Kidney stones in dogs are a potentially serious problem that many dog owners encounter. The stones range from small ones that will flush out on their own to large stones that are extremely painful and difficult to treat.
These stones are one variant of a bigger group of stones called uroliths. Uroliths are stones that develop anywhere in the urinary system: the kidney, ureter, bladder, or urethra.
A reader contacted me asking if I knew a natural remedy for kidney stones, and I decided it would be a great topic to research and learn more about. In this article I’ll be discussing the formation of kidney stones in dogs, diet do’s and don’ts, and home remedies that can prevent (and in some cases eliminate) kidney stones.
Before we start, it’s important that you know that kidney stones are not the same as bladder stones. If your dog has been diagnosed with bladder stones, you need to read about home remedies for dog bladder stones.
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 case a ruptured bladder or kidney failure.
What are Kidney Stones?
Kidney stones are hard deposits composed of minerals and salts that form inside your kidneys. Small kidney stones in dogs may be asymptomatic and go unnoticed (and eventually flushed out during urination), but larger stones can cause severe pain, and if left untreated, can shut down the dog’s urinary elimination system and be fatal.
Calcium oxalate and struvite stones make up 80% of kidney stones in dogs.. The other three types of stones (cystine, urate, and silicate) are rare, occurring in predisposed breeds or as a result of inherited abnormalities.
Your vet will do a urinalysis and use x-rays and/or ultrasounds to diagnose kidney stones.
Symptoms of Kidney Stones in Dogs
The symptoms of kidney stones in dogs include:
- Appetite loss
- Dog having difficulty urinating (if dog cannot urinate at all get him to a vet immediately)
- Blood in urine
- Dribbling urine
- Previously house-trained dog having accidents in the house
- Abdominal discomfort
What Causes Kidney Stones?
Kidney stones can be caused by a variety of issues, including:
- High alkaline or high acidic diet
- Hereditary issues
- Certain medications
- Certain supplements
- Metabolic disorders
- Urinary tract disorders (UTIs)
Types of Kidney Stones in Dogs
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Most home remedy and natural treatment discussions on the internet focus on the two most common types of kidney stones: calcium oxalate and struvite stones.
Calcium Oxalate Stones
Calcium oxalate stones are by far the most common type of kidney stone in dogs. They occur most often in smaller breed males. Risk factors increasing the chance of calcium oxalate stones include:
- being overweight
- being neutered
- having low physical activity
- eating a dry food diet
Each of these factors can cause more concentrated urine.
Other factors that can contribute to calcium oxalate stone formation include certain corticosteroid drugs such as prednisone and cortisone, and other anti-inflammatory drugs used for inflammatory illnesses such as arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and inflamed/itchy skin,.
Vitamin C and D are also possible contributors to oxalate stone formation.
Dogs with medical conditions such as Cushing’s Disease and excessive blood calcium are predisposed to oxalate stones and also to stone recurrence.
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.
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 medicine does not believe that this will dissolve existing stones, but that it may help prevent new stones from forming.
That said, Mary Strauss wrote an excellent article in Whole Dog Journal that told a story of a woman who reversed her Lhasa Apso’s calcium oxalate stones using a natural approach that included diet, supplements, and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Her vet was flabbergasted when a follow up ultrasound showed the stones had shrunk drastically. Eventually, they disappeared.
Although struvite stones are occasionally found in the kidney, the vast majority occur in the bladder. Struvite stones are most commonly seen in small-breed females who also are suffering from a UTI.
Struvite stones, in contrast to calcium oxalate stones, are commonly found in dogs with extremely alkaline urine. Causes include high-alkaline diets (which cause high urine pH), hereditary issues, diseases that cause water retention, and metabolic disorders.
A key part of treating struvite stones is treating UTIs and preventing more from occurring. Things such as cranberry capsules, probiotics, and apple cider vinegar all help prevent UTIs.
In cases where no UTI is present, treatment focuses 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 pH. Reducing carbs, grains, starches, and potatoes, and feeding fresh meat and vegetables can help reduce alkalinity.
Home Remedies for Kidney 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!
Treating kidney stones in dogs naturally does not mean bypassing your vet. Your vet will help you determine the type of stones your dog has. They will also test your dog’s urine pH and (if holistic) will help you adjust the dog’s diet and water intake, and possibly add supplements to help move the pH to the desired level.
A conventional vet will most likely prescribe a prescription food, tell you to increase your dog’s water intake, and possibly give you a medication to change the pH of your dog’s urine.
Urinary pH is an important piece of the puzzle. Understanding why underlines the importance of working with your vet. You first must determine the type of stone you are working with, and your dog’s pH will be an important indicator.
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.
What about Prescription Food for Kidney Stones in Dogs?
