Bladder Stones in Pets: A Guide on Symptoms and Treatment

May 24, 2024

While bladder stones are relatively common in pets, catching them before they turn into serious issues can be more of a challenge.

In this blog, we’ll take you through the warning signs of bladder stones in your pet, common treatments, and the best ways to prevent them in the future.

What Are Bladder Stones in Pets?

Bladder stones are mineralized formations that develop in the bladder. These stones vary in size, shape, and composition, and they can cause discomfort, pain, and potentially serious health complications for your pet. 

Bladder stones form through a process called urolithiasis, which involves the build-up of mineral crystals in the urinary tract.

Several types of stones can be seen in the bladder, but the vast majority we see in our patients are either calcium carbonate or struvite. Struvite stones can sometimes be dissolved with diet changes alone, while calcium carbonate can be prevented but not dissolved.

Several factors can contribute to the formation of bladder stones in pets:

  • Diet: Your pet's diet significantly affects their likelihood of developing bladder stones. Diets high in magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium can increase the risk of stone formation.

  • Water Intake: Inadequate water intake can lead to concentrated urine, which puts your pet at risk of forming bladder stones. Make sure your pet has access to fresh water at all times to help maintain proper hydration and urinary tract health.

  • Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs): Infections in the urinary tract can significantly alter the pH balance of your pet's urine, which is one of the leading causes of bladder stones. Bacterial infections can also contribute to the development of certain types of bladder stones.

  • Genetics and Breed Predisposition: Certain dog breeds are genetically predisposed to developing specific types of bladder stones. For instance, Dalmatians are prone to bladder stones due to a genetic defect that affects their uric acid metabolism.


The Impact of Bladder Stones on Your Pet’s Health

If left untreated, bladder stones can lead to serious health complications. One of the biggest risks is partial or complete urinary tract obstruction, where the stones block the flow of urine from the bladder, causing severe discomfort in your pet. In some cases, urinary tract obstruction can lead to potentially serious complications like kidney damage.

Untreated bladder stones can also increase the risk of developing secondary health issues like urinary incontinence, leakage, and UTIs that keep coming back.

Over time, chronic bladder stone formation can cause structural damage to the urinary tract, which leads to scarring and a thickening of the bladder wall. This can be painful and seriously diminish your pet’s quality of life.

Living with pain is something no pet should have to go through, so getting them checked for bladder stones and treating them promptly is essential.

Warning Signs and Symptoms of Bladder Stones

Bladder stones can come with different symptoms in pets, the most common indicators being:

  • Straining to urinate
  • Frequent urination
  • Blood in the urine
  • Urinary accidents
  • Licking genital area

Often, these symptoms come with changed behaviors, as well. You’ll notice either a change of appetite in your pet — usually a decrease — as well as some vomiting and even weight loss if the issue has been left untreated for some time.

Treatment Options for Bladder Stones in Pets

14f642a1-d465-4145-87a4-be8d92d8f50eIn most cases, bladder stones can be prevented with proper diet and nutrition. If things escalate, then a veterinarian can step in to help alleviate the symptoms and get rid of the stones.

However, if left untreated for too long, bladder stones can become quite severe, as we saw in a 5-year-old pup, Harley, who came into our clinic several months ago. Her owner noted something odd in her urine resembling small stones and noticed that Harley urinated more frequently, sometimes with blood being present. 

After performing an X-ray, we saw that there were so many stones that the bladder itself didn’t have room to contain urine. Harley was already in significant pain, so we put her on pain medication, did the appropriate lab work, and determined that she needed to undergo surgery to remove the large amount of stones in her bladder.

Surgical Procedure to Remove Bladder Stones

Bladder stones removed from petHarley underwent surgery with Dr. Humphrey, who took care of her throughout the entire process.

He began with an incision through her skin and ultimately into the abdomen to allow the bladder to be isolated. The bladder was then brought up to the level of the incision, and sterile saline-soaked sponges were used to pack the bladder away from the rest of the abdomen. 

Several stay sutures — a type of temporary surgical sutures used to hold the surgical area — were placed to prevent the bladder from falling back into the abdomen prior to the completion of the surgery.

A scalpel was used to make an incision in the bladder, and suction was used to remove the urine from the bladder through the incision. The incision was then made a bit larger, allowing Dr. Humphrey to insert a bladder spoon into the bladder, which was used to remove the majority of the stones.  

f4a6fdcf-10ea-4373-844f-b73be87832a3We then used a saline flush to flush out the remainder of the stones, both through the incision and also taking care to flush the urethra as well.  

When Dr. Humphrey was confident that all the stones had been removed, the bladder was sewn closed, the stay sutures and lap sponges removed, and the bladder returned to its normal place in the abdomen. The abdomen was then flushed with warmed sterile saline before the closure of the body wall incision.  

An X-ray was taken after finishing to verify that all stones were in fact removed.

Ultimately, this was a successful procedure, and Harley is now happy and healthy thanks to the incredible care of the team at Ballantyne Veterinary Clinic. 

Help Prevent Bladder Stones With Regular Checkups

Bladder stones are not an uncommon problem for pets. 

The decision on whether to attempt surgical removal comes down to two things: the type of bladder stone in question and how the stones are currently affecting the patient. In Harley’s case, waiting for the bladder stones to dissolve was not an option as the build-up had advanced quite significantly.

If your pet has bladder stones or is predisposed to them, a diet change may be sufficient to prevent recurrence. That said, regular checkups are the best course of action for treating and preventing this issue.

During your pet’s routine wellness checks, we can monitor for bladder stones with either X-rays or an ultrasound — especially if your pet is prone to them, or if you notice any of the symptoms above. A urinalysis can also be beneficial as it helps us determine whether conditions will enable stones to form and predict what kind they might be.

If you have any questions or concerns about your pet’s urinary tract health, please reach out to us. We want to make sure your pets lead happy, healthy lives for many years to come!

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