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Bladder Stones in Dogs: A Guide to Dietary Support

Bladder stones in dogs are irritating, painful and potentially life-threatening if left untreated, as well as being tricky to diagnose. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to help prevent and resolve these canine urinary problems naturally.

Alison Frost

Author: Alison Frost

Edited By: Anna Bain

Bladder Stones in Dogs: A Guide to Dietary Support

Like humans, dogs can be vulnerable to urinary issues, which can stem from bacterial infections, crystals or more seriously bladder stones which are not always straight forward to diagnose.

Alison Frost, canine nutritionist at ProDog Raw, leverages decades of experience in natural dog nutrition coupled with industry-leading qualifications in canine nutrition to offer insights into supporting common health conditions through a natural diet. In this article, Alison delves into the topic of bladder stones, providing an overview of what bladder stones are, what causes them, and how you can help your dog avoid or improve them through species-appropriate nutrition.

Understanding bladder stones in dogs

What are bladder stones?

Bladder stones (also known as uroliths) are a relatively common canine urinary problem. They’re characterised as rock-like, mineral crystals that develop in your dog’s urinary tract. These may occur in the kidneys, ureter, gall bladder or urethra, but are most commonly found in the bladder. 

Bladder stones in dogs are often a result of excess minerals in the urine, which eventually create sediment. Over time, this then forms into crystals, which irritate the lining of the bladder and cause a mucus to form, thus clumping the crystals together to form stones. These cause discomfort and can sometimes be very painful, even requiring surgical removal in certain cases [1]. 

Various types of bladder stone crystals develop at different internal pH levels, and hence, the acidity of the urine plays a role in the formation of stones. This can be influenced by the presence of a bacterial infection, genetics, or sometimes by an inappropriate diet. 

For instance, an acidic pH level can result in the formation of cysteine stones, while alkaline levels can lead to struvite stones in some dogs. Since diet can significantly influence internal pH levels, it is crucial to consult your vet for an accurate diagnosis of the specific type of bladder stones or crystals before considering any dietary adjustments or supplements.

What causes bladder stones in dogs?

There are multiple culprits that contribute to the formation of bladder stones in dogs. Here are some of the most common causes:

  • Bacteria in the urinary tract 
  • Diet
  • High mineral content in the urine
  • Genetics/breed (some breeds are also more prone to certain types of stones)
  • Bladder inflammation
  • Living with people who smoke (due to cadmium exposure)
  • Dehydration
  • Liver shunt

Bladder stones in dogs are a product of crystals (formed by mineral salts) excreted into the urine via the kidneys. There are at least 5 types of crystals in dogs which can attach to each other to form stones. These are the most common:

Struvite — Most common type and mainly found in female dogs, dogs on processed food diets, and dogs with untreated urinary tract infections (UTIs)

Urate — More common in breeds such as Dalmatians and Bulldogs or dogs with liver shunts (due to not being able to process purines) 

Cysteine — More common in bull breeds due to a genetic defect that prevents reabsorption of cysteine (amino acid) from the kidneys, causing build-up in the urine

Calcium oxalate — A result of oxalates in the urine binding to calcium to form stones. More common in smaller breeds like Bichons and Yorkies 

Silica — Often a result of silica in drinking water, as well as certain diets

Any dog can get bladder stones, but the below breeds are more prone to specific stones due to various genetic factors. Males generally struggle more than females, as the female urethra is wider (thus passing stones more easily):

Dalmatian — Urate
Bulldog — Urate and cysteine
German Shepherd — Silica
Newfoundland — Cysteine
Shih Tzu — Struvite
Yorkshire Terrier — Struvite
Miniature Schnauzer — Calcium oxalate
Bichon Frise — Struvite 

While this information may understandably cause concern, not all dogs of the above breeds suffer with bladder stones. Don’t worry; I’ll discuss some helpful solutions and prevention tips later in the article.

