Question: My eight-year-old male neutered Miniature Schnauzer, Alfie, has had multiple surgeries to remove bladder stones from his bladder and penis. I am really worried and do not want him to go through any more surgery. Can you suggest any holistic options to stop him from getting any more stones?
Answer: Uroliths, commonly known as bladder stones, are a collection of minerals and other materials that form in the bladder. There are several different types, based on their composition, but the most common type in dogs and cats is struvite bladder stones, made up of magnesium ammonium phosphate hexahydrate. Miniature Schnauzers are especially prone to these type of stones, while Dalmatians are more likely to develop stones composed of urate crystals.
Dogs of all breeds can suffer from bladder stones, although Miniature Schnauzers, Dalmatians, Shih Tzus, Lhasa Apsos, Cocker Spaniels, Miniature Poodles and Bichon Frises are more predisposed to them. Possible causes include bacteria (urinary tract infections), diet (one that makes the urine alkaline) and various metabolic factors.
In cats, those primarily fed dry, commercial food high in cereals and vegetable materials tend to suffer more from bladder stones.
Signs and symptoms
Symptoms of bladder stones include straining to urinate, urinating more frequently, blood in the urine, excessive licking of the belly around the bladder area and the genitals, urinating inside the house or other inappropriate urination and vocalizing while urinating.
Sometimes, stones can make their way out of the bladder and get lodged in the urethra, where they can block the flow of urine. This is particularly a problem in males as they have a narrow urethra that can be blocked more easily. A blocked urethra is a life-threatening condition and requires immediate emergency treatment. Rush your pet to your vet if you ever suspect this may be the case.
Diagnosing bladder stones can be done by the vet palpating the bladder and examining a urine sample under a microscope. An ultrasound scan and/or X-rays are sometimes necessary to confirm the position of the stone or stones. This will also enable the vet to rule out kidney stones and hydronephrosis (engorgement of the kidney due to obstruction).
If left for too long, bladder stones can cause renal failure, so blood tests may be required to check if kidney function has been affected.
A dog or cat with a blocked urethra will need to be sedated and have a urinary catheter inserted to enable it to pass urine. Any stones are flushed back into the bladder, but if they are too large and repeatedly block the catheter, then it may be wise to perform a cystotomy (surgery to open the bladder) and remove the stones. A urethrotomy, an operation involving incision of the urethra, may also be required in male dogs if the stones block the penile urethra.
If the stones are tiny, your pet may be prescribed a special diet to dissolve the stones. The diet will depend on the type of stones identified, so it is very important that the stones are analyzed before the diet is changed. A urine analysis is a must to ascertain the urine pH and type of crystal.
Your vet may also prescribe antibiotics, if the diagnosis is infection-induced struvite stones, and anti-inflammatory medication for pain relief and to suppress the inflammation of the bladder wall and/or urethra.
Here are some natural methods to help prevent and treat bladder stones.
Increase water intake
It's crucial to make sure Alfie is getting enough water, especially if he is predominantly eating dry food. Here are some tips to get your dog to drink more:
• Get a pet water fountain.
• Add a little tuna or chicken to water to give it an appealing flavor.
• Add water or a low-salt broth to your pet's food.
You could also try feeding your pet wet food or fresh, home-cooked diets, which contain plenty of water.
Get to know the pH of your pet's urine. Your vet can do a urine analysis, or you can buy home test strips online. This will help in making the right choice of diet for the type of stone that he is predominantly suffering from.
Most commercial pet food diets, if they contain grains, tend to make the urine alkaline, which encourages the formation of struvite crystals, the most common type. Feeding your dog a more meat-based, grain-free diet can acidify the urine and help prevent this type of stone. Raw-meat diets can help, and dogs can be fed up to one-third of their diet as raw meat. (There's more information on this type of diet in my book, You Can Heal Your Pet.)
Feeding your pet more than twice
a day can increase the likelihood of stone formation, as right after eating there is increased alkalinity, which promotes crystallization.
