Health series – Bladder problems

Bladder problems can be quite common for our canine companions. This blog post, as part of our Health Series, looks at a few of the medical issues that dogs can have that relate to their bladder.

If your dog is displaying any unusual symptoms or showing signs of discomfort, then you should always contact your vet.

Signs of a bladder problem
There are a number of conditions that can affect the bladder, and the signs can vary, however some symptoms to look out for include:

– a change in the colour, smell or look of urine, sometimes with visible signs of blood
– straining to urinate, or not being able to urinate at all
– urinating more regularly
– abdominal pain
– fever


Bladder Stones
The reasons why some dogs develop bladder stones is not fully understood.  Breed, diet and bladder infections are considered factors that can affect bladder stone formation.  Some breeds, such as Dalmatians and brachycephalic (BOAS) breeds, may be more prone to the condition, suggesting an inherited link.

Signs and symptoms – Dogs with bladder stones often show signs of straining to pass small volumes of urine.  In some cases, urine may contain blood and occasionally dogs are unable to pass urine as stones can block the urethra. If you suspect that your dog is unable to pass urine, please contact your vet immediately.

Stones can vary in size and substance, and a dog may have several different stones
– Struvite stones are the most common type of stones.   Composed of magnesium ammonium phosphate, these stones develop in alkaline urine as a result of urinary tract infections.

– Calcium Oxalate are another common type of stone found in dogs and along with Struvite stones, make up around 85% of all canine uroliths. These stones can’t be dissolved and have to be removed usually through surgery.

– Urate stones are caused by a genetic condition in some breeds of dog such as Dalmatians, Jack Russel Terriers and Bulldogs where a defect in their metabolism results in a high excretion of uric acid in their urine.

Diagnosis and treatment – Diet is extremely important in the management of bladder stones.  Specially formulated diets are used to dissolve certain types of bladder stones such as struvite and urate stones.   Encouraging dogs to drink more or feeding moist foods may help as mineral crystals are less likely to form in dilute urine.  It is these mineral crystals which under favourable conditions within the bladder develop into stones.   In extreme cases the stones will need to be surgically removed from the bladder to enable the dog to pass urine with ease, without the fear of blockage. However, in the case of struvite stones this may not be necessary.

By feeding a specially formulated diet which is low in protein, magnesium and phosphorous it is possible to dissolve the stones, provided they are not too advanced or causing any serious blockage. It is important that advice should be taken from your veterinary surgeon as to whether the food you feed your dog with these conditions would be suitable for your dog.

In dogs, cystitis, or inflammation of the bladder, is most commonly caused by a bacterial infection, however bladder stones, tumours or polyps can also cause the condition.

Signs and symptoms – The signs of cystitis commonly include the urge to urinate more frequently, passing smaller amounts and visible signs of blood in the urine.  Dogs may sometimes strain to urinate, and can show signs of physical discomfort when doing so.

Diagnosis and treatment – It is very important to seek immediate advice from your vet if you suspect that your dog has any kind of bladder infection. Cystitis can be diagnosed through a series of tests that may include radiographs and ultrasound scans of the bladder and urinary tract to diagnose the cause of the cystitis.

For uncomplicated cases of cystitis that are caused by an infection, your vet will prescribe a course of antibiotics.  Initially pain relief may also be given to ease the discomfort associated with the condition.  Dogs with cystitis may benefit from increasing their water intake either by drinking more water or eating moist foods.

Urinary Tract Infection
This is, arguably, the most common bladder issue with dogs. It is more common in female dogs, but male dogs can suffer from Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) too.

Signs and symptoms – There are a number of symptoms that your dog might display if they are suffering from a UTI. These can include bloody and or cloudy urine, needing to urinate more frequently (asking to go out more), accidents in the house, pain when urinating as well as potentially a fever. These symptoms can be a sign of something more serious, therefore it is always best to consult a medical professional should you suspect your dog is unwell.

Diagnosis and treatment – as UTIs can be caused by a number of different problems, the treatment can vary. A change in diet, course of antibiotics, or in some cases, depending on the underlying issue, surgery may be required.

Urinary Incontinence
Although sometimes a symptom of another medical issue, Urinary Incontinence can be an aliment on its own.  Affecting both old and young dogs, there are a number of causes of incontinence. These can include, but are not limited to USMI (when the muscles inside your dog’s urethra becomes weak), prostate problems, ectopic ureter, urine infection or blockage or spinal issues.

Signs and symptoms – The lack of bladder control can be seen with a variety of different symptoms. Usually more common when your dog is asleep or relaxing, the most noticeable sign is a wet patch where your dog has been lying. Other symptoms can include a change in eating and drinking habits, urinating more frequently, pain and discomfort when urinating and visible signs of blood.

Diagnosis and treatment – Treatment for urinary incontinence in dogs with depend completely on the cause of the issue and therefore it is best to consult your vet as to the best course of action.

Other aliments
There are a number of other aliments that can cause bladder issues with dogs. These can include, but are not limited to:

– Diabetes Mellitus
– Kidney failure
– Cushing’s disease
– Pyometra
– Prostatic disease
– Kidney stones
– Bladder cancer or tumours

Every dog is different, but it is always best, if you are concerned that your dog may be in pain or discomfort, or require further information on any of the issues listed here, to speak to a medical professional about your dog’s health. Your vet can carry out a full investigation and treat the symptoms accordingly.