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Common Urinary Problems in Dogs

If you own a dog, you probably already know how important it is to take care of your dog's urinary system. The kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra make up the urinary system. Its job is to take trash and toxins out of the blood, make urine, and get rid of it from the body.

When something goes wrong with your dog's urinary system, it can lead to pain, discomfort, infections, and even problems that could kill your dog.

Dogs often have problems with their bladders, and these problems can happen to dogs of any age, breed, or gender. Urinary tract infections (UTI), bladder stones, and incontinence are some of the most common urinary problems in dogs.

In this article, BestForPets will explain what these problems are, what causes them, what the symptoms are, how they are identified, and how they are treated. We will also give you some tips on how to keep your dog from having bladder problems or make them less likely to happen.

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Deborah R. Fletcher (DVM)

Veterinarian

The information provided is current and up-to-date, in line with the latest research conducted in the field of veterinary medicine.

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What are the common urinary problems in dogs?

There are two main types of urinary problems in dogs: lower urinary tract problems affecting the bladder and urethra, and upper urinary tract problems affecting the kidneys and ureters. Here are some of the most common urinary problems in dogs:

1. Lower urinary tract problems:

Urinary tract infections (UTIs): Bacteria enter the urinary system through the urethra and cause pain and illness. Female dogs are more prone to UTIs than males. UTIs can be caused by stress, poor hygiene, or existing diseases. UTIs can be treated with antibiotics and fruit pills.

Urolithiasis (stones): Hard mineral crystals form in the bladder or urethra and can block or irritate the area. Stones can be made of different minerals like struvite, calcium oxalate, urate, cystine, or silica. Stones can be treated by changing the diet, medication, or surgery.

Crystalluria (crystals): Tiny crystals that form in urine and can irritate the skin. Crystals can be a sign of other diseases or a sign that stones are going to form. Crystals and stones can be made of the same minerals. The pH and mineral composition of urine determine the type of crystal. Crystals can be treated by changing the diet or taking medication.

Cystitis (inflammation): The bladder wall becomes inflamed due to diseases, stones, crystals, trauma, tumors, or unknown causes. Cystitis can cause pain, discomfort, or bleeding. Cystitis can be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs, painkillers, or medication.

2. Upper urinary tract problems:

Pyelonephritis (kidney infection): Bacterial infection causing swelling and damage to one or both kidneys. Kidney infections can occur when infections spread from the lower urinary system or from other parts of the body through the bloodstream. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, vomiting, weight loss, or increased thirst and urination. Antibiotics and hydration are used to treat kidney infections.

Nephrolithiasis (kidney stones): Hard chemical crystals form in the kidneys and can cause damage or make it difficult for urine to pass. Kidney stones can be made of different minerals like calcium oxalate, urate, cystine, or xanthine. The type of stone depends on the minerals in urine and how acidic it is. Kidney stones can be treated by changing the diet, medication, or surgery.

Glomerulonephritis (kidney inflammation): A disease caused by the immune system that affects the tiny tubes in the kidneys that remove waste from the blood. Glomerulonephritis can be caused by diseases, chemicals, genetics, or unknown reasons. Symptoms include protein or blood in the urine, high blood pressure, or kidney failure. Glomerulonephritis can be treated with drugs that weaken the immune system, antibiotics, or kidney dialysis.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, urinary problems are one of the top reasons why dogs go to the vet. About 14% of dogs will experience urinary problems at some point in their lives, and about 2% will develop bladder stones. Certain breeds like Dalmatians, Bichon Frise, Shih Tzu, Yorkshire Terrier, Miniature Schnauzer, Lhasa Apso, or Poodle are more susceptible to urinary problems than others.

How does diet affect urinary health in dogs?

How does diet affect urinary health in dogs

Diet can have a significant impact on a dog’s urinary system health since it can alter the pH, volume, and mineral content of urine, affecting how stones or crystals form.

pH: The pH scale measures the acidity or alkalinity of urine. Normal dog urine has a pH between 6.0 and 6.5, which is slightly acidic. However, certain factors such as food, medications, infections, or diseases can impact the urine’s pH levels.

An alkaline urine pH can increase the likelihood of struvite stones or crystals, while an acidic urine pH can increase the likelihood of calcium oxalate stones or crystals. Maintaining a balanced pH level in urine is vital to prevent the formation of stones and crystals.

Volume: The amount of urine a dog produces and excretes is referred to as urine volume. Normal dog urine output is 20 to 40 ml per kilogram per day. However, factors such as food, water intake, exercise, weather, diseases, and others can alter the urine’s amount.

