If your pet has chronic urinary tract infections, pain during urination, or blood in their urine, bladder stones or urine crystals could be to blame. Both conditions are common in dogs and cats, and may require surgery, a special diet, medications, or supplements to prevent recurrence. Some medical conditions, including liver shunts or calcium disorders, can predispose pets to urinary crystal or stone development, while others have a genetic tendency. 

Because crystal and stone formation can be caused by many metabolic and dietary factors, predicting which pets will be affected is nearly impossible. Once your pet is diagnosed and treated, they are at increased risk for future episodes, but dietary modification can help prevent recurrence. To help you understand your pet’s treatment, the Groves Veterinary Clinic team explains why we may recommend a therapeutic diet for your pet.

How pet urinary crystals and bladder stones form

Bladder stones are collections of excess minerals that are normally dissolved in the urine, but can precipitate out and form crystals under the right conditions. First, crystals form, usually when pH and urine concentration are too high, that can be detected microscopically during a routine urinalysis. Most pets normally carry a few urinary crystals on urinalysis, but large amounts may indicate an underlying infection, metabolic problem, genetic predisposition, or dietary imbalance. In some pets, urinary crystals stick together and form small stones that grow larger over time. Other pets with crystals may never form stones, which can depend on many factors, including pH, concentration, diet, breed, and health history.

Signs of pet urinary crystals and stones

Pets with urinary crystals often appear normal, or may have only slight bladder irritation that results in subtle habit changes. Pets with bladder stones may show the following signs:

  • Recurrent infections—bacteria can cause stone formation, or stones may cause a secondary bacterial infection 
  • Blood in urine
  • Painful urination
  • Straining to urinate
  • Going outside the litter box or having accidents in the house

Sometimes, small stones or concentrated crystals can collect and block the urethra in male cats, or dogs. Females have a shorter, wider urethra that makes them less prone to this emergency condition. Urethral obstruction is painful, quickly impairs kidney function, and can be deadly in two to three days. 

Pet crystal and stone diagnosis and treatment

If your veterinarian suspects bladder stones, they may recommend a urinalysis, urine culture, X-ray, and ultrasound scan. Treatment may include antibiotics and surgery to remove the stones, or a special diet to dissolve certain stone types. Once stones have been removed or dissolved, treatment is aimed at correcting underlying disease or starting a therapeutic diet to prevent stones from re-forming. Urinary crystals may or may not require treatment, depending on the crystal type and your individual pet. Diet or supplements may prevent future urinary crystals.

Therapeutic diets for pets with urinary disease

Many therapeutic urinary diets are available with a veterinary prescription for pets with different stone types. These diets have strictly balanced mineral concentrations and reduced protein, and they encourage pets to drink more water to keep their urine dilute. Diluted urine, combined with altered pH promoted by the diet, can prevent crystals or stones from forming. Many pets with urinary problems also struggle with other health issues, so some prescription products combine multiple therapeutics into one single food. Your veterinarian can prescribe the food that’s right for your pet, and then will need to monitor their urine and bladder health frequently to ensure the diet is working.

What about alternative treatment options for cats?

Some pets refuse to eat the recommended urinary diet, or their owners cannot afford the prescription price tag. These pets may benefit from a home-prepared diet, formulated under the guidance of a veterinary nutritionist. Over-the-counter urinary diets are less effective than prescription options, but can be a good middle ground for some pets. Encouraging water consumption with canned food or a water fountain can also be helpful.

If you cannot change your pet’s diet because of allergies, stomach problems, or cost, some medications and supplements can accomplish the same purpose as a therapeutic diet, but must be given only under your veterinarian’s guidance. If your pet’s pH or mineral balance swings too high or too low, you can cause the stones you are trying to prevent.

The Groves Veterinary Clinic team has the experience and knowledge to treat your cat’s urinary crystals and stones, and prevent them from recurring. If a therapeutic diet is right for your pet, we’ll work with you to find the best solution. Contact us to schedule a visit if your pet struggles with chronic infections or has a history of bladder stones or crystals, or if you notice new changes in thirst or urination.