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canine health problems
Cocker spaniel urinating on a tree

The essentials 

  • Where are they found? — Bladder stones are commonly found in a dog’s bladder or urethra.
  • Look for bloody urine and straining to go — There may be signs and symptoms of bladder stones that you can recognize in your pet.
  • Bladder stones in dogs need vet attention — They’re a serious medical problem that owners shouldn’t treat themselves.
  • They’re treatable — Bladder stones have several treatment options including dietary, non-surgical, and surgical.

If you suspect your dog has bladder stones, or worse, they were already diagnosed with them, you’re likely to feel concerned, confused, and worried about treatment options and recovery. That’s normal. To help, here’s what you need to know about bladder stones in dogs:

What are bladder stones?

Bladder stones (cystic calculi, calculi, or uroliths) are common formations found in a dog’s urinary bladder or urethra. They’re made from water and minerals that create crystals that snowball into hard stones. They usually form when there’s:

  1. A high salt concentration in the urine.
  2. Salts and crystals that remain in the urinary tract for a lengthy time.
  3. Favorable pH levels for crystal formation.
  4. A decrease in the dog’s natural ability to slow crystal formations.

How big are they?

Dogs can have a single stone or many rock-like stones the size of grains of sand or gravel. Bladder stones grow over weeks and months depending on the amount of crystalline substance and infection present. Large stones can form in as little as two weeks.

Struvite stones

Struvite stones removed from a dog's bladder. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Reasons dogs get bladder stones

Some common causes of bladder stones in dogs include:

  • Infection. Such as urinary tract infections (UTI).
  • Metabolic abnormalities. These include liver disease or high blood calcium.
  • Nutrient imbalances. These can be from nutritional deficiencies or from supplements. Sometimes, too much vitamin C in a dog’s diet can be a cause.
  • Genetic conditions. These are conditions or diseases the dog inherited from their parents.

How can you spot symptoms in your dog?

Most times when your dog has bladder stones, you may be able to spot some symptoms:

  • Blood in the urine (hematuria)
  • Straining to urinate (stranguria)
  • Dribbling urine
  • Pungent urine
  • More frequent urination
  • Abdominal pain

You may also notice certain behaviors in your pup when they have bladder stones. These behaviors can help you recognize bladder stones in your dog.

  • Accidents in the home when before there were none
  • Licking their genitals more frequently
  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting

🚨If you suspect your dog has a bladder infection or bladder stones, never try to treat it at home. Call your veterinarian right away.

What happens if my dog does have bladder stones?

If you’ve recognized some of the symptoms or behaviors of bladder stones, take your dog to the vet ASAP. Your veterinarian will test your pup for stones by performing a physical exam and some tests, such as:

  • X-rays
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Urine analysis

Most bladder stones are visible on X-rays but sometimes they’re not. In that case, your vet may inject a special dye to help the stones become more visible. To diagnose bladder stones, your vet may also need to do an ultrasound of the dog’s belly and take a urine sample.

Your dog’s vet may also ask you about your pet’s diet including dog food, people food, treats, and anything else they eat. This can help determine if your dog’s diet was the culprit for the stones.

There are five types of bladder stones

The most common bladder stones are called struvite, calcium oxalate, and urate stones. Struvite stones are caused by infections while the others are typically due to metabolic disorders, diet imbalances, supplements, or genetic factors.

It’s important for your vet to find out which type of bladder stone your dog has because the type can dictate the best treatment for it.

  • Struvite stones. They’re usually caused by bacterial infections that raise the level of ammonia in a dog’s urine. Can be dissolved using a special diet.
  • Calcium oxalate stones. Can’t be treated with diet and typically must be removed surgically.
  • Urate stones. Can be dissolved by using a combination of diet and medication.
  • Cystine stones. Believed to be caused by a genetic abnormality. These stone types can be removed non-surgically by flushing them with a catheter technique, called urohydropropulsion , or by surgically removing them if they’re large
  • Xanthine stones. Best treated with urohydropropulsion or surgery.

👉 Cystine and xanthine stones are very rare and not as commonly found as the first three. 

Treatment options at a glance

  • Prescription diet. Dietary treatment includes increasing water consumption, wet or canned food, and decreasing foods that are likely to cause stones. Your vet will probably recommend keeping your dog away from people foods, rawhides, and extra treats.
  • Medication. Medication that increases thirst and urination so that urine doesn’t sit in the bladder long enough to form stones.
  • Urohydropropulsion. This treatment uses a catheter procedure to flush the stones out.
  • Surgical removal. Called a cystotomy, surgical removal involves putting the dog under anesthesia. The veterinary surgeon opens the urinary bladder with an incision and removes the stones. Stitches close the wound.

Which breeds are most susceptible to stones?

Here’s a breakdown of which dog breeds are most at risk to have these different types of stones:

  • Struvite stones. Can affect any breed and are usually found in dogs that have bladder infections. Miniature schnauzers, miniature poodles, bichon frisé, and cocker spaniels are most affected.
  • Calcium oxalate stones. Are found more frequently in Yorkshire terriers, miniature schnauzers, and shih tzus. These stones are also frequently found in male dogs.
  • Urate stones. More prone in breeds like Dalmatians, Jack Russell terriers, and bulldogs.
  • Cystine stones. Reported in breeds including English bulldogs, Newfoundlands, dachshunds, basset hounds, and bullmastiffs.
  • Xanthine stones. May be caused by a genetic disorder common in cavalier King Charles spaniels, diet, or medication side effects.

Can you prevent bladder stones at home?

You may not always be able to prevent bladder stones if your dog is prone to them, but there are things you can do at home to help prevent a recurrence.

Feed an approved stone-preventing diet — Talk to your vet about the best diet for your dog to prevent stones from forming. Diet is a key way to manage stone formation.

Increase your dog’s water intake — Adding a doggie water fountain can encourage your pup to drink up more.

Know the signs and look out for them — Owners regularly watch for symptoms and behavioral signs of stones.

More frequent visits to the vet — Regular blood work and urine testing at your veterinarian’s office.

Frequently asked questions

What can I give my dog for bladder stones?

It’s very important to not treat bladder stones at home yourself. Always bring your pup into your vet’s office for evaluation. Stones can be a serious medical problem for your dog. Bladder stones that are not removed or dissolved can block the bladder and your dog won’t be able to urinate. This could rupture the bladder.

Can dogs pass bladder stones on their own?

Your dog very rarely may be able to pass some small bladder stones on their own but you will need your vet to determine if this is a possible treatment option.

What foods cause bladder stones in dogs?

Foods high in oxalates such as sweet potatoes, spinach, organ meat, and brown rice may be problematic. Avoid calcium supplements, too.

Do bladder stones in dogs need to be removed?

Most always bladder stones will need to be removed, however, there are several treatment options depending on their size and type such as a dissolution diet, non-surgical removal, and surgery.

How much does it cost to have canine bladder stones removed?

Canine bladder stone surgery can cost $800-$1,500.

What other types of stones can dogs get?

Besides bladder stones, dogs can also get gallstones (form in the gallbladder) and kidney stones (form in the kidney).