Urinary crystals and stones…what are they?

Cats and dogs can develop urinary crystals. These crystals can ultimately turn into stones when the crystals fuse together. They develop in the urinary tract and are caused by the minerals in the urine clumping together.

The 2 most common forms of crystals in cats and dogs are struvite and calcium oxalate. The struvite crystals form in alkaline urine, but the calcium oxalate crystals prefer acidic urine.

If your pet is diagnosed with urinary crystals, your vet will determine which type they are in order to prescribe the right treatment.

Are cats or dogs more likely to get crystals?

Cats are particularly prone to urinary tract problems and urinary crystals. Here’s why.

Cats are extremely thirst tolerant. There evolutionary adaptations allow them to conserve water in their bodies by concentrating their urine. This is a very handy adaptation for a carnivore that evolved in the desert and might not know when their next drink might be coming.

Because of the cat’s living environment in the wild, they get most of their water from their prey because other water sources are not readily available. As pets, they get most of their water from the diet you feed them.

They’re less likely to look for water when they need it because of their inherent thirst tolerance. This causes their urine to be highly concentrated, and that’s why they’re so susceptible to crystals and stones.

The more concentrated their urine, the more likely the minerals in their urine will clump.

What brings this on and what can you do about it?

There are a number of things that can exacerbate the problem in cats and dogs. Crystals can form when your pet’s pH is off; when they’re on high doses of steroids; if they have abnormal retention of urine; or if they have an infection or some other urinary tract disorder.

Some pets just have a genetic predisposition to crystals because they produce a protein called cauxin. This protein is excreted into the urine, creating crystals, with no infection or any other issue that would cause them.

The best thing you can do for your pet with a history of crystals in their urinary tract is to be sure they get a lot of water. The more diluted their urine is, the less likely the minerals will clump together.

Of course you can’t make a pet drink more water, but there are ways to get your dog or cat to unknowingly consume more water.

First, stay away from dry food, which may only be about 10% water. But if you must feed dry food, add water to the bowl.

Also, some foods are formulated for pets with a predisposition to crystals and add salt to the recipe to make them thirsty. This will make them drink more.

But before giving your pet a special diet, talk to your vet. Increased salt in the diet can be bad if your pet has other health problems.

How do you know if your pet has urinary crystals or stones?

Some times, there are no signs that your pet has a problem. But many times there will be signs. You’ll know there’s something wrong if your pet:

Urinates frequently

Strains to urinate

Has an abnormal urine stream

Urinates in inappropriate places

Has blood in their urine

Has cloudy urine

Has increased thirst

BUT if you notice your dog or cat CAN’T urinate, this is very dangerous and constitutes a medical emergency! Get them to the vet immediately.

What could be happening is that stones or crystals are blocking the urethra, the tube leading from the bladder to the outside. This is a particular problem in males because their urethra is very narrow. Sometimes the crystals combine with mucus, creating a plug that stops up this narrow tube.

Although crystals and stones are more common in females, they can be much more serious in males.

How are crystals and stones treated?

Crystals and some stones can be dissolved with dietary changes and medical management. But some stones don’t dissolve on their own and need to be removed surgically, as do any stones in the urethra or ureter. The ureter is the tube that connects the kidney to the bladder.

Some times all it takes is a laser procedure to break up the stones so they are small enough to void out.

Your vet will first suggest a prescription diet if they think that will resolve the condition. But this diet won’t be long-term. These special diets aren’t nutritionally balanced for the long haul.

If any infection is present, they’ll prescribe an antibiotic too.

Whatever the treatment plan, you must continue it until the crystals or stones are gone. Then your vet will suggest a prevention plan. This may include some changes to your pet’s diet, like switching to wet from dry food.

You may also have to monitor your pet’s urine pH. This is actually easier than it sounds. You can purchase pH strips at the drug store or from your vet, and they can show you when and how to test your pet’s urine.

But the most important thing you’ll have to do to prevent crystals and stones in the future is to be certain your pet consumes a sufficient amount of water.   This seems from the research out there to be the most effective prevention strategy, even more so than changes in diet.

Has your dog or cat suffered from urinary crystals or stones? How have you prevented a reoccurrence? Tell us in the comment section above.




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