Bladder stones in dogs are a common condition encountered by many pet owners. These stones can be small enough to be flushed out when your dog urinates, but many times become too large and need treatment.
Bladder stones are one type of “uroliths,” a term that encompasses stones that develop anywhere in your dog’s urinary system. Urolith stones can occur in the kidney, ureter, bladder, or urethra.
It’s important to note that bladder stones are not the same as kidney stones; many articles on the internet use the terms interchangeably which can be very confusing to the reader.
To learn about kidney stones, how they form, and natural ways to prevent them, you will want to read my article about home remedies for kidney stones in dogs. If your dog has been diagnosed with bladder stones, read on to learn how you can help your dog.
Stones can cause complete blockage of the urethra. If your dog isn’t able to urinate, it’s a medical emergency and requires immediate veterinary treatment. A plugged urethra can cause a ruptured bladder or kidney failure.
Symptoms of Bladder Stones in Dogs
Dogs with bladder stones may exhibit any of the following symptoms:
- licking the genital area frequently
- blood in the urine
- urinating very small amounts more frequently
- remaining in the urinating position for a long time
- straining to produce urine
- dog seems uncomfortable or in pain while urinating
- cloudy and foul-smelling urine that may contain blood or pus
- pain in the lower back
- loss of appetite
What Causes Dog Bladder Stones?
Bladder stones occur when small crystals that have formed in the urine start to stick to each other. If the pH or mineral content of your dog’s urine encourages crystal formation, more and more crystals keep forming and binding to other crystal formations, forming bladder stones.
Bladder stones can be caused by a variety of issues, including:
- High alkaline or high acidic diet
- Hereditary issues
- Metabolic disorders
- Certain medications
- Certain supplements
- Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)
Types of Bladder Stones in Dogs
Different types of bladder stones require different treatment approaches, so it’s important to first have your vet identify which type of stone your dog has. Your vet will look at your dog’s urine pH, age, breed, and sex to determine what kind of stone it is, plus they will check to see if your dog has a urinary tract infection (UTI).
Struvite Stones in Dogs
The most common type of bladder stone is called a struvite stone.
Roughly 85% of struvite stones occur in female dogs; they are most common in smaller breeds.
Struvite stones in dogs usually occur when they have a UTI, large amounts of crystals are present in the urine, and urine pH is alkaline.
A key part of treating struvite stones is treating the dog’s UTI and preventing more UTIs from occurring. Things such as cranberry capsules, probiotics, and apple cider vinegar all help prevent UTIs.
In cases where no UTI is present, treatment is focused on reducing the alkalinity of the urine with a goal of a neutral 7.0 pH.
Changing your dog from a commercial food to a home prepared diet can be a huge help in changing the urine pH. Reducing carbs, grains, starches, potatoes, and feeding fresh meat and vegetables can help reduce alkalinity. Read more about the pros and cons of homemade dog food to see if it is right for your dog.
It’s important to remember that crystals in the urine do not necessarily signal the presence of bladder stones; about 40% of healthy dogs have crystals in their urine and have no adverse symptoms.
Calcium Oxalate Stones
Although calcium oxalate stones are much less common than struvite stones in the bladder, they do occur. They are more likely to occur in male dogs.
These risk factors increase the chance of calcium oxalate stones:
- low physical activity
- dry food diet
- use of corticosteroids like prednisone and cortisone for inflammatory illnesses
Each of these factors can cause more concentrated urine, which encourages stone formation.
Calcium oxalate stones form in acidic urine that is generally between 5.0 and 6.5 pH. A common recommendation for calcium oxalate stones is to use diet or medications to achieve a urinary pH close to 7 (neutral).
Conventional and holistic vets agree that these stones are very hard to dissolve and many times require surgical or endoscopic removal. Even if the calcium oxalate stones are surgically removed, however, the recurrence rate is 60% within three years, making preventative measures extremely important.
Home Remedies for Preventing Bladder Stones in Dogs
Important Disclaimer: I am not a vet. Not even close! My degree is in marketing. My goal is to share my own personal experience and information I have gathered; not to give medical advice.
If you think you want to try something you read about here, talk to your vet! But first read this and many more articles to empower yourself for a good discussion in which you can ask your vet great questions about what you want to try.
Knowledge is power – never forget that!
If your dog is at risk for developing bladder stones, changing diet, supplements, and water intake can significantly reduce the likelihood of bladder stone formation.
Urinary pH is an important piece of the puzzle. Understanding why underlines the importance of working with your vet. To treat a bladder stone, you first must have your vet determine the type of stone you are working with, and your dog’s pH will be an important indicator.
Acidic urine contributes to calcium oxalate stone formation, while alkaline urine contributes to struvite stone formation. You can’t start to change your dog’s diet until you know what pH issue they have.
Because urinary pH varies throughout the day, you want to test at the same time each day. Most vets recommend testing the first urine each morning.
I find it easiest to use a shallow tupperware container, I slide it under while my dog is peeing to catch some urine, then dip my strip in the urine I collected.
I tried sticking the pH strip directly in the urine flow and it was too hard to see if I was getting urine on the pH strip or not.
Whether your dog’s urine is too acidic or too alkaline, the goal will be to use foods and supplements to bring your dog’s pH closer to 7.0.
These pH strips are easy to use and will help you determine if your dog’s pH is in the desired range.
**Note: this post contains affiliate links. No one paid me to recommend these products, I recommend them because I like them. By using the link to buy the products you are helping support happyynaturaldog.com**
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
TCM uses acupuncture and/or herbal remedies to address bladder stones in dogs. I read stories online of both humans and dogs benefiting from TCM treatment of urolith stones (stones in the urinary system). Those wishing to explore this option should find an experienced TCM veterinarian in their area to evaluate and recommend treatment for their dog.
