If you've ever had the misfortune of dealing with bladder stones, you know how painful they can be. When these calcified stones form, they can physically obstruct the bladder, causing swelling, inflammation, and tons of pain. It's a nightmare scenario that no one wants to go through.
Now imagine your precious dog experiencing it.
Most dog owners don't realize it, but dogs can develop bladder stones, too. Some breeds are genetically predisposed to these issues.
The most commonly affected are Shih Tzus, Bichon Frise dogs, Yorkshire Terriers, Miniature Schnauzers, Lhasa Apsos, and Miniature Poodles.
However, any dog can get them when biological conditions are right.
A few different types of bladder stones can form in your dog's body, but the most prevalent are calcium oxalate bladder stones.
If your dog is prone to getting bladder stones, you must take steps to manage the issue. One of the best ways to do that is by adopting a healthier diet that addresses this specific concern.
What are Calcium Oxalate Bladder Stones, and How Do They Form?
This type of bladder stone forms when calcium and oxalic acid bind together. When that happens, you get a hard mineral called calcium oxalate. These two chemicals already exist in your dog's urine.
In most cases, they coexist without any issues. But when conditions change, they can hold onto each other, creating a stone that gets bigger with time.
So what triggers the binding?
There are many ways the two chemicals suddenly gravitate toward one another. It can occur when a dog's diet is high in calcium and oxalic acid. The high level of chemicals increases the chances of binding.
Stones also form when urine pH levels are too acidic.
A healthy dog has urine pH levels between 6.5 to 7.5. The 7.0 mark is neutral, so healthy urine is usually not too far off from that.
Trouble can begin when the urine becomes acidic, falling between 5.0 and 6.5 on the pH scale.
The Best Diet for Managing Calcium Oxalate Bladder Stones
Nutritional management is the best way to decrease the likelihood of bladder stones forming. Every dog is different, so it's wise to consult your vet. They can work closely with you to help you hone in on the foods your dog should and shouldn't eat.
That said, here are a few tips that can make a difference.
Cut the Oxalates
One of the most straightforward fixes you can make is reducing the amount of oxalates your dog gets into their system.
With less oxalic acid in your pup's diet, there's a decreased chance of calcium binding. Oxalates include foods like spinach, brown rice, organs, and sweet potatoes.
These ingredients are common in commercial kibbles, so make sure to read ingredient lists. Instead of those foods, try looking for formulas with lower oxalate levels.
Good options include apples, meat, and fish.
Ask Your Vet About Calcium Restriction
You might assume that cutting calcium is your next step. However, it would be best if you only reduced calcium under your vet's supervision and approval.
Dogs need calcium to stay healthy. It supports the bones and many biological functions. Cutting it out can lead to even worse health problems if you're not careful.
Low-calcium diets do exist, but you must be strategic and provide the right amount to avoid bladder stones. Work with your vet and see if this is a diet change you should make.
Switch to a High-Carb Diet
Upping carbohydrates could provide good results. Every dog metabolizes food differently, but carbohydrates are a great way to neutralize urine.
If your dog's urine is on the acidic side, carb-heavy meals could create safer pH levels.
Increase Fiber Intake
Fiber is always an excellent addition to your dog's diet. Fiber helps to improve digestion and promote more regularity.
When it comes to avoiding calcium oxalate bladder stones, fiber works to absorb excess minerals. It pushes the minerals out of the system, decreasing the chances of binding.
Related: 5 Best High-Fiber Dog Foods for Anal Gland Problems
Iodine can help to flush the bladder.
Introducing sea vegetables such as seaweed into your dog's diet can be an easy way to increase their iodine intake. Just be aware of the fact that seaweed can potentially cause intestinal blockage in dogs.
Provide Vitamin B
Vitamin B is water-soluble and inhibits oxalate stone formation.
A good supplement can introduce the vitamin into your dog's diet and help prevent issues.
Add Omega Fatty Acids
Omega fatty acids from fish or flaxseed oil have many benefits. In addition to making your dog's coat nice and shiny, it helps with inflammation.
Omega fatty acids can help reduce the inflammation caused by existing stones.
Reduce Sodium, Vitamin C, and Vitamin D
When battling bladder stones, you must cut sodium, Vitamin C, and Vitamin D.
High sodium and Vitamin D levels cause excessive calcium secretion into the urine. Meanwhile, Vitamin C produces oxalate when broken down in the body.
