Dogs get kidney stones, too. Known in the medical community as nephrolithiasis, kidney stones occur when dense deposits of minerals and salts form inside the kidneys naturally. When it comes to kidney stones in dogs, a buildup of the mineral calcium is likely to blame.
Just like in humans, kidney stones in dogs can be painful to deal with. Many times, humans can pass kidney stones in their urine — it’s a painful process but unlike some other medical complications, not necessarily a death sentence. With dogs, the experience is somewhat similar. Dogs experiencing kidney stones should see a veterinarian to set a proper treatment plan in place.
Are certain dogs more predisposed to kidney stones? First, understand that your dog’s gender and breed may play a crucial role in whether or not he’s susceptible to mineral and salt build-ups in the kidneys.
“Females are more prone to stones and some dog breeds are more at risk than others, such as Miniature Schnauzers, Lhasa Apsos and Shih Tzus,” says Dr. Claire Stevens, BVSc (Hons) Cert VPH. “Some dogs form stones multiple times in their lifetime, despite ordinary precautions being taken to prevent them.”
“Kidney stones can occur without showing any clinical signs and can be incidental findings on abdominal radiographs or ultrasound,” says Dr. Ashley Rossman DVM, CVA, a licensed veterinarian at Glen Oak Dog & Cat Hospital in Glenview, Illinois.
While kidney stones can sometimes present without traditional symptoms, some signs to look out for include fever, abdominal discomfort, blood in the urine, lack of appetite, vomiting, fatigue, and either increased or decreased urine production.
“Some stones called struvite stones are often associated with urinary tract infections,” Dr. Rossman continues. “These infections can make patients extremely uncomfortable and cause blood to be seen in the urine, increased frequency of urination, straining to urinate and foul-smelling urine.”
Other symptoms associated with kidney stones in dogs include pain, discomfort, and painful or difficult-to-pass urination.
“Patients can become extremely sick if they have a stone that is blocking urine flow, causing painful inflammation and potential kidney failure,” Dr. Rossman explains.
Similar to how kidney stones form in people, kidney stones in dogs usually form due to some kind of imbalance — an overproduction of materials in the urine that’s responsible for forming kidney stones, such as calcium. Urinary tract infections are also frequently linked to kidney stone formations.
“Metabolic kidney stones, those stones formed due to some blood or urinary imbalance, are more common in dogs than stones caused by urinary tract infections,” says Dr. Stevens, who you can follow on Instagram @theinstapetvet.
“Calcium oxalate is one of the most common types of kidney stones in dogs, and is common in the bladder, too,” Dr. Stevens adds.
Other causes of kidney stones in dogs could include high-alkaline diets that result in urine with a higher pH, congenital abnormalities, metabolic disorders and diseases that promote urine retention, according to Dr. Stevens.
Just as with most other illnesses, the prognosis of kidney stones in dogs fluctuates from case to case.
“The prognosis varies widely, from good to grave, depending on how long the stone has been present and whether it’s caused damage to your dog’s kidney function or not,” Dr. Stevens adds.
If you recognize any of the above symptoms in your dog, consider bringing your pet to the veterinarian for further analysis and diagnosis. Vets are able to diagnose kidney stones in dogs using special equipment, including an ultrasound.
“Modern diagnostic equipment such as radiographs and ultrasounds are most commonly used to diagnose kidney stones,” explains Dr. Rossman.
“Sometimes we come across [kidney stones] incidentally when x-raying something else,” says Dr. Stevens. “But in other cases when the dog is showing some or all of the symptoms listed above, we run a series of diagnostic tests. These include complete blood count (CBC), blood chemistry with electrolytes, urinalysis, urine culture with susceptibility and abdominal radiographs (x-rays).”
As mentioned above, kidney stones in dogs range from mild inconveniences to serious medical issues. In some cases, kidney stones in dogs can be left alone and the dog eventually passes the stones organically.
“Stones that are not causing clinical signs can be left in place and monitored by a veterinarian,” Dr. Rossman explains.
However, there are many cases when kidney stones in dogs need serious medical attention.
“Struvite stones that are not causing an obstruction can be treated with medical management,” Dr. Rossman continues. “For example, prescription food can help to dissolve the stones. If the stone is calcium oxalate in origin, surgical intervention is needed to remove the stone if it is causing problems for the dog. Surgical intervention and lithotripsy are the primary methods used to remove kidney stones.”
Surgical intervention and lithotripsy aren’t the only methods used to remove kidney stones in dogs. In cases that can be managed by conservative treatments, sometimes a combo of antibiotics, diet changes and water can do the trick. But in other cases, the process of completely dissolving kidney stones can often take months, according to Dr. Stevens.
“Any early reduction in size is a good start,” Dr. Stevens explains. “For bigger stones or those that do not respond well to conservative treatment, surgical removal is recommended.”
If your dog is suffering from kidney stones, there are several things you can do to make your pet more comfortable. Please always consult a vet before changing any aspect of your dog’s lifestyle.
“Fresh water should always be available to a pet,” offers Dr. Rossman. “The water should not be treated with water softeners. Owners should monitor pets for signs of urinary tract infections such as foul-smelling urine, bloody urine, straining to urinate or difficulty urinating.”
Reducing mineral concentrations is key to dissolving kidney stones and in turn, preventing them from fully forming. In order to do this, increased water intake is crucial.
“Increasing water intake makes the urine more dilute and should reduce the amount of mineral available to form a stone,” concludes Dr. Stevens. “Your vet would also want to do regular re-checks with x-rays or ultrasound.”
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