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Urine Crystals in Dogs

What Are Urine Crystals in Dogs?

Urine crystals are a common cause of changes in urination frequency or urine color in dogs. While sometimes they may be present without causing any noticeable symptoms, they remain a significant concern for pet owners.

The process of waste elimination in dogs involves the absorption of nutrients from food and water, with waste products needing to be expelled. The kidneys play a crucial role in this process by filtering the blood and removing salts, waste products, and excess water to form urine. This urine then travels through the ureters to the bladder, where it is stored until elimination through the urethra.

Normal urine comprises a balance of water, minerals, acids, and protein breakdown products like urea. However, if the concentration of certain minerals exceeds the normal levels, they may precipitate and form solid crystals.

In some instances, these crystals may accumulate and clump together, forming a sand-like sediment. This sediment can cause discomfort during urination and may eventually lead to the formation of bladder stones, which resemble pebbles inside the urinary bladder and can cause severe discomfort to the dog.

While dogs with urine crystals can often be managed through nutritional interventions over time, it’s crucial to monitor their ability to urinate. If a dog exhibits signs of straining to urinate or is unable to urinate altogether, it constitutes a medical emergency. Untreated urinary blockages can progress to kidney failure and, in severe cases, result in death if not promptly addressed. Therefore, prompt veterinary attention is essential in such situations.

What Do Crystals in Dog Urine Look Like?

Crystals in dog urine are generally not visible to the naked eye. Pet owners are more likely to notice changes in their dog’s urination habits, such as increased frequency, prolonged urination, decreased urine volume, or the presence of blood in the urine. Crystals can only be observed under a microscope. They may appear as clear, square or rectangular gemstones, or they may resemble crystal fireworks or hexagons.

On occasion, dogs may have a sufficient amount of crystals that they aggregate and form a sandy grit or sediment, which can be detected in the urine.

Types of Urine Crystals in Dogs

Various types of urine crystals can affect dogs, each with distinct characteristics:

  • Calcium oxalate crystals: Among the most common in dogs, this type of crystal is more prevalent in certain breeds genetically predisposed to their formation. Breeds such as Pomeranians, Miniature Schnauzers, Bichon Frises, Maltese, Yorkshire Terriers, Lhasa Apsos, and Miniature Poodles are particularly susceptible.
  • Struvite crystals: Another common type, struvite crystals often coincide with urinary tract infections (UTIs). They are frequently observed in younger female dogs, with breeds like Labradors, Cocker Spaniels, Shih Tzus, and Bichon Frises being more prone to their development.
  • Ammonium urate crystals: More prevalent in dogs with liver shunts or genetic mutations, these crystals are more likely to occur in certain breeds. Miniature Schnauzers, West Highland Whites, Yorkshire Terriers, and Pekingese breeds are at higher risk due to their association with liver shunts.
  • Cystine crystals: This type is rare and tends to form bladder stones, remaining invisible on X-rays (radiolucent) like urate crystals. Dogs inherit a kidney issue preventing the normal reabsorption of the cysteine amino acid, leading to the development of cystine crystals. Labradors and Newfoundlands are commonly affected by this crystal type.

Symptoms

The symptoms of urine crystals in dogs may include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Increased drinking
  • Straining or discomfort during urination
  • Blood in the urine
  • Urinary accidents in the house
  • Discolored urine

Causes

Urine crystals develop in a dog’s bladder when the urine becomes oversaturated with minerals, leading to favorable conditions for crystallization in terms of pH and concentration. The formation of urinary crystals is influenced by a combination of genetics, nutrition, and underlying medical conditions.

Genetics play a significant role in crystal formation. Certain dogs are predisposed to crystal formation based on how their kidneys metabolize compounds.

Nutrition is crucial in both the formation and management of urine crystals. While two dogs in the same household may consume identical diets, only one might develop urine crystals due to genetic predispositions leading to an excess of minerals.

Underlying medical conditions also contribute to crystal formation in urine. Urinary tract infections, for instance, can disrupt the pH balance in the bladder and trigger inflammation and debris formation within the urinary bladder.

Additionally, medical issues such as elevated levels of calcium in the bloodstream can promote crystal formation. Various conditions including kidney disease, parathyroid disease, Addison’s disease, and certain cancers can result in heightened calcium levels, exacerbating the risk of crystal formation.

