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Urinary Tract Blockage in Dogs

What Is a Urinary Tract Blockage in Dogs?

A urinary tract blockage, also known as an obstruction, is a critical medical situation in dogs where they experience difficulty or inability to urinate. The urinary tract of a dog comprises the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra, and a blockage can either be partial or complete. Affected dogs will strain while urinating and may produce very little or no urine at all. Both male and female dogs can suffer from this condition, but it’s more prevalent in males due to their anatomical structure. Male dogs have a longer and narrower urethra compared to females, making them more susceptible to this severe medical issue.

When a dog’s urinary tract is obstructed, toxins accumulate rapidly. Without prompt treatment, the condition can progress to kidney failure and ultimately result in death. The primary cause of urinary tract obstruction in dogs is often a bladder stone that becomes lodged in the urethra, obstructing the flow of urine from the bladder.

Symptoms

The symptoms of urinary tract blockage in dogs vary depending on the extent of the obstruction. In cases of partial blockage, dogs may exhibit the following clinical signs:

  • Urinating small amounts frequently
  • Taking an extended time to urinate
  • Straining during urination
  • Presence of bloody or dark urine
  • Inability to produce a steady stream of urine, resulting in urination in drops
  • Displaying inappropriate urination behaviors

For dogs with a complete urethral blockage, the symptoms may include:

  • Straining to urinate without producing any urine
  • Lethargy and severe depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal enlargement

Distinguishing between a urinary tract infection and a partial obstruction can be challenging, but a veterinarian can accurately identify the issue through a thorough examination. Both partial and complete urinary obstructions cause pain, leading to vocalization during urination attempts. Affected dogs may also exhibit restlessness, difficulty finding comfort while lying down, and challenges in getting up once lying down. Additionally, dogs may appear constipated, as the straining involved in both urination and defecation can result in similar postures.

Causes

The primary cause of urinary tract blockages in dogs is typically bladder stones (calculi) that become lodged in the urethra, though it’s rare for stones to originate in the kidneys and obstruct the ureters. Other factors contributing to urinary obstructions include muscle spasms in the urethra, bladder inflammation (cystitis), mucus plugs, prostate issues in male dogs, scar tissue, blood clots, or certain types of cancers. In male dogs, an obstruction can also occur if the os penis (the bone within the penis) is fractured or broken.

In cases of complete obstruction, the bladder may become so distended that it risks rupture, leading to the spillage of urine into the abdomen. Dogs facing complete urethral obstruction face imminent death within days if the blockage isn’t relieved promptly. If a dog is unable to urinate, immediate veterinary attention is imperative.

Certain medical conditions predispose dogs to an increased risk of developing stones and potential obstructions. For instance, Yorkshire Terriers and Schnauzers with liver shunts are prone to stone formation due to inefficient waste removal by the liver. Dalmatians have a genetic inclination to form urate crystals, while infections in the kidneys, bladder, and prostate can heighten the risk of struvite crystal and stone formation.

Diagnosis

To diagnose urinary tract blockage in dogs, the veterinarian or an emergency vet will begin by taking a comprehensive medical history and conducting a thorough physical examination, which includes palpating the dog’s urinary bladder in the abdomen. Often, during this examination, an enlarged bladder and even the presence of stones may be detected.

A rectal examination is crucial to identify stones in the urethra, and in male dogs, it allows the veterinarian to assess the prostate. Comprehensive bloodwork, urinalysis, and urine culture are essential to evaluate kidney function for signs of failure and to identify any infections or crystals in the urine.

Imaging of the urinary system is vital to confirm the presence of an obstruction. Plain x-rays and contrast x-rays are valuable for detecting stones in the bladder or urethra. Abdominal ultrasound helps in assessing the kidneys for stones, tumors, clots, or stones that may not be visible on x-rays. It also allows the vet to examine the prostate in male dogs for any enlargement or abnormalities.

If a urinary catheter cannot be inserted from the urethra into the bladder, it indicates a urinary obstruction. Sedation is often necessary for this procedure. Occasionally, the veterinarian may be able to feel the stone or identify other causes with the catheter to determine whether the obstruction is partial or complete. Special contrast or dye may be injected into the catheter during an x-ray to detect any narrowing of the urethra associated with tumors, clots, or scar tissue.

If there are indications of improper kidney function with elevated potassium levels, an electrocardiogram (ECG) should be performed, as high potassium levels can lead to heart problems.

Treatment

The treatment of urinary tract blockage in dogs typically involves both medical intervention to stabilize the animal for surgery and surgical procedures to alleviate the obstruction. Upon diagnosis, the dog will be hospitalized with an IV catheter to administer fluids and pain relief medications. Antibiotics may be prescribed if there are signs of infection, and additional medications might be provided to alleviate urethral muscle spasms and inflammation.

Once the dog’s condition stabilizes, they may undergo sedation, and a urinary catheter will be inserted into the urethra. In cases where the obstruction is caused by bladder stones, the stone can sometimes be manipulated from the urethra back into the bladder, relieving the obstruction. Subsequently, a less complex surgical procedure can be performed to remove the stone from the bladder.

However, if the stone cannot be passed into the bladder or if the obstruction stems from a cause other than a stone, surgical removal or correction of the blockage directly from the urethra becomes necessary. During surgery, if abnormal tissue is identified or if a tumor is found to be the cause of the obstruction, the veterinarian may take a biopsy to further investigate.

The nature of bladder stones varies, and some types may be dissolved through a specialized prescription diet designed for dogs. In certain cases, a cystoscope—an instrument for examining the bladder—can be employed to extract small stones from the bladder, thus avoiding the need for surgery.

Recovery and Management

Following surgery to remove a urinary tract obstruction in dogs, a period of several weeks of restricted activity and the use of an Elizabethan collar (cone) is typically necessary for recovery. Blood may be present in the urine for a few weeks post-surgery, depending on the specific surgical procedure performed.

Urinary tract infections usually require antibiotic treatment for a minimum of 10-14 days. Additionally, dogs are often prescribed pain relief and anti-inflammatory medications following the clearance of the obstruction. After completing the medication course, repeat urinalysis and urine cultures are essential to ensure effective treatment of the infection.

Complications of urinary obstruction surgery may include urethral or bladder tears, leading to urine leakage, bladder dysfunction, incontinence, or urethral scarring that could result in a recurrence of the obstruction.

The prognosis for dogs undergoing surgical or nonsurgical procedures to alleviate urinary blockage is generally favorable, provided there hasn’t been significant kidney damage or toxicity due to a prolonged obstruction.

Prevention

Preventing urinary tract blockage in dogs is feasible, especially in cases related to bladder stones and their composition. If stones developed due to infection, it’s advisable to undergo routine urinalysis and urine cultures to detect infections before stone formation occurs. Based on the findings, antibiotics may be prescribed as a preventive measure. Periodic bladder x-rays or ultrasounds can also aid in preventing the recurrence of urinary obstructions. Early detection enables veterinarians to make dietary or medication adjustments for dogs before surgery becomes necessary.

Urinary Tract Blockage in Dogs FAQs

Is a urinary tract blockage painful for dogs?

Yes, urinary obstruction in dogs is indeed painful. The primary symptom of straining to urinate indicates discomfort experienced in the bladder and urethra, particularly. The pain associated with a urethral stone is akin to the intense discomfort humans feel with kidney stones. Regardless of the cause, urinary obstruction causes pain and discomfort for all dogs.

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