Symptoms and signs to watch for

Although our canine friends can be masters when it comes to hiding discomfort, the most common signs of bladder stones in dogs are as follows: 

  • Difficulty urinating, frequent attempts with less production than usual, straining (Dysuria)
  • Sudden or new urinary incontinence 
  • Blood in the urine (Haematuria)
  • Cloudy urine or unusual/new urine odour
  • Obsessive licking of the urinary area/genitals
  • Recurring urinary tract infections (UTIs)

Canine urinary problems warrant swift veterinary attention. If your dog is displaying these symptoms, consult with your vet as soon as possible. 

Important: Complete urinary obstruction is a life-threatening emergency. If your dog can’t urinate at all, take them to your vet immediately.

Diagnosing bladder stones in dogs

If your dog is showing any of the above symptoms, it is important to consult a vet immediately. If possible take a urine sample with you as this may save time. Your vet may use the following methods to diagnose crystals or stones:

  • Testing urine microscopically – looking for bacteria, blood, crystal, white blood cells 
  • Taking a culture to confirm the type of bacteria or crystals
  • Radiographs or abdominal ultrasound if stones are suspected
Dalmatians can be more prone to bladder stones than other breeds

The role of nutrition in bladder stone management

Diet can make a difference

The quality of a dog’s diet speaks volumes about their overall health. When their diet is not biologically suited to their nutritional needs, their health can suffer as a result. An example of this is when dogs are fed a kibble-based diet, which lacks moisture and is more likely to cause dehydration, resulting in more saturated urine [3].

This is one reason that bladder stones in dogs can be correlated with feeding kibble diets (especially in cases involving Struvite stones), and why I recommend feeding a fresh, whole food diet: Any fresh, moisture rich, whole food diet can be tweaked to help manage bladder stones of all kinds, to help prevent recurrence.  

The importance of hydration

One of the key components missing from kibble is moisture. The moisture content in kibble can be as low as 9%, whereas raw, meat-based diets contain upwards of 80%. Ensuring your dog drinks enough water is a key factor in maintaining their hydration. However, adequate moisture in their food is equally important [4]. 

Keeping your dog properly hydrated is recommended to help prevent bladder stones from forming, and can also help to flush out those that are already present. More moisture going into your dog results in a higher volume of urine, which helps to flush the kidneys and bladder. Water dilutes the mineral content in the urine, making it less likely that crystals will begin forming in the first place. Here are some helpful ways to ensure your dog drinks enough water:

  • Flavouring their water with bone broth 
  • Placing additional water bowls around the house/garden
  • Using drinking fountains with running water
  • Offering bone broth/adding broth to food
  • Adding filtered water to food

Important: Remember that with increased hydration, there will also be increased urine production! Ensure your dog has outdoor access, or offer them more frequent opportunities to toilet throughout the day.

Adequate hydration is crucial for preventing and treating bladder stones in dogs

How raw feeding can help

Raw feeding principles

The principles of raw feeding for dogs are relatively simple: feed dogs fresh, whole foods that they would naturally eat in the wild. The basic formula for a raw, species-appropriate diet for most dogs includes high-quality animal proteins (such as muscle meats and fats), organ meats, bones, and small amounts of healthy plant fibre from fruits and vegetables. This combination of foods mimics the instinctual canine diet, and provides a host of health benefits that dogs can’t access through eating processed food [5].

Raw feeding benefits for dogs with bladder stones

All dogs benefit from a nutritionally sound, biologically appropriate raw food diet and raw feeding for dog bladder health is no exception; there just may be some tweaks required depending on the type. Here are some of the ways raw feeding can help to minimise /prevent many canine urinary problems:

  • High moisture content helps to keep dogs adequately hydrated and prevents excess mineral content from forming in the urine
  • Promotes a balanced acidic urine pH *
  • Provides easy-assimilated nutrients for bladder and general health
  • Improves gut health, leading to improved general health
  • Boosts immunity and resistance to germs/bacteria

Note: *Acidity is important for Struvite stones and most bacterial infections, but please seek advice from a canine nutritionist or holistic vet if your dog is prone to Cysteine stones or other types that require a more alkaline environment.

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Designing a raw diet for dogs with bladder stones

Transitioning to raw

Whilst some dogs can transition to raw straight away without issue, others need a little more time to adjust. This is especially true of older dogs, dogs with existing health issues, or those with sensitive tummies, whose digestive systems may take longer to recognise the benefits of meat-based raw food. 

