Sixteen minutes. That was all the time it took give relief to a dog who had been suffering with bladder pain for very likely a year or more. Mandy is a sweet, mini schnauzer who had been surrendered to Dreampower Animal Rescue for a variety of reasons, but a few minutes in the exam room made it clear that the main reason was probably because she was urinating all over everything. She couldn’t go for more than a few minutes without squatting and straining to produce a few drops of very bloody urine. As soon as I palpated her bladder I could feel a stone inside. An x-ray confirmed that there was a stone just slightly smaller than a chicken egg with sharp spikes projecting from its edges. I would have taken quite a long time for a stone of this size to develop, and during that entire time it would be like having a medieval torture device scraping the lining of her bladder. Surgical removal of the stone took only sixteen minutes and provided an instant cure. Now Mandy can carry on without constant pain and without urinating uncontrollably all over the place.
When a previously housetrained cat or dog suddenly starts having urinary accidents in the house there is often a physical reason behind it, yet many people assume the pet is just misbehaving in order to make them mad or to acting out because they are upset about something. There is no amount of training, yelling, punishing, or even antibiotics that will cause a bladder stone to go away, yet with an appropriate workup and simple diagnostics this common problem can be correctly identified and treated. Surgery to remove stones from the bladder is a fairly simple procedure and recovery is usually very fast. That means an almost immediate end to the pain and an equally immediate end to the pee in the house.
Dogs and cats, and sometimes rabbits and ferrets form stones in their bladder when the minerals in their urine crystallize around some small speck of material in the bladder. Layers and layers of mineral stick to the speck until it grows into a rock-like structure. Sometimes lots of small stones are formed and sometimes one large stone is formed. The stones rub on the lining of the bladder and cause irritation which manifests with the same symptoms as a bladder infection--frequent and often inappropriate urination. Sometimes blood can be seen in the urine--a sign that is never normal. Surgical removal is almost always needed, but there are a few limited circumstances when a specific diet may eventually dissolve one kind of bladder stone away. These are not the same things as kidney stones that many people get and the symptoms are not the same. People do not tend to form large stones in their bladders because we stand upright, causing any small mineral clumps to be pulled by gravity down toward the outflow tract where they slip out easily with the urine when they are very tiny. Because animals are more horizontally oriented, gravity pulls the stones down away from their outflow tract so they have the opportunity to sit and grow over time.
Male cats and dogs will sometimes have smaller stones slip into the urethra--the narrow tube that goes from the bladder to the outside-- and get plugged up. It doesn’t take too much imagination to see that being unable to urinate for three days becomes a significant emergency. When caught in time we can often flush the stones back up the urethra and into the bladder where we can then get to them to fish them out surgically.
Animals that are metabolically predisposed to make bladder stones will often make them again if not put on a special diet that helps keep them from relapsing. The type of diet depends on the chemical makeup of the type of stone the individual makes. Mini Schnauzers, Bichons, and Dalmations are breeds of dogs that are especially likely to make bladder stones.