If you are anything like me, you love your dog like they are family. They are your best friend and you would do anything to keep them fit and healthy. But this isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Bladder stones are a typical example of this as they are hidden from sight and can exist for a long time without any symptoms. I have a tendency to blame myself when something happens to my pets, but the truth is no one can stay completely healthy forever, and often bladder stones happen due to infection or other contributory factors. The most important thing is that you do the best you can to help them through the difficult times, so here are some great diet tips to help your dog if they are diagnosed with bladder stones.
What are Bladder Stones?
First thing’s first – we need to understand exactly what bladder stones are! Generally, bladder stones are known to be an uncomfortable, or even painful, experience. Many people get them confused with kidney stones, which are reported to be one of the few painful experiences worse than childbirth! This comparison is understandable as they are essentially the same thing but in different locations of the body.
Kidney stones and bladder stones are both forms of ‘urolithiasis’, in which stones are formed in the urinary tract from the minerals that are in the urine. Different stones can be formed based on what is present in your urine, and this is what makes diet so important in preventing and treating urolithiasis.
Dr. Dan Su of the University of Tennessee offers some interesting examples to illustrate the different forms bladder stones can take. A typical example is a build up of calcium which forms calcium oxalate stones and similarly, excessive magnesium and phosphorus create struvites in the urinary tract. However, it is also possible to experience bladder stones as a result of too little calcium due to an excess of oxalate which would otherwise have been bound to calcium in the intestines.
Take a look at our Dog Food for Kidney Disease.
Causes of Bladder Stones
Now that you know what causes bladder stones, you won’t be surprised to know that they are essentially caused by your dog’s diet or infection. That isn’t to say that your dog’s condition is in any way your fault. There are all sorts of factors that can increase and decrease risk, such as:
- Your dog’s breed
- Any existing conditions
For example, did you know that smaller breeds are more likely to develop calcium oxalate stones? Similarly, older dogs are more prone to this type of stone, while younger dogs are more likely to develop struvites.
Symptoms of Bladder Stones
Bladder Stones are often known to be an uncomfortable or even painful experience. Many people only find out about their bladder stones when they experience very severe abdominal pain, and this, unfortunately, can be true for dogs as well. This means you will want to notice the symptoms as early as possible to avoid as much discomfort as possible for your companion.
Symptoms could include:
- Increased or decreased passing of urine – in severe cases your dog may not even be able to urinate at all
- Blood in the urine
- Signs of discomfort or difficulties in passing urine
- Licking of genitals more than usual due to the discomfort
If your dog exhibits any of these symptoms or changes in behavior, it is worth taking them to the vet as a number of these symptoms also coincide with inflection or cystitis. It will be difficult to tell exactly what ails your dog without x-rays and tests.
If your dog does have bladder stones, it is possible that they will require surgery in order to remove them. Occasionally, it is possible to dissolve the stones with a controlled diet. Regardless, it is likely that you will need to change their diet in order to treat their condition and prevent its return.
How Can Changing Their Diet Help Their Recovery?
Diet is essential to helping your dog deal with their bladder stones as their diet is often a contributing factor to their ailment. In some situations, a new diet is required to aid recovery and is only a temporary step. However, frequently it is necessary to completely change your dog’s diet for the long term. Here are some general tips to help you understand your dog’s needs. Even if your dog doesn’t suffer from bladder stones, it might be helpful information as a preventative measure.
1. Increase their water intake
Water is essential both for treating and preventing bladder stones. Quite simply, water dilutes the urine and the minerals in the urine so it is more difficult for them to crystallise. This seems very easy to do, but a number of vets have warned that many owners don’t focus enough on their pets’ water intake. Keep an eye on their water bowl and make a conscious effort to keep track of how often they drink. If you think your dog isn’t drinking enough from their water bowl, there are tricks to getting more water into their diet that you can do.
- Having more water bowls around the home
- Canned, wet food instead of dry food
- Add more water to the canned food
- Flavouring the water, for example with chicken broth
- Adding ice to the water
- Investing in a dog water fountain as running water can encourage your pet to drink
Remember: it is very difficult to over-hydrate your pet unless you are forcing them to drink. You should never force any pet to drink water when they don’t want to. You just have to be creative in motivating them to drink more often.
2. Put them on a therapeutic diet
It is often thought that home-cooked food is always better than commercial food, so many dog parents are tempted to start catering for their best friend when they hear that they need to control their diet more strictly. However, commercial therapeutic diets are actually genuinely good solutions for dogs with bladder stones.
