The Pet Owner's Guide to Dog Bladder & Kidney Stones

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If you've ever suffered from kidney stones, one word immediately comes to mind: OUCH! Or, maybe you've heard tales of the excruciating pain involved in “passing” a stone.

The pain is the same for dogs.

Unfortunately, dogs don't speak "human." It's up to you, as pet parents, to figure out what's going on. And, fix it. Sometimes, it takes a while for owners to notice kidney stone signs, leaving the dog to suffer in silence.

Knowing the causes of dog kidney stones leads us to take proactive steps. While pricey, proactive steps cost far less in the long run than the alternative. If you wait too long to address kidney stones, the end prescription just might be surgery. Kidney or bladder stone surgery is tedious and costly.

Being proactive, knowing about, and being on the lookout for causes and symptoms of kidney stones helps you avoid surgery later on.

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How to Recognize the Symptoms of Canine Bladder and Kidney Stones

Bladder stones and kidney stones are basically the same. Bladder stones develop in the bladder, and kidney stones develop in the kidney. In both instances, the symptoms of stones and infection in dogs are the same.

Symptoms of Bladder and Kidney Stones:

  • Straining to urinate
  • Eliminating small amounts of urine
  • Frequent squatting or hiking
  • Bloody urine
  • Licking the private parts
  • Change in elimination behaviors

Most of the above symptoms are straightforward. However, licking the private parts is often not always obvious. A more obvious result of licking is salivary staining.

When a dog constantly licks his fur, the saliva turns the dog’s fur a golden yellow, almost rust color. Veterinarians call yellow color change salivary staining. Salivary staining indicates some sort of problem.

A good example of a similar scenario is a dog with allergies. Dogs suffering from allergies often have salivary staining on their feet. The staining shows up as brown or rust-colored spots, usually on the tops of feet or between the toes. Dogs suffering from urinary issues often display staining between the legs. Salivary staining between the rear legs is a tell-tale sign of either allergies or urinary issues.

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The Primary Causes of Dog Bladder Stones

The medical name for bladder stones are uroliths, and kidney stones are nephroliths. Both uroliths and nephroliths are concretions found in the urinary tract and kidney. Minerals like calcium and magnesium crystallize into stones. The stones then get trapped in the kidneys or bladder, causing painful symptoms.

In humans, the symptoms are lower back pain, abdominal pain, and difficulty urinating. Symptoms are similar in dogs, but we usually notice difficulty urinating. You might see a little stiffness or yelping when you touch the abdomen or lower back.

Supersaturation of Minerals in the Urine

One of the main causes of bladder and kidneys stones is supersaturation of minerals in the urine. When urine becomes supersaturated with minerals, the minerals can precipitate. If precipitation occurs, you may find individual crystals or stones in the urine. But, having crystals in the urine doesn't mean your dog will definitely get kidney or bladder stones. Diet and urine volume are the most important factors in stone development. So, if your dog eats right and gets enough water, you can still avoid bladder and kidney stones.

Dehydration

Dehydration leads to the formation of kidney and bladder stones. Being dehydrated causes increased urine concentration and increased mineral concentration. One of the main culprits in dehydration is dry dog food--kibble.

If your dog eats kibble and doesn't get enough water to digest it, the result is dehydration. What happens is the digestive process pulls water out of your dog's cells to have enough liquid to digest the kibble. The result is your dog becoming dehydrated.

Being dehydrated is harmful to dogs, lowering immunity and decreasing overall health. Dehydration also leads to less urine volume. Lowered urine volume leads to a buildup of minerals, which in turn may cause crystals and stones.

Genetics

Some dogs form stones while others do not. Smaller dogs are more likely to develop stones than larger dogs. Most likely, the reason is due to smaller bladder size. Breeds most likely to develop bladder or kidney stones are:

  • Shih-Tzu
  • Poodle
  • Schnauzer
  • Dachshund

Urine pH

Urinary pH is a figure expressing the acidity or alkalinity of the urine. Acidity or alkalinity determines whether urinary minerals will become solid or stay dissolved. Different types of stones precipitate depending on pH and a variety of other factors. Struvite, calcium carbonate, and calcium phosphate precipitate in alkaline urine. Cysteine, uric acid, and silica precipitate in acidic urine.

Urinary Tract, Bladder, and Kidney Infections

Bacterial infections tend to increase the pH making the urine more alkaline. Certain bacteria such as Staph and Proteus produce an enzyme called urease. Urease breaks down urinary urea into ammonium ions thereby increasing urinary pH. If the conditions are right, stones may precipitate.