To make it easier on your dog, I recommend transitioning gradually to avoid any potential digestive upsets. Read our expert article on Switching Your Dog to Raw for a detailed transition plan to suit your dog’s needs.    

Raw ingredients that support dog bladder health

Dogs are carnivores, and as such a dog’s bladder health, as well as overall health, benefits from eating a raw, species-appropriate diet. 

Discover more of the benefits of raw food for dogs in our article.

A healthy raw fed dog’s urine PH is usually on the slightly acidic side of neutral (between 6-7.5). When urine PH goes below or above this, this is when stones can form. Processed dried kibble diets tend to raise urine PH levels and predispose your dog to certain crystals and bacterial infections. Switching to meat based diet is advised, but once the type of stones/ crystals have been diagnosed there maybe some specific ingredient tweaks required to minimise a recurrence of bladder stones in dogs as follows:

Struvite stones 

Are the most common type of crystals and stones in dogs, and mainly affect females. Reduction or prevention is achieved by creating a more acidic internal environment and dietary modifications as follows:

  • Feeding a fresh meat based diet to promote acidity
  • The addition of raw, unpasteurised apple cider vinegar to food or water
  • Adding fluids for less saturated urine 
  • The addition of Bladder support supplements, such as cranberry and D Mannose

Oxalate stones 

The second most common form of bladder stones. To manage oxalate stones, it is important to keep urine pH more alkaline and reduce high oxalate foods in the diet. 

More alkaline/neutral foods are recommended, such as:

  • Beef 
  • Chicken 
  • Turkey
  • Eggs 
  • Fish

Avoid high oxalate foods such as:

  • Legumes, lentils, grains (prevalent in dried kibble) 
  • Wheat 
  • Spinach and dark leafy greens
  • Nuts, seeds and strawberries/ blackberries

In addition, research has shown that a good quality probiotic containing lactobacillus and bifidobacterium species, has the ability to metabolise oxalates and prevent crystal and stone formation. Adding probiotics to your dog’s diet will also support a healthy gut environment and overall wellbeing.

Urate stones 

Usually form in Dalmatians, due to a genetic issue with breaking down and utilising uric acid in the diet. Uric acid forms when purines are broken down in the digestive system, so feeding low purine foods is advised for these types of stones. To discover more about the recommended diet for Dalmatians read our feeding guide.

However, if urate stones are present in a non Dalmatian breed, then you should consult your vet to discuss testing for liver shunt.  

For urate stones, feed lower purine foods such as:

  • Muscle meats from chicken, turkey, pork and beef
  • Tripe (raw green) 
  • Leafy green vegetables (excluding spinach)
  • Dairy products such as plain yoghurt, kefir, or low-fat cottage cheese
  • Nuts, excluding Macadamia nuts (these are toxic to dogs)
  • Eggs
  • Fruits

Avoid high purine foods such as:

  • Offal (organ meats)
  • Game meats (venison in small amounts is generally ok) 
  • Goose meat/products
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, or herring

Cysteine stones 

Are much rarer and form in acidic urine. Cysteine stones can arise from a genetic abnormality and mainly affect males. Dietary tweaks are recommended as follows: 

  • Low acidity, lower protein, high moisture foods
  • Modified raw meat diet, alongside plenty of vegetables to promote a more alkaline environment
  • Increased Alpha Linoleic Acid (omega 3) found in leafy greens, helps to inhibit cysteine formation.

As Cysteine, Oxalate and Silica stones can be more complex to treat, I highly recommend enlisting the help of a qualified canine nutritionist or holistic vet to formulate a diet plan.

Feeding guidelines

As with any diet, it’s important to be aware of your dog’s specific nutritional requirements when transitioning to raw. Each dog’s dietary needs will vary based on various factors, including:

  • Genetics 
  • Overall health 
  • Age 
  • Weight
  • Activity level 

The specific nutrient requirements for optimal health can vary from dog to dog [6], 

and the types of crystals/stones they’ve been diagnosed with will require different nutritional approaches as well. Thankfully, any natural diet can be adjusted to support your dog’s individual diagnosis, and be naturally higher in essential moisture for improved hydration.

