Bladder stones make urination painful and uncomfortable for dogs and may become a medical emergency. Help your dog get relief from these painful stones by knowing what bladder stones are and how to treat them.
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veterinarian examining bulldog with bladder stones
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Urination is usually an easy fact of life for dogs. Bladder stones in dogs, though, can make urination a painful experience. The stones can even prevent urination altogether, creating a medical emergency.

If you've ever had bladder stones, you can imagine how uncomfortable they are for dogs. Bladder stones need to be promptly diagnosed and removed so that affected dogs can go back to urinating comfortably.

What Are Bladder Stones?

Bladder stones, also called uroliths or cystic calculi, are mineral formations in the bladder and resemble rocks. They can be as small as grains of sand or as big as gravel.

There are four main types of bladder stones in dogs: struvite, calcium oxalate, urate, and cystine. Struvite stones are the most common, occurring more frequently in female dogs. Calcium oxalate stones are more common in male dogs.

An affected dog's bladder may contain numerous small stones or multiple large stones. Sometimes, smaller stones can get stuck in the urethra (the long tube carrying urine out of the body).

Bladder stones can occur at any age and grow quickly or slowly.

What Causes Bladder Stones?

Bladder stone formation is complex. A theory called the Precipitation Crystallization theory helps explain this process:

When the urine becomes super-saturated with certain minerals, such as magnesium, the minerals no longer dissolve in the urine and precipitate out, forming crystals. These crystals rub against and irritate the bladder lining, creating mucus. The mucus and crystals clump together and eventually form bladder stones.

Several risk factors can trigger bladder stone formation:

Signs and Symptoms of Bladder Stones in Dogs

The most common signs of bladder stones in dogs are hematuria (blood in the urine) and dysuria (straining to urinate). Other symptoms include pollakiuria (frequent urination), genital licking, abdominal pain, and urinary accidents.

Urinating only in little squirts or not all is a medical emergency! When a dog can't urinate, toxins that would normally get flushed out in the urine accumulate in the body, making dogs very ill.

Signs of bladder stones resemble those of other urinary tract conditions. If your dog has any of these signs, immediately make an appointment with your veterinarian.

Diagnosing Bladder Stones in Dogs

To diagnose bladder stones, your veterinarian will first perform a physical exam, paying close attention to your dog's abdomen. Large stones may be palpable when your veterinarian gently touches your dog's bladder.

Imaging tests, including abdominal X-rays and ultrasounds, will help your veterinarian see the stones. Some stones can be easily seen with a plain X-ray. If the stones are translucent, your veterinarian will use radiographic contrast material to see those stones.

Basic laboratory tests, including bloodwork, urinalysis, and urine culture, will assess your dog's overall health. These tests may reveal an underlying cause of the stones, such as diabetes or UTI.

How to Treat Bladder Stones in Dogs

The three main treatment options for bladder stones in dogs are surgery, urohydropropulsion, and dietary dissolution. Type of stone, location of stone (bladder, urethra), and overall health will determine which treatment a dog needs.

Antibiotics are prescribed if there's an underlying UTI.

Surgery

Surgery is the quickest, most effective treatment for bladder stones in dogs. It is recommended for dogs with numerous bladder stones. Emergency surgery is required if a dog can't urinate because of the stones.

The surgical procedure is a cystotomy, in which a veterinarian opens the bladder and manually removes the stones. A urethrotomy (incision into the urethra) is needed to remove stones in the urethra. The stones that are removed are analyzed to identify their type. Dogs often recover within a few days.

Surgery is not appropriate for older dogs or dogs with health conditions that make anesthesia risky.

Urohydropropulsion

Urohydropropulsion is a non-surgical treatment in which a catheter is passed into the bladder and the stones are flushed out with water. The stones that are flushed out are analyzed. Dogs are anesthetized or sedated for this procedure.

Dietary Dissolution

Dietary dissolution involves feeding a special diet that will slowly dissolve the stones. This option is suitable for dogs that cannot undergo surgery and dogs with struvite stones.

Dietary dissolution has a few disadvantages. First, the dissolution takes so long that the stones could obstruct the urethra. Also, because these diets are formulated specifically to dissolve stones, they may not meet all of your dog's nutritional needs during treatment.

Can You Prevent Bladder Stones in Dogs?

Bladder stones are not always preventable. However, some prevention strategies can reduce the risk of stone formation:

  • Provide unlimited fresh water. Adequate hydration is key to diluting the urine and promoting urination.
  • Feed a nutritionally balanced diet. Talk with your veterinarian to ensure that your dog's diet isn't too high in nutrients that could lead to bladder stone formation. Also, do not give your dog supplements without your veterinarian's approval.
  • Give your dog wet food. Wet food has lots of moisture and helps dilute the urine.
  • Treat underlying diseases.

Additional preventive measures, including regular monitoring of the urine and imaging of the bladder, are needed to prevent a recurrence. If your dog has had bladder stones, your veterinarian will advise how frequently your dog will need this monitoring.

Bladder stones are uncomfortable and painful for dogs and can become an emergency if they prevent urination. If your dog shows any signs of bladder stones, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian without delay.