Therapeutic diets offer food that has very little of the substances that form stones. This option is better than home-cooked meals as the food in a therapeutic diet is carefully tested for stone-causing minerals, allowing for a greater amount of control. Similarly, it is also better than over-the-counter urinary diets, as these diets are often made for general urinary health and will not be useful for your dog’s specific needs.
There are diets available for prevention, and diets that will actively help to dissolve stones. You need to make sure you pick the right option for your dog and their stones and condition. For example, urate stones require low protein diets to decrease acidity, while calcium oxalate stones require diets with some protein, calcium, phosphorous, sodium chloride and high fibre.
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3. Be careful with other foods and read the packaging
Now that your pet is on a therapeutic diet, you need to be extra cautious about anything else that they are ingesting. You should check any food, treat, or drink with the vet before you give it to your dog. Generally, however, you should:
- Avoid collagen, such as pig ears and bully sticks
- Dry foods
- Dairy products, particularly for calcium oxalate stones
- Spinach and other foods with high oxalate content
- Seafood and organ meat for those with urate stones
It can be difficult to know for sure what should be avoided without consulting a professional who can tell you what minerals your dog’s stones are made out of. But, in order to make sure you offering the best to your dog to eat, you should get used to reading the details on all packaging. Check the ingredients and make sure you memorize everything your dog can no longer handle. There are many cases of a dog’s bladder stones reoccurring due to poorly chosen additions to their therapeutic diet.
4. Learn about the mineral causing the stone
As you’ve probably gathered by now, different minerals require different treatments. It is worthwhile understanding the stone that is causing your dog problems to further ensure you are offering them the correct foods.
- Struvite stones
These stones are usually caused by infection. This makes it less necessary, but often still helpful, to have a carefully constructed therapeutic diet. In these cases, it is more important to remove the stone and treat the infection. Diet control can help with this. Increased water consumption is vital, and control of protein and other minerals is strongly encouraged. Recurring struvite stones is likely to mean that your dog is prone to infection, and any change in diet must reflect that.
- Calcium Oxalate stones
These stones are difficult, if not impossible, to dissolve, and so must be removed with surgery. They can be caused by too much, or too little, calcium or oxalate in the blood. This makes it vital to control diet with the correct therapeutic diet after the initial stones have been removed in order to prevent further incidents.
- Urate Stones
Often caused by liver disease or genetic conditions, these stones are made from purines which exist in your dog’s DNA. The stones can be dissolved using a carefully controlled therapeutic diet and, as purines are particularly common in meat, fish, and seafood, this must be controlled in order to prevent recurrence.
5. Consult your vet
Even if you’ve had bladder stones yourself, it is unlikely that your understanding of human physiology is going to help your dog. 80% of dog owners wrongly believe that nutrition for humans and dogs are similar, and less than 10% can accurately remember the number of nutrients that their dog needs. This means that the most important tip for owners of dogs with bladder stones is to consult your vet regularly. Simply changing your dog’s diet is not going to be enough if you don’t know exactly what you are looking out for.
This is just as important than drinking water, as different stones and conditions can require opposite treatments, and trying to reduce one form of stone could result in the formation of another. Crucially, there are some ‘Do-It-Yourself’ fixes and myths floating around that shouldn’t be undertaken without consulting a vet. For example:
This is often cited as the cure for bladder stones as it will make urine more acidic. However, acidic urine can form calcium oxalate crystals, so you might be making the problem worse.
- Cranberry products
Juices, pills, and other cranberry products are often suggested for both humans and dogs who are suffering from a variety of urinary tract issues. There is some science behind this as proanthocyanidins could help with the infection. However, cranberry juice is unlikely to be acidic enough to dissolve any existing stones so won’t help with urate stones.
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- Brewer’s Yeast
Although often touted as a great health supplement, Brewer’s Yeast can actually increase the risk of urate stones.
- Vitamin C/Calcium supplement
Similarly, overloading your dog with Vitamin C or calcium through supplements can cause calcium oxalate stones.
As a general rule, you should consult your vet about any supplements you are planning to give your dog. There is no such thing as an easy or quick fix, if you are worried your dog isn’t getting a balanced diet, you should ask your vet’s advice before assuming you can solve it with a pill. You’ll be much better off in the long-term.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.