Monitoring and adjusting the raw diet

Check in with your vet regularly

As with any health condition, regular check-ins with your vet are recommended when dealing with canine urinary problems. Urine pH testing may be advised to ensure you are on the right track with their diet. This also helps determine whether the raw diet you’ve selected is impacting your dog’s bladder health positively, or if some ingredient modifications are in order to provide your dog with the maximum health benefits. 

Holistic vets can make recommendations for bladder support supplements and specific nutrients that contribute to dog bladder health as they continue to monitor your dog’s condition.

Maintaining pH levels

As mentioned earlier, maintaining and controlling the pH balance of the urine is essential for treating (and preventing) the varying types of bladder stones in dogs.
For example, a higher pH (more alkaline) urine can contribute to urinary tract infections or Struvite stones, while dogs with too much acid in their urine (lower pH) are more prone to Oxalate stones. 

Aside from the stones that require a more alkaline environment to resolve, most cases of bladder stones in dogs can be improved through restoring the natural acidity in dogs’ urine. This makes it less likely for most crystals to form, thus reducing the risk of bladder stones occurring [7].

Safety considerations

Enlist the help of experts for optimal results

It can be scary when our canine family members face health challenges, and we’re unsure of how to help them. Thankfully, there are experts ready and willing to help your dog get back to their old self. 

Traditional/holistic veterinarians, certified canine nutritionists, and even alternative health practitioners are now available for dogs, to assist with canine urinary problems as well as other health concerns. 

Enlisting the help of such experts will provide you with the answers you need to help your canine friend return to their healthy, happy ways sooner than later. If you’re unsure where to look, our list of Vets That Support Raw Feeding in the UK is a great place to start.

Improving bladder stones in dogs, naturally

Bladder stones in dogs can be tricky to tackle, but there are plenty of ways you can help your dog naturally. From fresh, whole foods to adequate hydration and bladder support supplements, helping your dog to live their best life is more than possible.

Our raw food for dogs is designed to promote optimal health and wellness in dogs through species-appropriate nutrition. Talking to a trusted canine health expert will help you along the way, and our expert feeding advisors are always available to answer your questions or queries.

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References

  1. Mary Bowles, DVM, DACVIM. DVM 360. Stalking stones: An overview of canine and feline urolithiasis. Accessed October 2023.
  2. Ling, G., Ruby, A., Johnson, D., Thurmond, M., Franti, C. Feb 2008. Renal Calculi in Dogs and Cats: Prevalence, Mineral Type, Breed, Age, and Gender Interrelationships (1981-1993). Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine;, 12(1):11-21. Doi: 10.1111/j.1939-1676.1998.tb00491.x
  3. Burdett, S., Mansilla, W., Shoveller, A. Nov 2018. Many Canadian dog and cat foods fail to comply with the guaranteed analyses reported on packages. The Canadian Veterinary Journal;, 59(11):1181-1186. PMID: 30410174
  4. Stevenson, A., Hynds, W., Markwell, P. Apr 2003. Effect of dietary moisture and sodium content on urine composition and calcium oxalate relative supersaturation in healthy miniature schnauzers and labrador retrievers. Research in Veterinary Science;, 74(2):145-151. Doi: 10.1016/S0034-5288(02)00184-4
  5. Van Rooijen, C., Bosch, G., van der Poel, A., Wierenga, P., Alexander, L., Hendriks, W. Aug 2013. The Maillard reaction and pet food processing: effects on nutritive value and pet health. Nutrition Research Reviews;, 26(2):130-148. Doi: 10.1017/S0954422413000103
  6. Fascetti, A. July 2010. Nutritional management and disease prevention in healthy dogs and cats. Companion Animals;,39. Doi: 10.1590/S1516-35982010001300006
  7. Miano, R., Germani, S., Vespasiani, G. Aug 2007. Stones and Urinary Tract Infections. Urologia Internationalis;, 79(1):32-36. Doi: 10.1159/0000104439

 

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