Stone Cold: What Are Struvite Bladder Stones, And How Can They Be Removed From A Dog's Bladder?

You and your dog are very genetically distinct (despite the phenomenon of owners looking like their dogs), but despite this biological disparity your dog can suffer from some health problems that bear a close resemblance to those found in many humans. For example, bladder stones are a condition that can affect both dogs and their owners, and just like human bladder stones, canine bladder stones can be painful, debilitating and even deadly if left untreated.

What are struvite bladder stones, and how can they affect your dog?

No two bladder stones are ever exactly alike, and depending on the condition, lifestyle and genetic makeup of your dog, they may be vulnerable to different types of bladder stone. One of the most common is the so-called struvite bladder stone, which is formed by solidified crystals of phosphate, magnesium and ammonia, substances routinely found in the urine of both ill and healthy dogs.

It is not known exactly why these liquid substances crystallise in the bladders of certain dogs, but diet, genetic and environmental factors are all believed to play a role in the formation of struvite stones. However, if and when a stone of significant size does form, the symptoms exhibited by your dog are generally quite distinctive. Your dog may make frequent attempts to urinate without success, only to urinate accidentally when the stone shifts. The urine itself may also be discoloured and/or bloody, and your dog may frequently lick and worry their genitals in an attempt to remove the problem.

How can struvite stones be treated and removed?

A struvite stone that is preventing your dog from urinating efficiently is an urgent matter for your veterinarian, as inability to urinate properly can cause severe organ damage without treatment — a stone that prevents urination entirely is a medical emergency. Consequently, you should consult with your vet at the first signs of bladder trouble, and if a struvite stone is causing your dog's problems, a number of treatments can be offered to alleviate the condition.

If a stone is small enough not to be immediately life-threatening, it may be possible to break up the stone and allow it to be passed naturally using a specialised diet, catheters or ultrasonic vibrations. However, larger stones that totally prevent urination, or stubborn stones that do not respond to less invasive treatments must be removed surgically. Choosing a reputable, experienced veterinary surgeon gives your beloved pet the best chance of coming through the operation unscathed.

During struvite stone removal surgery, your dog's surgeon will make a relatively small incision in your dog's abdomen and bladder, exposing the inside of the bladder and allowing the stone(s) to be manually removed. This approach may be more invasive than other treatments, but it eliminates the chance of small stones lodging in the dog's urethra during ordinary passage, a potentially deadly complication. Since the incision made is relatively small, post-operative healing times tend to be short, and in the vast majority of cases your dog should be back to his or her old self in a matter of days.