Exercise can help your dog as well. It results in your dog drinking more fluid and urinating more, which will keep the dog’s urine dilute as well as flush out bacteria before UTIs and crystals have time to form.
Should I Use Prescription Food for Bladder Stones in Dogs?
Peter Dobias, a holistic veterinarian in Vancouver, B.C, speaks of his time as a conventional vet where he noticed that even though dogs eating prescription food had fewer stone formations, their overall happiness/healthiness declined and it affected their quality of life.
He began to see that processed food, whether formulated for bladder stone treatment or purchased from the pet store, can cause its own set of issues.
The protocol he developed involves detoxifying the body, providing natural, unprocessed food along with mineral and amino acid supplements, probiotics that reduce crystal formation, omega oils, and multivitamins. He recommends combining this with holistic treatments such as chiropractic, massage, homeopathy, herbs, and more.
Dr. Dobias tells a story of a dog named Rocky, who had such severe bladder stones that he had to be sedated to have his bladder flushed every 3 months. After food and supplement changes under Dr. Dobias’s guidance, Rocky’s stones disappeared.
If your dog is prone to bladder stones, there are specific supplements that help create a healthy urinary tract that is inhospitable for crystal formation.
Cranberry helps prevent UTIs by preventing bacteria from adhering to the lining of the urinary tract and the bladder. When the bacteria can’t adhere, they are flushed out when your dog urinates.
Apple Cider Vinegar
The benefits of Apple cider vinegar for dogs include its ability to function as a natural antibacterial and antiseptic agent that can help alleviate symptoms and reduce discomfort caused by a UTI.
If your dog is prone to struvite stones, adding one or two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to their food or water each day will help to lower the pH of their urine.
It’s important not to start adding this to your dog’s food until you can confirm that your dog’s urine is alkaline. You will also need to monitor your dog’s urine pH every few days using pH strips to make sure their urine doesn’t become too acidic, as that can cause calcium oxalate stones to form.
Do not use apple cider vinegar if your dog has calcium oxalate stones.
Establishing healthy flora levels in the body has been shown to decrease the likelihood of UTIs. In addition to strengthening your dog’s immune system, probiotics keep levels of infection-causing bacteria low.
Many veterinarians recommend vitamin C for dogs who are prone to bladder infections and struvite stones because of its anti-inflammatory effects. Dogs (unlike humans) manufacture their own vitamin C, but the amount they produce may not meet their needs if they are under stress or fighting infection.
DO NOT give your dog vitamin C if they are prone to calcium oxalate stones.
Homemade Dog Food for Bladder Stones in Dogs
Note: Before feeding homemade dog food for bladder stones it’s important to have your holistic vet approve your food plan. Your vet will make sure you are not missing any important nutrients that your pet needs.
Learn more about the pros and cons of homemade dog food to decide if you want to try it for your dog.
Note about dry food ingredients:
If you aren’t able to make homemade dog food at this time in your life and need to buy commercial food, Dr. Peter Dobias recommends avoiding the following ingredients:
- Chicken By-Product Meal
- Brewers Rice
- Corn Gluten Meal
- Pork Fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols and citric acid)
- Dried Egg Product
- Calcium Sulfate
- Lactic Acid
- Chicken Liver Flavor
Struvite Stone Food
When making a homemade diet for struvite stones you want to increase protein from eggs and meats and lower the carbs, grains, starches, and potatoes in the diet. Doing this will make your dog’s urine more acidic.
Add fresh vegetables; boiling them first.
Calcium Oxalate Stone Food
Homemade food for dogs that are prone to calcium oxalate stones can have higher carbohydrate levels, as carbs help increase urine pH. Higher alkalinity will discourage crystals from forming.
You will use less protein, as protein increases the concentration of oxalate in urine.
Vegetable and fruit for this diet need to be low oxalate:
- green peas
- red pepper
- turnip roots
- iceberg lettuce
- acorn squash
- peeled apples
Boiling the vegetables will further reduce the oxalate levels (more so than steaming).
Use your homemade food to increase your dog’s daily fluid intake!
In any homemade diet, make the dog food “soupy” by adding extra water. As we discussed above, increased water intake is a key factor in preventing bladder stones regardless of the type.
Water Intake: How it Reduces Bladder Stones in Dogs
Water is considered to be the cornerstone of bladder stone prevention. It dilutes the urine and increases the frequency of urination, both key elements in reducing the risk of stone formation.
In addition to adding water to your dog’s homemade food each meal, you can encourage your dog to drink more fluids by keeping bowls filled with fresh water. You can also add low- or no-salt broth to their drinking water to make it more appealing.
It is equally important to make sure your dog is given frequent opportunities to urinate each day; if your dog has to hold his urine for a long time it gives crystals and stones the opportunity to form.
Monitoring Your Dog’s Progress
Once you start your dog on their new diet, your vet will have you keep track of their morning urine pH to see if it moves closer to the target range.
If you see it getting too high or too low, it’s time to check in with your holistic vet to see if you need to make any dietary or supplement changes.
You will also want to do a monthly urinalysis until progress is made, and possibly repeat x-rays or ultrasounds to monitor any changes in stone size or frequency.
Can Home Remedies for Bladder Stones in Dogs Help Prevent Them?
Working with a holistic veterinarian to identify natural remedies for bladder stones can be effective. A healthy, homemade diet with increased fluid intake is a great start, and additional treatment using TCM can further address body imbalances leading to bladder stone issues.
Have you had a dog with bladder stones? I would love to hear your story, and the treatment method(s) that worked for you, in the comments below.
Until next time-