Diagnosis

Veterinarians diagnose urine crystals in dogs by examining the dog’s urine under a microscope. If a dog is experiencing abnormal urination, the veterinarian will typically request a urine sample to be brought into the clinic. The most optimal time to collect the urine sample is in the morning, as the first morning urine is usually the most concentrated, having been held in the bladder overnight during sleep.

To collect the urine sample, pet owners can use a shallow plastic container or a soup ladle to catch the urine stream while the dog is urinating. It is preferable to provide the freshest urine sample possible, ideally collected on the same day. If there will be a delay between collecting the urine and bringing it to the veterinary office, storing it in the refrigerator is recommended until it can be brought in. Once the veterinarian receives the urine sample, they will conduct a complete urinalysis to assess for urine crystals and other potential abnormalities.

Treatment

The management of urine crystals in dogs typically involves nutrition therapy as a primary component. Veterinarians may suggest switching the dog’s current diet to an over-the-counter food, although prescription diets are often recommended. These diets may aim to dissolve existing crystals or regulate the urine’s pH and mineral composition to prevent future crystal formation.

For struvite crystals, common prescription dissolution urinary diets include:

  • Hills Prescription Diet c/d Multicare Urinary Care
  • Royal Canin®/MD Urinary SO
  • Purina® Pro Plan Veterinary Diets UR Urinary Ox/St

Other prescription urinary diets like Hills u/d and Royal Canin®/MD UC are commonly used for different crystal types.

In cases where dietary therapy is not feasible or effective, veterinarians may recommend the addition of oral medications. Commonly prescribed medications for urine crystals include:

  • Potassium citrate: reduces calcium oxalate stone formation by binding calcium, preventing it from precipitating into crystals.
  • Hydrochlorothiazide: minimizes calcium oxalate stone formation by reducing the amount of calcium excreted in urine.
  • DL-methionine: acidifies urine, aiding in the dissolution of struvite crystals and preventing their formation.
  • Tiopronin: binds excess cysteine in the urine, facilitating its safe elimination.
  • Allopurinol: reduces uric acid production, decreasing the formation of ammonium urate crystals.

If a urinary tract infection accompanies the presence of crystals, antibiotics will likely be prescribed. Veterinarians often recommend taking a culture to identify the bacteria species in the urinary tract and determine the most effective antibiotic. It’s crucial to adhere to antibiotic instructions and complete the prescribed course to ensure effective treatment.

Recovery and Management

The recovery process from urine crystals varies depending on the type of crystal and the individual dog. Some crystal types, such as struvite, can be effectively treated and eliminated by addressing the urinary tract infection and following a prescribed diet regimen. Urinary tract infections are typically treated promptly with antibiotic courses ranging from 5 days to 2 weeks. It’s common for prescription diets to be recommended for the long term to prevent recurrence.

Other crystal types may pose greater challenges for elimination, especially if a dog has a genetic predisposition to forming them. Managing underlying medical conditions like hypercalcemia or liver shunts is crucial in reducing the likelihood of future crystal formation.

The recurrence of crystals in the urine is quite common. If a prescription diet is advised, it’s essential to consult with your veterinarian before discontinuing it. Moreover, if you decide to transition your pet to a different diet, regularly monitoring their urine and periodic check-ups will help detect any potential recurrence of the issue.

During your dog’s recovery from urine crystals, it’s important to monitor their urine output daily. If you observe any changes such as increased urination frequency, straining, or the presence of blood/discoloration in the urine, it’s imperative to collect a sample and promptly consult your veterinarian. Early detection and intervention are crucial in managing urinary issues effectively.

Urine Crystals in Dogs FAQs

Are crystals in dog urine dangerous?

Crystals in a dog’s urine alone are typically not dangerous. However, when crystals clump together and form sediment, they can lead to urinary blockages, which pose a danger to the dog’s health.

What food causes crystals in dog urine?

While nutrition influences crystal formation, specific brands or types of food are not directly responsible for causing the issue. Different diets impact dogs differently based on their genetics and urine pH levels. If a dog has urine crystals, a veterinarian may recommend a dietary change. However, other dogs in the same household may not experience the same problem. It’s essential to discuss any dietary changes with a veterinarian before implementation.

How are crystals in dog urine treated?

The treatment for crystals in a dog’s urine typically involves nutrition therapy, often with a prescription diet. Sometimes, oral medications may be prescribed to assist in dissolving the crystals.

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