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Bladder stones and crystals can be an aggravating problem, both in dogs and cats. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) can be part of these conditions, but not always. The main topic addressed here will be on bladder symptoms, as kidney stones are much more rare in canines.
For the simplest explanation, crystals are minerals and stones are composed of several crystals that can come in many shapes and sizes. These stones can become so numerous that they can fill the bladder in some cases, resulting in the need for surgical removal. There is also a chance that they can cause blockage, particularly in male dogs, which is very dangerous and requires immediate veterinary attention.
Common symptoms that occur with stones or crystals include straining to urinate, the ability to urinate only a few drops at a time, frequent urination, and blood in the urine, dribbling urine, loss of appetite, depression and occasional vomiting. If your dog shows any of these symptoms, it is important to get a veterinarian examination immediately. An examination should include a palpation of the bladder, urinalysis and culture.
A urinalysis will show if white and/or red blood cells are present. This will indicate infection. Even if the urinalysis is clear, a culture is necessary to determine if, for certain, an infection is present and to find the appropriate antibiotic treatment. This is very important, because if the wrong antibiotic is given, the infection can continue to reoccur. If crystals are seen in the urine or bladder stones are suspected from symptoms or feeling stones in the bladder, the pH value of the urine is helpful to determine the type of crystals or stones.
Determining the type of crystal or stone is important, as this is crucial to treatment modalities. Always seek a veterinarian’s examination and diagnosis for the correct type of crystal or stone and treatment. I will describe the two most common types of crystals and stones here, and then provide links for some of the less common varieties.
These are also called ‘triple phosphate'(magnesium ammonium phosphate) and are the most commonly seen with urinary tract infections and most frequently seen in females. These type of crystals are seen in young dogs (under a year) or in middle aged or older dogs.
Breeds that have a tendency towards getting these types of crystals are Cocker Spaniels, Labrador Retrievers, Scottish Terriers, Miniature Poodles, Bichon Frise, Miniature Schnauzers, Pekingese, Basset Hounds, Springer Spaniels and German Shepherds. Struvites are almost always accompanied by bacteria that create a high alkaline pH. Always have the dog’s urine cultured for bacteria, even if none are apparent in a microscope upon microscopic inspection.
Not all bacteria will show on inspection, but a culture will reveal if any bacteria is present. Knowing which bacteria are present allows the veterinarian to prescribe the proper antibiotic to eliminate infection. It is also noted that many dogs can have struvites present in the urine and high urinary pH with no ill effects, so if a routine urinalysis shows a pH of 8.0 and a few struvite crystals, but your dog has no symptoms of any kind, there is no need to be concerned.
When the infection is treated by the correct antibiotic, cranberry juice Capsules (not cranberry juice) can be given to the dog. These help to stop bacteria from adhering to the bladder wall and help prevent future infections. Some people have had success keeping the urine acidic, which helps prevent these crystals from forming, by feeding acidic foods and avoiding alkaline foods. A raw, natural diet is high in acidic foods.
Because bladder infections lead to high alkaline urinary pH and struvite crystals, many people, including many vets, make the mistake of treating the problem by acidifying the diet. But that is confusing cause and effect. Alkaline pH and struvite crystals are not caused by a diet of alkaline foods; they are usually caused by bladder infections. Therefore, trying to make the urine more acidic will not get rid of the infection. Alkaline pH can also be normal, as pH can vary a great deal even in the same dog at different times of the day, and also by the way the urine was captured and handled before testing.
Calcium Oxalate crystals tend to affect more males than females. Common breed occurrences include Yorkshire Terriers, Miniature Poodles, Lhaso Apso, and Miniature Schnauzers. Calcium Oxalate crystals can also be found in a healthy dog, but are more prone to develop into stones in some dogs. The pH in dogs with these types of crystals is usually acidic or neutral. It is thought that some dogs that are more prone to these types of stones have an inherited weakness that prevents them from forming nephrocalein, which prevents calcium oxalate stone formation. While these stones are mostly treated by surgically removing them, there has been some success with reducing the oxalate rich foods in the diet and working to alkalize the urine pH.
Alkalizing foods include apples, bananas, cabbage, broccoli, beans, potatoes, pumpkin, millet, honey, alfalfa, non-distilled vinegar (organic apple cider vinegar), squash and most fruit and most vegetables.
General Prevention and Maintenance
Once a diagnosis has been obtained from your veterinarian and treatment has been implemented, it is important to adhere to these tips:
Keep fresh water available for the dog at all times, and encourage consumption of water. Keeping the kidneys and bladders flushed is of paramount importance to help prevent crystals and stone formation. Water consumption is very, very important!
Try and feed moist diets, such as fresh food diets, broths, canned diets and extra water added to foods served.
Do not keep the dog confined, but allow access for urination at all times or as frequently as possible. Holding the urine causes concentrations that encourage crystal and stone formation.
Distilled water may be helpful in averting some cases of stone and crystal formation and check your own water supply for minerals if possible, especially if you have hard water in your area.
There is also some question that high calcium, rather than causing stones, may help dissolve them. This is also true of vitamin C. (See above link)
Continue follow-ups with your veterinarian, and keep an eye on any symptoms as listed in the beginning of this article for evidence of crystal or stone problems or discomfort. These issues must be dealt with immediately for best results.
Reoccurring urinary tract infections and stone problems can also indicate other health problems. Always rule out Cushings Disease, Diabetes Mellitis and bladder cancer. When a cystitis condition does not respond to antibiotics, always check for stone formation. When these are present, most antibiotic therapy is not effective.
Some useful supplements for assisting dogs during times of crystal and stone formation include:
Cranberry Juice Capsules
These are helpful for prevention of struvite problems after treatment with the proper antibiotic. Helps to stop bacteria from adhering to the bladder wall and helps prevent further bacteria infections.
This is a vitamin B formula that is thought to be helpful for crystal and stone formation.
This is helpful for fighting inflammation and regulating the immune system during stressful times.
Special Note from Lew and Mike
Mike asked Lew what she wanted for Christmas this year, and after a slight pause, Lew responded with one word . . . Peace.
So from Lew and Mike to you and yours, Peace!
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