptoms of bladder stones in dogs include frequent and painful urination, blood in the urine, and difficulty passing urine. Other symptoms of dog bladder stones are discomfort, lethargy, and a decreased appetite. 

Treatments for bladder stones in dogs depend on the type and size of the stones, ranging from dietary management and medications to dissolve the stones to surgical removal in more severe cases. Preventive measures, such as ensuring proper hydration and dietary adjustments, help reduce the risk of recurrence. Regular veterinary check-ups are crucial for early detection and effective management of bladder stones in dogs.

What are bladder stones in dogs?

Bladder stones in dogs are solid mineral formations that crystallize within the urinary bladder. The stones develop when minerals in the urine become highly concentrated and form crystals, which aggregate to create larger stones, causing discomfort and health complications. “Urinary stones in dogs are formed from precipitation and crystal formation of various minerals, and can cause inflammation, kidney damage, and bladder rupture in some cases,” according to the study by Ghosh, C. et al., “Surgical Management of Urolithiasis in a Male Labrador: A Case Report,” 2020.

Bladder stones vary in size, from a grain of sand to a golf ball. Dog bladder stones include struvite, calcium oxalate, urate, and cystine stones. Each type has a different composition, with varying levels of minerals such as magnesium, calcium, ammonium, and phosphorus.

What are the different types of bladder stones found in dogs?

The different types of bladder stones found in dogs are listed below.

  • Struvite Stones: Struvite stones comprise magnesium ammonium phosphate and often form alongside a urinary tract infection (UTI) caused by urease-producing bacteria. Urease is an enzyme that increases urine pH and promotes crystal formation.
  • Calcium Oxalate Stones: These types of bladder stones in dogs are caused by excess calcium and oxalate in the urine.  Bladder stones are often linked to genetic predispositions, dietary factors, or metabolic conditions that affect calcium regulation.
  • Urate Stones: Urate stones are caused by uric acid and are commonly seen in certain breeds, such as Dalmatians and Bulldogs, due to a genetic predisposition that affects uric acid metabolism. Bladder  stones occur secondary to liver disease.
  • Cystine Stones: Cystine stones are caused by a genetic condition called cystinuria. The kidneys fail to reabsorb the amino acid cystine, leading to high urine levels and subsequent stone formation.
  • Silica Stones: Silica stones form when dogs ingest certain types of grasses, grains, or soil that contain silica.

Are there any breeds that are more prone to developing bladder stones?

Yes, certain breeds are more prone to developing bladder stones. Genetics and metabolic issues affect how the breeds process minerals such as calcium and phoshperous. 

Miniature Schnauzers, Dalmatians, Bulldogs, Shih Tzus, Yorkshire Terriers, and Lhasa Apsos are prone to developing bladder stones. Miniature Schnauzers and Shih Tzus are often affected by struvite and calcium oxalate stones, while Dalmatians are prone to urate stones due to a genetic defect in uric acid metabolism. Bulldogs and Yorkshire Terriers develop bladder stones more than other breeds. 

 “Breeds like Lhasa Apso, Yorkshire Terrier, and Dalmatian are more prone to developing bladder stones,” according to the study by Franti, C., Ling, G., Ruby, A., & Johnson, D. titled      

1999.

What causes bladder stones in dogs?

What causes bladder stones in dogs are listed below.

  • Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs): Bacterial infections increase the pH of the urine and is the frequent answer to “What causes bladder stones in dogs?” because infections promote the formation of struvite stones.
  • Diet: Diets high in certain minerals, such as magnesium or calcium, or with an improper balance of nutrients contribute to bladder stones in dogs. High levels of oxalates, purines, or magnesium, for example, lead to calcium oxalate and urate stones.
  • Genetic Predisposition: Breeds are genetically prone to bladder stones. Dalmatians are prone to urate stones, Miniature Schnauzers, Shih Tzus, and Bulldogs and prone to struvite and calcium oxalate stones.
  • Metabolic Disorders: Metabolic conditions such as hypercalcemia or high calcium levels lead to the formation of calcium oxalate stones. Cystinuria, a genetic disorder, causes cystine stones.
  • Dehydration: Insufficient water intake leads to concentrated urine and crystal aggregation, increasing the risk of bladder stones in dogs.
  • Urine pH: Abnormal urine pH levels facilitate the formation of different types of stones. Alkaline urine promotes struvite stones, while acidic urine favors urate and cystine stones.
  • Medication: Some medications alter urine composition and cause bladder stones in dogs.

What are the symptoms of bladder stones in dogs?

The symptoms of bladder stones in dogs are listed below. 

