4 Types of Bladder Stones in Dogs: What You Need to Know

Written by Amber LaRock
Updated: March 17, 2023
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Many of us have heard about kidney stones in humans, but bladder stones in dogs are not discussed as often. Though bladder stones in dogs have major differences, they are just as much of a threat to comfort and well-being.

If your dog has just been diagnosed with bladder stones, you are likely wondering what this means for his future. We’ll discuss everything from the most common types of canine bladder stones to possible treatment options!

What Is a Bladder Stone in Dogs?

A canine bladder stone, or a urolith, is a buildup of minerals that occurs within the canine bladder.

©gorillaimages/Shutterstock.com

A canine bladder stone, or a urolith, is a buildup of minerals that occurs within the canine bladder. These minerals eventually come together to create a stone-like structure. They can range in size from small pebbles to large tennis balls. Some dogs will have multiple tiny stones that develop within the bladder. Others will have one large bladder stone that continues to grow.

How Do Dogs Get Bladder Stones?

If your dog has just been diagnosed with bladder stones, you might be wondering how this could have happened. Dogs can develop bladder stones for a variety of reasons, but some dogs are more prone to bladder stone development.

As we mentioned above, bladder stones are just a collection of different minerals that are found within the canine bladder. The stones have a chance to develop when the bladder does not drain of urine completely when the dog pees.

As this leftover urine sits in the bladder, it will become more and more concentrated. Crystals can begin to form in this concentrated urine, and this will often irritate the bladder wall over time. The irritation of the bladder lining will then lead to mucus development. This is what causes the collection of minerals to stick together. If this process is continuous, your pup can develop bladder stones.

However, crystals do not develop in all canine friends. There are a few factors that contribute to the development of urinary crystals in dogs. This includes chronic UTI’s, not drinking enough water each day, damage to the bladder, a high protein diet, or a diet that is high in salt.

Symptoms Of Bladder Stones in Dogs

Welsh Corgi giving the side eye

All urinary issues should be taken seriously in dogs, so we suggest always reaching out to your vet if you see a change in their urinary habits.

©iStock.com/Olga Chetvergova

Signs of bladder stones and other urinary complications can cause minor illness to life-threatening emergencies. It’s important to educate yourself on the symptoms so you can act when needed.

Some of the most common signs of bladder stones in dogs include:

  • Urine that has a strong odor, often foul
  • Bloody urine, or traces of blood in the urine
  • Urinating frequently, but only small amounts of urine are produced
  • Dribbling urine
  • Straining when they urinate, even crying out at times
  • Squatting to urinate but no urine is produced
  • Decreased appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Abdominal pain

If you notice any of the above symptoms in your canine companion, have him assessed by a vet as soon as possible. These symptoms don’t always indicate bladder stones, but they can be a sign of other complications like UTI’s or cystitis. All urinary issues should be taken seriously in dogs, so we suggest always reaching out to your vet if your dog is experiencing any of the above complications.

Let’s break down the four types of stones we often see in our canine friends.

Struvite Bladder Stones

Struvite bladder stones are likely the most common bladder stones in dogs. Though this is not always the case, the vast majority of dogs with struvite stones are those with a history of urinary tract infections. It is believed that the presence of bacteria and subsequent bladder inflammation leads to stone development. The more alkaline urine pH that comes along with a UTIs also contributes. Struvite stones can develop in any canine, but they are most common in female dogs.

Calcium Oxalate Bladder Stones

Calcium oxalate stones are the second most common bladder stone in dogs. The exact cause of calcium oxalate stones is not as straight forward as struvite stones. However, there are a few factors that are believed to contribute to their development. The first potential factor is an acidic pH. This is most common in dogs that consume a diet very high in protein or salt.

Another potential link that is still being researched is the over-use of antibiotics. This could lead to low populations of good bacteria in the bladder, which could make a dog more prone to crystal development. These crystals can occur in any canine friend, but they are most common in male dogs.

Urate Bladder Stones

While the above stones are commonly linked to issues such as UTI’s and improper diets, the urate bladder stone is most commonly related to the body’s insufficient metabolism of uric acid. Urate bladder stones only make up about 5% of all bladder stones. This is likely due to the fact that underlying metabolic issues are often to blame. One strange fact about this stone is that they are very common in Dalmatians. If your Dalmatian has been diagnosed with bladder stones, it may be a urate stone!

Cystine Bladder Stones

Just like the urate bladder stone, the cystine bladder stone is often a result of a metabolic issue. Cystine bladder stones are believed to be a result of a dog being unable to reabsorb cystine from the kidneys. This is very rare in dogs, but when it does occur, it seems to be most common in male dogs.