Related: Best Low Sodium Dog Foods
Encourage More Hydration
Here's a universal tip that can make a significant difference. Encourage your dog to drink as much water as possible. Consider placing many bowls around your home and replacing the water frequently to keep it fresh.
More hydration equals more diluted urine. Dilution decreases the amount of calcium and oxalic acid in the urine, lowering the odds of binding.
Common Symptoms of Calcium Oxalate Bladder Stones
Bladder stones are an internal issue. In most cases, dog owners are completely unaware of the problem. It's only once the stones are fully formed and causing issues that symptoms occur.
Calcium oxalate bladder stones are physical, tangible objects. The bladder is only meant to hold and store urine until it leaves the body through your dog's urethra. The presence of a physical stone can cause many problems.
Stone sizes vary, but even the tiniest nugget can obstruct the bladder and cause injury. Here are some of the most common symptoms your dog might experience.
We can't stress enough how painful bladder stones can be.
Whether you've experienced them yourself or not, there's no denying that a physical stone moving through what's supposed to be a liquid-only bladder hurts!
Your poor dog will likely make their pain known, despite the canine instincts of hiding it.
You might see your pup yelping in pain when they try to urinate. But the nature of the bladder will result in extreme discomfort when they're not.
They might suddenly start whining or yelping as a response. That's bound to result in some noticeable behavior changes, too. Your dog might become withdrawn and even exhibit signs of depression or anxiety.
Dysuria is the medical term for difficulty urinating.
The stone obstructs the bladder's function. The only way it can move is forward, but the solid nature of the stone prevents urine from passing through the urethra.
Some might get out, but large stones can cause complete obstructions.
To make matters worse, the bladder can inflame due to the constant scraping and cutting of the stone; more on that later. Dysuria is a serious problem that could result in severe illness or even death.
Haematuria is the presence of blood in the urine.
If your dog manages to squeeze some urine out, it may be darker than usual or tinged with a splash of pink or red. This happens because the stone is slowly moving through your dog's system.
As it does, it scrapes along the bladder wall, resulting in friction, irritation, and bleeding.
The bladder stone movement often causes the most pain, so don't ignore the blood when you see it.
Related: Yellow Dog Poop. What it Means
Asymptomatic Bladder Stones
Interestingly enough, not all bladder stones cause these symptoms. That's what makes them so challenging to manage.
Some stones are asymptomatic and have no symptoms at all! Even still, it's crucial to observe your dog's behavior, check on their urine, and pay attention to any signs that your dog is struggling or in pain.
Calcium oxalate bladder stones are an issue you cannot ignore. Left untreated, it could eventually kill a dog, causing immense pain every moment until it does. So how do vets treat it?
Unfortunately, calcium oxalate stones do not dissolve on their own. They rarely get excreted, either. As a result, surgery is often the go-to option.
Surgical intervention is necessary when stones are large. Vets also perform surgery when there are many stones in your dog's system or when the issue poses a clear danger of obstruction and damage.
Vets will sedate dogs and go in to remove the stone physically. Then, they'll flush the bladder to remove any remaining traces.
Another option is to use cystoscopy.
This method involves passing small tools through the urethra and the bladder to break stones apart. The goal is to fragment the stone so your dog can pass them naturally.
Vets will examine your pup and determine the best action based on their needs.
Do Bladder Stones Come Back?
Dealing with calcium oxalate bladder stones can be a nightmare. But once you remove them, you're dog is okay, right?
Unfortunately, that's not always the case. No matter how well your surgical vet works or how much flushing they do, it can be impossible to remove all traces of the stone.
Small bonded compounds can remain, resulting in more problems down the line.
It's common for calcium oxalate stones to form again. That's true with humans, too. Once you get a bladder stone, your chances of getting more in the future increase.
It's a sad reality, but it also cements the importance of managing this issue instead of avoiding it.
Don't rest on your laurels. If your dog has experienced calcium oxalate bladder stones in the past, or they're genetically predisposed to get them at all, you must do your part to help avoid them in the future.
Managing the Threat of Calcium Oxalate Bladder Stones
No one wants to see their canine companion go through the absolute torture of a bladder stone. If your dog is prone to getting them, you must do what you can to help.
Dogs have no control over what they eat. If they did, they wouldn't know how to prevent bladder stones anyways!
It's up to you to modify your dog's diet. Use these tips to create a healthy diet that lowers the risks. Don't forget to work with your vet! They can provide more personalized advice that addresses your dog's specific needs.