  • Frequent Urination: Dogs that attempt to urinate frequently and produce small amounts of urine are symptomatic of bladder stones. Frequent urination is an early sign that a dog is developing bladder stones.
  • Blood in the Urine (Hematuria): Blood in the urine is a symptom of bladder stones in dogs. The urine appears pink, red, or brown.
  • Painful Urination (Dysuria): Bladder stones in dogs symptoms include whining or straining while urinating.
  • Difficulty Urinating: A symptom of bladder stones in dogs is when the dog attempts to urinate but passes no urine.
  • Urine Accidents: A symptom of bladder stones in dogs is urinating indoors. 
  • Abdominal Pain: Pain in the abdomen, such as sensitivity to touch, restlessness, or an arched back is one of the bladder stones in dogs symptoms.
  • Lethargy: Reduced energy levels and general lethargy are  symptoms of bladder stones in dogs.
  • Changes in Appetite: Dogs with bladder stones lose their appetite or refuse to eat.
  • Vomiting: Vomiting is a symptom of bladder stones in severe cases.

Do the symptoms of bladder stones in dogs include frequent urination?

Yes, the symptoms of bladder stones in dogs include frequent urination. Frequent urination is often mistaken for a urinary tract infection (UTI). Dogs experience difficulty  fully emptying their bladder, leading to frequent urination because the bladder stones irritate the bladder lining or obstruct the urinary tract.

 “Dogs with urinary lithiasis may experience frequent urination and dysuresia, which can be treated by surgery,” according to the study by Yan-chen, S. titled “The Diagnosis and Treatment of an Example of Dog Urinary Lithiasis,” 2011.

Can a dog with bladder stones  show symptoms of a urinary tract infection (UTI)?

Yes, dogs with bladder stones can show symptoms of a urinary tract infection (UTI). The bladder stones irritate the urinary tract and lead to secondary infections. “Dogs with urinary tract infection-induced struvite cystoliths can show symptoms of a urinary tract infection (UTI),” according to the study by Dear, J., et al. “Evaluation of a dry therapeutic urinary diet and concurrent administration of antimicrobials for struvite cystolith dissolution in dogs,” 2019.

Bladder stones and urinary tract infections (UTIs) present with increased frequency of urination, straining, and blood in the urine, but abdominal discomfort, dribbling urine, and licking the genital area are more specific to bladder stones.

Consult a vet for diagnosis and treatment if a dog shows any symptoms of bladder stones or urinary tract infection.

What complications can arise from bladder stones in dogs?

The complications that can arise from bladder stones in dogs include urinary tract obstruction, recurrent infections, and kidney disease. The complications are serious when left untreated. “Short-term complications of bladder stones in dogs include bladder hematoma and transient dysuria,” according to the study by Kuntz, J., et al. “Double pigtail ureteral stenting and renal pelvic lavage for renal-sparing treatment of obstructive pyonephrosis in dogs: 13 cases (2008-2012),” 2015.

Can having bladder stones lead to complications in kidney disease?

Yes, having bladder stones leads to complications in kidney disease, particularly if the stones obstruct the flow of urine and cause recurrent infections. “Urinary calculi can cause kidney damage, hydronephrosis, and bladder rupture in dogs,” according to the study by Ghosh, C., et al, “Surgical Management of Urolithiasis in a Male Labrador: A Case Report,” 2020. 

Bladder stones block the passage of urine from the bladder to the urethra, putting undue pressure on the kidneys. The pressure disrupts the delicate balance of electrolyte and fluid levels in the body, leading to kidney disease. 

How are bladder stones in dogs diagnosed?

Bladder stones in dogs are diagnosed through a combination of diagnostic methods such as X-rays, urinalysis, and urolith analysis, which help identify the type, size, and composition of the stones. “Ultrasonography can diagnose bladder stones in dogs by showing hyperechoic structures creating acoustic shadowing,” according to the study by Barot, H., Patel, M., & Parikh, P. titled “Ultrasonographic Diagnosis of Urinary System Affections in Dogs,” 2022.

X-rays provide detailed images of the bladder, and the number and location of the bladder stones. 

Urinalysis assesses the urine for signs of infection, inflammation, and crystals, which indicate bladder stone formation. Abnormalities in the urine provide information  about the underlying causes of stone formation.

Urolith analysis involves a  detailed examination of the  stones’ composition, enabling veterinarians to determine the specific minerals and substances that make up the stones. The analysis is vital to deciding whether to dissolve or surgically remove the stones.

Can bladder stones in dogs be detected on a regular veterinary check-up?

Yes, bladder stones in dogs can be detected during a regular veterinary check-up. The veterinarian palpates the dog's abdomen to feel for any abnormalities in the bladder. The vet takes a history and uses diagnostic imaging techniques to confirm that the bladder stones are present. “Uroliths in dogs can be detected during regular veterinary check-ups,” according to the study by Koehler, L., Osborne, C., Buettner, M., Lulich, J., & Behnke, R. titled “Canine uroliths: frequently asked questions and their answers,” 2009.

What treatments are available for bladder stones in dogs?

The treatments available for bladder stones in dogs include surgical removal, lithotripsy, and dietary management. “Minimally invasive treatments for bladder stones in dogs include extracorporeal shockwave lithotripsy, endoscopic nephrolithotomy, cystoscopic-guided basket retrieval, cystoscopic-guided laser lithotripsy, and percutaneous cystolithotomy,” according to the study by Cléroux, A. titled “Minimally Invasive Management of Uroliths in Cats and Dogs,” 2018.