If your dog has been diagnosed with bladder stones, they will most likely have struvite or calcium oxalate stones. However, if your dog passes the stones or has them removed, your vet will likely recommend testing.

How To Identify Bladder Stones

The most accurate way to identify bladder stones in dogs is by having them sent off to a lab for specific testing. This will involve your vet obtaining a sample of their bladder stone after they have been passed or removed.

However, if you have budget concerns, your vet can also examine the urine for the presence of crystals. Oftentimes your vet can identify the stone based on the crystals and pH of your dog’s urine. However, sometimes you will not see any crystals in the urine, so your vet may be unable to do this.

Are Bladder Stones in Dogs a Big Deal?

Dog being examined by veterinarian

Bladder stones can be a ticking time bomb for our furry friends, so it’s best to speak with your vet about their treatment options.

©iStock.com/shironosov

Some people live with kidney stones, so does this mean our dogs can live with bladder stones as well? While some dogs will have bladder stones that never cause an issue, others will experience major health complications. Simply put, bladder stones can be a ticking time bomb for our furry friends.

Anytime your dog has developed bladder stones, they run the risk of a urinary obstruction. This means that the stones could prevent the dog from passing urine. The stones may obstruct the bladder or the urethra. Whether your dog has multiple tiny stones or one large stone, they always pose a risk. The presence of bladder stones can also increase their risk of developing chronic urinary tract infections. We suggest speaking with your vet about the treatment options that are available to your pup.

How To Treat Bladder Stones

Just as there are different types of bladder stones, there are different forms of bladder stone treatment as well. Your vet will discuss the details of the best treatment option for your pup. Let’s describe the potential options that are on the table.

Surgery

If your vet is fearful of a urinary obstruction, or your dog is experiencing one, your vet can operate. The surgery is known as a cystotomy. It involves cutting open the bladder and removing the stone and flushing the bladder thoroughly. This surgery is typically very successful, and most dogs make a full recovery within 10-14 days.

Prescription Diets

Prescription diets can be used to potentially dissolve the stones. They can also be used to prevent future stones from developing. These diets are designed to create an environment in the urine that does not promote the growth of stones. It can even dissolve a bladder stone over time. However, it’s important to realize that this is not a quick fix. It can take several months for a bladder stone to dissolve, if it does at all.

The most common brands that offer prescription urinary diets for dogs are Hills Science Diet and Royal Canin. Some people attempt to offer their dog a homemade diet, but we always suggest trusting your vet’s dietary advice.

Urohydropropulsion

If your dog has tiny bladder stones that are able to pass through the urethra without issue, then your vet may be able to explore hydropropulsion. This procedure involves placing a special urinary catheter while your dog is under light sedation. Your vet then flushes the urethra and bladder. Gravity will naturally allow the stones to flow out of the urethra with the help of the flush. This procedure is not as traumatic as a surgery. Just keep in mind that this is only an option if your dog has small bladder stones.

Ultrasonic Dissolution

This is a new treatment option that is on the table for some dogs with bladder stones. Ultrasonic dissolution is a procedure that involves the use of ultrasonic waves to break apart the stone. It allows the small fragments of the stone to pass through the urethra naturally with a bladder flush. Because this is a fairly new treatment, you will likely only be able to find this option at specialty centers.

We understand that not everyone is able to pursue surgery or other specialty care for their dog’s bladder stones. If this is the case, speak with your vet in detail about prescription diets. Ask if there is any other long-term management they suggest for your furry friend.

Will My Dog Get Bladder Stones Again?

If you have just treated your dog’s bladder stones, you might be worried about your pup getting these stones again. Many dogs with previous bladder stones will develop them again if they are not on an adequate management plan. This typically involves offering your pup a prescription diet for bladder stones and crystals.

If your dog is prescribed a urinary diet, then this is something they will need to eat for the rest of their lives. The food works by creating a urine environment that is not welcoming to crystals, and this can only be achieved when your pup eats this food each day.

Your vet can prescribe the best diet based on the type of crystals they are prone to. This is often successful in keeping your pup’s bladder stone free! No matter the treatment option you pursue, your vet will discuss the best management options to keep them safe.

Final Thoughts

We understand how worried you are about your dog baby, but there are effective treatment options available. Your vet will determine the best plan based on your dog’s specific case. They will guide you throughout the process each step of the way.

Bladder stones are something to take seriously in dogs. However, when proper treatment and management are implemented, most dogs can make a full recovery.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/IPGGutenbergUKLtd

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About the Author

Amber LaRock is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering topics surrounding pet health and behavior. Amber is a Licensed Veterinary Technician with 12 years of experience in the field, and she holds a degree in veterinary technology that she earned in 2015. A resident of Chiang Mai, Thailand, Amber enjoys volunteering with animal rescues, reading, and taking care of her two cats.

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