A small amount of concentrated urine can increase the chances of stone or crystal formation, as it allows more minerals to build up in the urinary system. Diluting the urine by producing more pee can help to reduce the chances of stone or crystal formation.

Mineral content: The urine’s mineral content measures how many minerals are present and excreted in the urine. The average amount of minerals in dog urine is less than 100 mg/dl. However, certain factors such as food, supplements, medications, diseases, and others can impact the urine’s mineral content.

A urine high in minerals, also known as “supersaturated,” can increase the chances of stone or crystal formation. Reducing the amount of minerals in the diet and urine is crucial to preventing stone or crystal formation.

Diet can change urine’s pH, volume, and mineral content by providing different amounts and types of ingredients that can make urine more acidic or alkaline, increase or decrease urine output, and add or remove minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, and others.

For example,

Protein: Protein is essential for dogs as it provides amino acids needed for many body processes. However, excessive protein intake can make urine more acidic and increase the amount of calcium and phosphorus excreted, leading to calcium oxalate stone or crystal formation.

It’s crucial to provide dogs with a reasonable amount of protein (18–25%) from quality sources such as meat, eggs, or fish.

Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are a significant energy source for dogs, providing glucose for various functions. Excessive carbohydrate intake, on the other hand, can make urine more alkaline and increase the amount of magnesium and phosphorus excreted, leading to struvite stone or crystal formation.

It’s important to provide a low amount of carbohydrates (less than 30%) from complex sources such as fruits, vegetables, or grains.

Fats: Fats are a dog’s primary fatty acid source, providing energy and aiding in various body functions. However, excessive fat intake can make urine more acidic and increase the amount of calcium and phosphorus excreted, leading to calcium oxalate stone or crystal formation.

It’s crucial to provide dogs with 10–15% of their calorie intake from good fats such as fish oil, flaxseed oil, or coconut oil.

Fiber: Fiber is a part of plant-based foods that adds bulk and helps regulate digestion and bowel movements. Excessive fiber intake can make urine more acidic and prevent minerals from being absorbed and excreted, reducing the chances of stone or crystal formation. It’s essential to provide 3–5% of fiber intake from natural sources such as vegetables and fruits.

Moisture: Moisture in food provides hydration and regulates body temperature and metabolism. It can also impact urine output and concentration, affecting stone or crystal formation.

Wet food has a higher moisture content (70–80%) than dry food (10–12%), increasing urine output and decreasing its concentration, reducing the likelihood of stone or crystal formation. It’s crucial to provide dogs with at least 50% of their moisture intake through wet food, fresh water, or soup.

What are the benefits of dog foods for urinary health?

What are the benefits of dog foods for urinary health

Urinary health dog foods are specially formulated to meet the dietary requirements of canines with urinary problems. These foods have several benefits for urinary health, including:

Increasing Urine Volume and Diluting Urine Concentration: Urinary health dog foods have a high moisture content and low sodium levels. This can increase dogs’ water intake and urine output, aiding in flushing out the minerals and bacteria that cause urinary tract stones or infections.

Adjusting Urine pH to Prevent Stone or Crystal Formation: Urinary health dog foods have a balanced pH level, which can prevent urine from becoming too acidic or alkaline. This can help prevent the accumulation of minerals in the urinary tract that can lead to the formation of crystals or stones.

Reducing Mineral Intake and Excretion: Urinary health dog foods have minimal mineral content and a controlled mineral ratio. This can prevent the oversaturation and aggregation of minerals in the urinary tract that can lead to the formation of crystals or stones.

Providing Antioxidants and Anti-Inflammatory Agents: Urinary health dog foods have a high antioxidant content and low inflammatory content. This can strengthen the immune system and reduce urinary tract inflammation, helping combat infections and diseases that can lead to urinary issues.

Supporting Kidney Function and Immune System: Dog foods that promote urinary health have a moderate protein content and high-quality protein source. This can provide adequate amino acids for various physiological functions without saturating the kidneys. This can help preserve kidney function and prevent renal damage or failure.

Discover the best dog foods for urinary health and keep your furry companion’s bladder and kidneys healthy

Author Image

Dr. Heidi Bigham

Dr. Heidi H. Bigham, DVM is an expert in small animal veterinary care, specializing in emergency medicine, geriatric pet health, and internal medicine. She has five years of expertise as a general practitioner of small animal medicine in facilities that provide preventative care, surgery, and 24-hour emergency treatment. 

Veterinarian (DVM) Dr. Heidi Bigham

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