Therapeutic diets help dissolve certain types of stones or prevent their recurrence.  Increased water intake helps flush out small stones and prevent new ones from forming. 

Surgical removal or cystotomy is required when dietary management or dissolving the stone is ineffective. Urohydropropulsion flushes out the stones with a solution, or laser lithotripsy, which breaks up stones using laser energy, is used. Urinary tract infections and other underlying conditions must be treated to prevent recurrence.

Can bladder stones in dogs be treated without surgery?

Yes, bladder stones in dogs can sometimes be treated without surgery. Non-surgical procedures such as dietary dissolution and therapeutic diets specifically formulated to break down the stones are nonsurgical bladder stone treatments. “A dry therapeutic urinary diet combined with antimicrobial therapy can effectively dissolve struvite cystoliths in some dogs with naturally occurring bacterial urinary tract infections,” according to the study by Dear, J., et al. “Evaluation of a dry therapeutic urinary diet and concurrent administration of antimicrobials for struvite cystolith dissolution in dogs,” 2019.

Dietary dissolution involves feeding the dog a diet that alters the pH of the urine, making it less conducive to stone formation and contains ingredients that help dissolve the stones present. Dietary dissolution is particularly effective for certain types of stones, such as struvite stones, which account for many  bladder stones in dogs.

How long does it typically take for a dog to recover from bladder stone surgery?

The typical time for a dog to recover from bladder stone surgery ranges from one to two weeks, depending on the individual dog's health and the complexity of the surgery. The dog’s age, health, and any underlying medical issues influence the recovery time. The dog’s age “Percutaneous cystolithotomy is a minimally invasive surgical alternative for removing bladder and urethral stones in dogs and cats, with rapid postoperative recovery and few major complications. In 83.3% of cases, dogs were discharged within 24 hours postoperatively after percutaneous cystolithotomy for bladder and urethral stones removal,” according to the study by Cruciani, B., Vachon, C., & Dunn, M. titled “Removal of lower urinary tract stones by percutaneous cystolithotomy: 68 cases (2012-2017),” 2020.

How can bladder stones be prevented in dogs?

To prevent bladder stones in dogs, follow the 7 steps below.

  1. Improve Dietary Management. Feed the dog a balanced diet to prevent bladder stones. For dogs prone to certain types of stones, Special veterinary diets alter the pH and mineral content of the urine to reduce the risk in dogs prone to certain stones. Diets low in oxalates help prevent calcium oxalate stones, for example.
  2. Ensure Hydration. Constant access to fresh water encourages regular urination, which helps flush out minerals before they form stones. Wet or canned dog food helps prevent bladder stones because it contains more moisture than dry kibble.
  3. Schedule Regular Veterinary Check-ups. Routine veterinary visits help monitor the dog's urinary health and detect early signs of stone formation. Regular urine tests and imaging detect crystals or small stones before they become problematic.
  4. Monitor and Manage Underlying Conditions. Conditions like urinary tract infections or metabolic disorders contribute to stone formation. Managing these conditions through appropriate medication and lifestyle changes prevents bladder stones.
  5. Monitor Urine pH and Specific Gravity Control. Monitoring and adjusting the dog's urine pH and specific gravity through diet or supplements prevent mineral crystallization. 
  6. Give Prescribed Medication. Veterinarian-prescribed medications are given to dogs to prevent stone formation. For example, potassium citrate is used to alkalinize the urine, which helps prevent calcium oxalate stones.
  7. Adjust Breed-Specific Measures. Make breed-specific dietary adjustments and monitor signs of stone formation more frequently for breeds prone to bladder stones.

Can probiotics help prevent bladder stones in dogs?

Yes, probiotics can help prevent bladder stones in dogs, although they are not a primary treatment. Probiotics promote a healthy gut microbiome, which influences health, including the urinary tract. “Urinary tract infection is one of the conditions in dogs that may benefit from probiotic treatment,” according to the article from Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s DogWatch newsletter, published by Belvoir Media Group titled “The power of probiotics,” 2024. 

A balanced gut microbiome improves digestion and nutrient absorption, reduces inflammation, and supports the immune system, which helps prevent conditions that contribute to stone formation. Probiotics help prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs), a common cause of struvite stones, by maintaining a healthy population of beneficial bacteria that outcompete pathogenic bacteria. Probiotics alone are unlikely to prevent bladder stones. They are a valuable part of a comprehensive prevention strategy that includes dietary management, hydration, and regular veterinary care.

What is the best probiotics for dogs with bladder stones?

The best probiotics for dogs with bladder stones contain beneficial strains such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, which support urinary health and well-being. “Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and L. fermentum B-54 and RC-14 have been shown to reduce urinary tract infections and have potential to reduce kidney stone formation,” according to the study by Bruce, A., & Reid, G. titled “Probiotics and the urologist,” 2003.

Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium promote gut flora balance, aiding in digestion and nutrient absorption. The best probiotics for dogs are formulated to optimize the urinary pH level, which helps reduce the risk of stone formation.