Dogs and cats can have a condition known as urolithiasis. Urolithiasis means “urine stones”. Urinary stones can form in the kidneys. This is the first thing we think of because it is the most common place in humans. However, in dogs and cats, we typically see urinary stones in the bladder. For this reason, the well-known term for urolithiasis in dogs and cats is bladder stones.
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While diet and water consumption can have an impact on the presence of stones, the most likely predisposing factor is genetics. Some breeds are more prone to bladder stones than others. The small breeds of dogs are more likely to have this problem. These include Yorkshire Terriers, Poodles, Shih Tzus, Schnauzers, Lhasa Apsos, and Bichon Fries. Bladder stones are rarely seen in large breed dogs. The only exception is the Dalmatian. Dalmatians can develop ammonium urate stones, which are most specific to their breed. The breeds of cats most likely to develop stones are Burma, Himalayas, and Persians.
When a pet has a bladder stone, urination effort and blood in the urine are two common symptoms. If left untreated, bladder stones are a constant source of discomfort and infection at best. In the worst case, these stones migrate down the urethra and block the urine outlet. Urine can hold back and put pressure on the bladder and kidneys. Constant pressure on the kidneys can lead to life-threatening kidney damage and sepsis.
The diagnosis is made using x-rays and sometimes ultrasound of the bladder. Once the pet has been determined to have stones, the best course of action is surgical removal. If the stone is removed, it can be sent for analysis. Bladder stones are made up of various minerals such as calcium, magnesium, ammonia, phosphorus, and carbonates. The minerals that make up the stone determine how it is treated.
Special diets have been developed to treat certain types of stones. The diet can acidify the urine, making it difficult for the stone to precipitate. Or the diet may be short of the minerals that make up this type of stone. Science has come a long way to study the cause and prevention of these urinary stones. Unfortunately, some conditions are unresponsive to diet. The stones can return. In these cases, owners will need to work with their veterinarians to come up with a specific plan for that dog. It may include regular monitoring with x-rays and urine tests.