Urinary bladder stones are very common in dogs and cats. My inspiration for writing this article today were three cases of dogs this past week that presented with lower urinary tract disease signs whose x-rays looked just like the image above. I successfully performed surgical removal of the first two and the third is scheduled for surgery on Tuesday (2 days from now). In total, there have been 6 urinary bladder stone surgery cases this past month, 5 dogs and 1 cat, a glimpse of just how common this health problem is in dogs and cats.
You are probably wondering how in the world rocks like this can form in the urinary bladders of dogs and cats. It is really rather simple, as it comes down to urinary pH. pH is a measure of solution that determines whether it is acidic or alkaline. Normal urine pH should be neutral to slightly acidic at a pH of 6-7. At this neutral pH, minerals present in the urine from food and water that is ingested passes dissolved in the liquid urine environment unnoticed and without harm. When pH of urine varies significantly above this range (alkaline) or below this range (acidic), the minerals will precipitate and bind into crystals. If they go long enough unnoticed, the microscopic crystals will bind over time and form stones, many of which can get quite large.
You may now be wondering, how in the world does this get to this point and the pet owner does not notice? Good question! Dogs and cats are stoic by nature, that is, they inherited the instinct of their wild evolutionary ancestors to hide and internalize signs of weakness or pain. In some cases, the only difference is that the pet urinates more frequently; the cat may visit the litter box more frequently or the dog may need to be let out to pee more often. In older animals, many pet owners assume that just like humans that tend to need to relieve themselves more often with age, same goes for pets…and there is some validity to that notion.
When I worked the first 3 years of my career in Long Island, NY, I disproportionately diagnosed more bladder stone cases in dogs in the winter versus other seasons. The reason for this was the presence of snow. Whereas the owner may not have seen blood in the urine previously, it is readily noticed when the dog urinates in white snow.
When it comes to the urinary system of dogs and cats, it is best to not assume anything since they cannot articulate their pain and they go out of their way to hide it. Changes in urinary patterns may not only signify bladder stones, but also a host of other ailments, such as endocrine disease, infections, and kidney disease. Since this article is specifically about urinary bladder stones, here are some common signs to look out for:
If a stone gets dislodged and gets stuck in the urethra and the pet cannot pass urine, this is a medical emergency. Signs of this health emergency include:
If ever in doubt, don’t waste time with Dr. Google and get a pet with suspected urinary tract disease to the vet ASAP. It is less trauma for the patient and less cost to the pet owner to discover this problem early while it is still in the microscopic crystal stage. Both Hills and Royal Canin have excellent prescription urinary pH neutralizing diets that are highly effective in preventing urinary crystals and stone formation.
Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and highly regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms. In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport. He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.