Try natural diuretics
Corn silk (available in capsule form) and parsley are natural diuretics and will flush away debris from the kidney and bladder.
Suggested daily dosage: 1 corn silk capsule per 20 lbs bodyweight, fresh parsley (added to fresh food): ½ to 1 tsp for dogs less than 15 lbs; 1-2 tsp for dogs between 15 and 50 lbs; ½ to 1 Tbsp for larger dogs
Stock up on vitamin C
Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, helps acidify the urine, so it's useful for dogs with struvite crystals. But a word of caution: using very high levels of vitamin C can increase oxalate levels in the urine, thereby increasing the risk of oxalate stones.
Suggested dosage: 250-500 mg twice daily for dogs less than 15 lbs; 500 mg twice daily for dogs between 15 and 50 lbs; 1,000 mg twice daily for larger dogs
Consider cranberry juice
Many pet owners ask me about cranberry juice for bladder stones. There are no studies currently proving its benefit in treating cystitis or in reducing crystal formation. However, there is some evidence that cranberry extract prevents certain types of bacterial infections on par with antibiotics, because it makes it harder for these bacteria to stick to the bladder wall.1
As cranberries contain oxalates, they help acidify urine and may prevent struvite stones. However, they could encourage the development of calcium oxalate stones, so use with caution. Make sure you check the pH of your dog's urine and know the type of bladder stones he has before using.
And avoid cranberry urinary products that contain xylitol as this is extremely poisonous for dogs.
Mighty Petz Max Cranberry soft chews (mightypetz.com)are one cranberry-containing product with good reviews that's worth a try.
Try herbs and homeopathy
Pet Alive UTI-Free (www.nativeremedies.com) is a homeopathic remedy formulated to relieve the symptoms of cystitis and bladder stones, while NaturPet Urinary Care (www.naturpet.com) is an all-natural, vet-approved herbal formula including juniper berry, parsley root, uva ursi and marshmallow root designed to both prevent and treat urinary tract infections and bladder stones in cats and dogs. Both may be helpful in Alfie's case.
I have used Chinese herbal remedies for chronic bladder stones with great success. Consider getting Alfie examined by a holistic vet trained in traditional Chinese veterinary medicine, who can prescribe an individualized remedy.
Capra Mineral Whey
Capra Mineral Whey is a 100 percent natural powdered mineral/electrolyte wholefood supplement sourced from goat milk whey (www.mtcapra.com). Even though it's designed for humans, it can help dissolve bladder stones in pets.
Suggested dosage: Full human dose (see label) for pets more than 50 lbs; half the human dose for pets 20-50 lbs; one-quarter the human dose for smaller pets
Aloe and yarrow gel
Applying aloe vera and yarrow gel to the abdomen can ease the pain and discomfort associated with bladder stones. The gel is also great for pets with joint problems and torn ligaments.
115 g yarrow leaves and flowers
6 tablespoons aloe vera gel (either direct from the plant or from a high-quality store-bought product)
½ teaspoon xanthan gum (a natural thickener you can buy online)
1) Place the yarrow leaves and flowers in a pestle and mortar and bruise them to release some of the oils. Place in a cup, add boiling water and steep overnight until cool.
2) Strain the liquid and pour into a blender with the aloe vera gel and xanthan gum. Blend until a smooth gel is formed. Pour the gel into an airtight glass jar and label.
3) Store in the fridge for up to one month (not for internal use).
4) Apply topically and massage gently on affected areas, avoiding the face and genitals.
Rohini Sathish, DVM, MSC, MRCVS, MHAO, MCIVT
Dr Sathish is an award-winning holistic vet with 22 years of experience. After training in acupuncture, acupressure, energy healing, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), animal communication and herbal medicine, she now actively integrates conventional veterinary treatments with complementary therapies and is co-author of You Can Heal Your Pet (Hay House, 2015). You can contact Dr Sathish at her website: www.rohinisholisticvetcare.com