Peter Dobias, a holistic veterinarian in Vancouver, B.C, speaks of his days as a conventional vet where he noticed that even though some dogs treated with prescription food had fewer stone formations, their overall happiness & healthiness declined and affected their quality of life.
Processed food, even if it’s formulated for kidney stone treatment, can cause its own set of issues.
The kidney stone protocol he developed involved 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 homeopathy, herbs, chiropractic, massage, and more.
One pug owner posted a story of his pug’s negative experience with a canned prescription diet for bladder stones. He states,
“The food looked gross and we soon found that she was losing interest in food. She also began experiencing a lot of diarrhea, occasional vomiting, and some coprophagia. She wasn’t happy and, frankly, neither were we with all the messes there were to clean up. There had to be a better way.”
He researched and developed a homemade diet for his dog, and she lived to the ripe old age of 15 with no further bladder stones.
Foods to Avoid
Regardless of the type of kidney stones your dog has, you will want to avoid these foods. Some of the foods listed below increase the likelihood of kidney stones in dogs, others have a detrimental effect on kidney function. When choosing or preparing your dog’s diet, avoid foods that:
- Are high in salt and sugar
- Contain high levels of purines, which cause a release of uric acid (red organ meat, game meat, shell fish, mushrooms, cauliflower, legumes, peas, spinach, high-fat foods)
- Contain artificial additives or chemicals
- Are high oxalate foods such as nuts, beets, spinach, swiss chard, tofu, and other soy foods
Beneficial Food Changes
In Mary Straus’s Whole Dog Journal article, she discusses the diet that the featured pet owner, Leslie Bean, developed for her Lhapsa Apso’s kidney stones.
When Bean stopped using the vet-prescribed prescription food and switched to a homemade diet, the dog became more energetic, acted younger, had clearer eyes, and healthier coats – all within a few week’s time.
Bean found the optimal amount of protein for her dogs was 33-40% of total food volume. She initially had a lower protein %, but increased it after noticing decreased weight and muscle mass.
Straus recommends making homemade dog food with a diverse mixture of meat, poultry, eggs, fish, and dairy to provide a variety of nutrients for your dog. The remainder of the dog’s meal should be low-oxalate grains and/or vegetables. Learn more about making your own dog food in this article about homemade dog food pros and cons.
If using high-oxalate vegetables, boiling them significantly reduces their oxalate content (more than steaming). Because boiling reduces nutritional content, she recommends feeding lower oxalate content vegetables raw. She also recommends adding digestive enzymes to the food to replace enzymes destroyed by boiling.
Conventional and holistic vets stress the importance of adequate water intake.
Kidney stones form more easily in concentrated urine. Drinking water dilutes the mineral concentrations in the urine which discourages stone formation.
To encourage your dog to drink more water, Straus suggests the following:
- Have fresh water available in multiple locations
- Add small amounts of tuna water or low- or no-salt broth to flavor the water
- Get a pet water fountain to provide fresh running water
- Always bring water on hikes
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
When Bean treated her Lhapsa Apso’s kidney stones, she also worked with a TCM Veterinarian. He prescribed a Chinese blend of three herbs used for treating human kidney stones, digestive disorders, and gall stones. She added this herb to her dogs’ diet as part of the regimen that resulted in the kidney stones shrinking and disappearing.
Regular exercise can also benefit a dog with kidney stones. Exercise will motivate the dog to drink more water (don’t forget to bring a dog water bottle with you), and both the exercise and water will help remove toxins from the body.
Calcium citrate is a supplement used in both people and dogs to prevent the formation of calcium oxalate kidney stones. This University of Wisconsin Nutrition Tips to Treat and Prevent Calcium Oxalate Kidney Stones guide describes how calcium citrate binds with oxalates in the digestive tract, preventing the oxalates from forming kidney stones. It also helps the kidneys excrete urinary citrate (again decreasing calcium stone risk).
Make sure you give calcium citrate with meals; if taken between meals it may actually increase the risk of stone formation.
Vit. C from supplements should not be given to a dog that is prone to, or has, kidney stones. Vitamin C rich foods are fine.
Monitoring Your Dog’s Progress
Once you start your dog on their new diet, your vet will monitor your dog’s progress to be sure the changes you make are working.
You vet may 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.
Monitoring your dog’s pH is also a good idea, 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.
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 know if I was getting urine on the pH strip or not.
These pH strips are easy to use and will help you determine if your dog’s pH is in the desired range.
Can Natural Treatments for Kidney Stones in Dogs Really Work?
If you are working with a holistic veterinarian, there is a significant possibility that changes to your dog’s diet, water intake, supplements, and exercise can together control, reduce, or eliminate kidney stone issues. These same measures can prevent further stones from occurring.
Have you had a dog with kidney stones? Tell us your story and what was most helpful in resolving the issue for your dog.
Until next time-