Bladder Dysfunction

Sometimes, the bladder suffers from a decreased local immune system failure. Immune failure predisposes the bladder to urinary tract infections. Also, many dogs fail to empty the bladder properly and completely. If the bladder doesn't empty completely, a debris remains in the bladder, leading to stones. Knowing the causes gives you knowledge and power. Avoid the causes to make sure your dog will never suffer from bladder stones.

Urinary Tract Infections

Peering through your kitchen window, you spot your pup Biscuit. Biscuit is romping, playing, and exploring the backyard like most young dogs do. However, you also recognize a peculiar behavior. You notice Biscuit eagerly hiking his leg on just about everything in the backyard. He's hitting every bush, every tree trunk, and even all four tires of your husband’s new truck. Hmm, you think. That’s odd! You start to get worried and concerned for Biscuit.

“Biscuit is a young dog and he could be marking his territory. A lot of young dogs mark,” you say to yourself.

True! But, when he lifts his leg, nothing seems to come out except a little squirt here and there. You try to rationalize Biscuit’s new behavior knowing full well something may be wrong. You're a little disturbed over the hiking. You remember Biscuit has also been aggressively licking between his hind legs. The once white fur coloring his flanks is now a rusty brown. The signs and symptoms look like a dog with a urinary tract or bladder infection.

Signs and Symptoms of Dog Bladder Infections:

  • Straining to urinate
  • Eliminating small amounts of urine
  • Frequent squatting or hiking
  • Bloody urine
  • Licking the private parts
  • Change in elimination behaviors

The above signs are applicable bladder infections in both male and female dogs. Once you accept the fact Biscuit may suffer from a urinary tract infection, what do you do next?

Off to the veterinarian.

Upon entering the veterinarian’s office, you notice the big blue sign for “Hill’s Dog Food.” On the first shelf is a food “for the urinary health of your best friend.” You wonder why the veterinarian, your dog’s doctor, would sell pet food. You also wonder why prescription diets for people are not commercially available. Ironically, people succumb to the same health problems as pets.

“Will one of these diets will help biscuit?”

After an examination and urinalysis, your veterinarian recommends a treatment of antibiotics and a home remedy of cranberry and apple cider vinegar.

We all know cranberry juice benefits women with urinary tract infections. But, did you know cranberry supplements benefit dogs as well? Proanthocyanidins (PACs) are polyphenols found in a variety of plants including cranberries. Proanthocyanidins keep certain bacteria, like E. coli, from attaching to the bladder wall. Instead of attaching to the bladder wall and multiplying, the bacteria flow out in the urine.

Maritime pine bark extract and red wine work the same way, but are not as well recognized.

What about the apple cider vinegar? People have used apple cider vinegar for centuries. Apple cider vinegar is a well documented antimicrobial and antifungal agent.  Do the benefits of apple cider vinegar apply to urinary tract infections in dogs?

It's debatable. It's worth a try and will do no harm.

Dr. Marc Smith, PET | TAO co-founder and practicing holistic veterinarian, recommends antibiotics for initial treatment.

Then, he suggests either cranberry and vinegar or TCVM Eastern Herbal Crystal Stone Formula for ongoing prevention.

"If you want to decrease the chance of your dog getting stones, then treating and controlling infections is a must," states Dr. Smith. "It's the key to preventing stone formation, especially for struvite stones." Bacterial infections tend to increase the pH making the urine more alkaline. Certain bacteria such as Staph and Proteus produce an enzyme called urease. Urease breaks down urinary urea into ammonium ions thereby increasing urinary pH. If the conditions are right, stones may precipitate.

Control the infection!

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Action Items

Complete the following action items, and you'll be well on your way down the path to better health for your pet!

  1. Learn more dog kidney stones, how to treat, and how to feed to prevent, by downloading our free ebook: "Dog Bladder Stones: Painfully Easy to Prevent - How to Put an End to Bladder Stones." (Information is the same for kidney stones and bladder stones.)
  2. Make a point of keeping your dog off steroids.
  3. Switch to distilled water. Distilled water pulls excess minerals out of your dog's system.
  4. Switch to a wet food, and add water to your dog's food. Extra water and hydration flush your dog's kidneys, preventing stone formation.
  5. Consider trying the TCVM herbal blend Crystal Stone Formula. (Only available through a TCVM Veterinarian.)
  6. Always consult with your veterinarian before making changes to your dog's diet and exercise routine.