By Robert Mueller
Urolithiasis is a general term describing a common disorder of the lower urinary tract in dogs and cats. It refers to stones or uroliths that develop in the kidney, ureter, bladder or urethra affecting approximately 7% of cats and 3% of dogs seen at veterinary clinics.
This is typically a condition found in adult animals. There is a difference in the age and onset periods between the two species. This condition is rarely seen in cats younger than 1 year and most commonly diagnosed between the ages of 2 to 6 years of age. In contrast, for dogs the mean age at time of diagnosis is between 6 1/2 to 7 years.
There is also a relationship between gender and mineral prevalence. Struvite crystals are more common in females, while oxalate containing stones are seen more often in males. It is speculated that breed characteristics such as low activity levels and a tendency toward obesity may be influential factors.
What are the signs?
Clinical signs of urolithiasis in dogs and cats are nonspecific and depend on the location, size, and number of crystals present within the urinary tract. Most crystals are the size of a grain of sand or smaller. Clinical signs of this condition include:
- frequent urination
- dribbling of urine
- urination in inappropriate places
- strong ammonia odor in the urine
- prolonged squatting or straining following urination
- constant licking of urogenital region
- vomiting and diarrhea
Can I manage this condition through my pet’s diet?
A raw meat diet meets the requirements for dietary management of this condition. Maintaining a diet that has urine-acidifying properties, proper levels of magnesium, high digestibility, caloric density, and high water content seems to reduce the formation of stones.
A carnivorous diet such as the BARF DIET has the effect of increasing net acid excretion and decreasing urine pH. This urine-acidifying effect is primarily a result of the high level of sulfur-containing amino acids found in meat. In addition, a diet that contains a high proportion of meat is lower in potassium salts than a diet containing high levels of cereal grains like kibble, which has been shown to produce alkaline urine when metabolized.
It can be theorized then that inclusion of high levels of cereal grains and low levels of meat in some commercial pet foods may be contributing to the development of struvite urolithiasis. (Struvite crystals are soluble at a pH below 6.6 and will form at a pH of 7.0 and above). Alkaline urine is required for the initial formation of struvite crystals.
Water Content Is A Key Factor
An equally important consideration in reducing formation of stones is to increase water content. Kibble diets that have a low water content (usually 10%) tend to cause a decrease in total fluid turnover and urine volume resulting in increased urine concentration, both of which contribute to struvite formation. The value in feeding BARF, a meat based diet containing 70% moisture, is obvious.
Surgical removal of uroliths (stones) is necessary in most cases of struvite urolithiasis in dogs. A major advantage of this treatment is that the clinical signs are quickly relieved, and then treatment can be focused on eliminating urinary infections and preventing recurrence. Properly formulated meat based diets, such as the BARF Diet, is the best way to control, aid, and prevent this condition in dogs and cats.
Urolithiasis is a complex condition with many varying factors that require analysis and treatment by your vet. As always, we recommend checking with your veterinarian before making any changes in your pet’s diet.
Robert Mueller, BSc, Pharm. is a registered pharmacist, author of “Living Enzymes: The World’s Best Kept Pet Food Secret”, and co-developer of BARF World’s BARF Diets® patties, nuggets and supplements – the first company to make the Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods (BARF®) diet conveniently available to animals everywhere. To receive more articles like these in your email inbox,click here to sign up for “The Intelligent Pet” weekly e-zine absolutely FREE!