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Your Pet's Biologically Imperfect Food Can Lead to Struvite Stones

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Dr. Becker Discusses Struvite Stones and Crystals

Your Pet’s Biologically Imperfect Food Can Lead to Struvite Stones

By Dr. Becker
Today, I’d like to discuss struvite stones and crystals. Struvite stones are a type of bladder stone that occurs in both dogs and cats. They’re also called triple phosphate and magnesium ammonium phosphate stones.

Magnesium, ammonia, and phosphate are common elements in urine. In high enough concentrations, they bind together to form crystals that can viagra online canada irritate and inflame the bladder. When the crystals combine with mucus, they can form a plug that blocks the urinary tract. The crystals can also fuse together to form struvite stones.
Struvite stones account for over one-third of all urinary tract stones in dogs and about half of all urinary stones in cats. The problem is seen more often in female dogs and cats, and pets that are from six to seven years of age.

Causes and Symptoms

The causes of struvite stones include extremely alkaline urine (often from a biologically inappropriate diet), high steroid use, abnormal retention of urine, a urinary tract infection, or another disorder of the urinary tract.

Dog breeds prone to struvite stones include the miniature Schnauzer, Shih Tzus, Bichons, miniature Poodles, Cocker Spaniels, and the Lhasa Apso.

Some pets with bladder stones show no signs, but common symptoms include frequent urination, straining to urinate, an abnormal urinary stream (for example, the dog lifts his leg and maybe a few drops come out, and then a few drops more), urinating in inappropriate places (especially if it’s an indoor kitty), cloudy or bloody urine, and oftentimes, increased thirst.

Diagnosing a Struvite Stone

If there’s a lot of inflammation present, the bladder may be enlarged. And sometimes the stones can actually be palpated (felt) through the abdominal walls.
Urine samples will be taken to check for abnormalities. A urinalysis will provide information about the presence of blood, protein, glucose, ketones, and bilirubin. It will also determine the concentration of urine, which is a measure of kidney health and can be a contributing factor to stone formation. A urinalysis will also pick up the presence of white blood cells indicating inflammation or infection.

A urine culture and sensitivity test will reveal if there is bacteria present and can also determine what medication will be most effective in clearing the infection. Because certain bacteria can exacerbate struvite formation, this is a very important step your vet should not overlook. However, some pets experience bladder inflammation with crystals or stones, but no infection is present. In this case, a different management protocol is required.
X-rays and ultrasounds are typically used to determine the size, shape, and location of the stones and to assess different treatment options.

Treating Crystals and Stones

Please note: A urinary blockage is a medical emergency requiring immediate treatment. This particular problem is seen much more often and is much more serious in male pets than females. If your pet can’t urinate, you need to get him or her to a veterinary clinic immediately.

If your pet has crystals or stones that aren’t completely blocking or occluding the urethra, making it possible for urine to pass, the situation can often be managed with medication and dietary adjustments.

The first thing to do for a pet with crystals or stones is to create a healthy urine pH that is neither too acidic nor too alkaline. A pH of 7 is neutral. Everything above 7 is alkaline, and everything below 7 is acidic.

Dogs and cats, as carnivores, should have a slightly acidic urine pH, optimally between 6 and 6.5. We want to maintain the urine pH at no more than 7, because a higher pH will predispose the animal to developing struvite crystals.

Some pets are genetically predisposed to producing a protein called cauxin, which is excreted into the urine, causing sterile crystals or sterile struvite crystalluria. This means the crystals can form without the presence of infection. These animals are very prone to chronic cystitis, as these sharp crystals cause microtrauma to the lining of the bladder that results in discomfort and irritation.

Many holistic veterinarians use traditional Chinese medicinals, homeopathy, and nutraceuticals to help with this condition, including things like glucosamine and cranberry extract, which can help reduce inflammation in the bladder.

If you’re a dog owner, I recommend buying pH strips from your vet or at the local drug store to check your pet’s urine pH at home so you know when it’s in or outside the desired range. In the morning prior to feeding your dog is when you should collect the urine sample. You can either hold the pH tape in the stream of urine while your dog is voiding, or you can catch a urine sample in a container and dip the tape into the sample to check the pH. This should be done immediately with a fresh sample to insure accuracy.

I recommend you keep a log of your pet’s urine pH to show to your veterinarian at your appointments.

To reduce urine pH – which is the goal in most struvite situations – you must feed your pet a low-carb, grain-free, potato-free, and preferably fresh or at least canned food diet for the increased moisture content. When dogs and cats who are designed to eat meat are fed a grain-based diet or a starch-rich diet, the starch alkalizes urine pH, which can lead to the development of struvite crystals and stones.

Often, a pet’s urine pH can be maintained naturally between 6 and 6.5, a good healthy range, on a species-appropriate diet. Dry pet food causes an increase in urine concentration, which can contribute to crystal and stone formation. Creating more dilute urine by offering a moisture-rich diet is critical to avoiding a recurrence of stones or crystals. A species-appropriate diet in combination with infection management is often effective at dissolving struvite stones, but it can take a few weeks to several months for the stones to completely disappear.

Stones located in the urethra or the ureters (the tubes that connect the kidney to the bladder), typically must be removed surgically along with any stones that don’t dissolve despite dietary changes and medical management.

Surgery to remove a bladder stone is known as cystotomy. Depending on the patient and the location and size of the stone, there are some other less invasive procedures that might be appropriate. These include a technique called laser lithotripsy that breaks down stones into smaller pieces that can then be voided out, and a procedure called voiding urohydropropulsion, which is a technique that involves manually expressing stones out through the urethra while the patient is sedated.

If your pet has been diagnosed with struvite crystals or stones, it’s imperative that you continue treatment until viagra online order the condition is resolved, and then incorporate a proactive prevention plan to avoid recurrence.

A urinalysis should be completed monthly until all the crystals are dissolved and then every six months to ensure your pet isn’t brewing additional crystals or stones.

The Top 8 Summer Hazards for Dogs

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The Top 8 Summer Hazards for Dogs

Keep your dog safe as the weather gets nice with these tips from our resident vet.

Dr. Eric Barchas

I live in San Francisco, where the weather is famously mild. However, we recently enjoyed (and yes, I do mean enjoyed) a heat wave. It was a San Francisco heat wave, so it wasn’t actually very hot. Highs were in the 80s, and almost everyone in town put on their shorts.

My pal Buster and I were not exceptions. However, I think I enjoyed the weather a bit more than he did. He’s a Black Lab who spends plenty of time in the fog. Naturally I didn’t push this dog too hard in weather to which he was not properly acclimatized.

On one of the beautiful days in question, I saw something that made me cringe. A woman was running, in the sun, during the heat of the day, with a French Bulldog.

Folks, if you want to run with a dog, I humbly suggest that you choose a breed other than the French Bulldog. Other so-called brachycephalic breeds — the ones with snubby noses such as Pugs, Shih Tzus, and Boston Terriers, also don’t generally make good running companions. These dogs are prone to a condition called brachycephalic syndrome. This condition is caused by a combination of factors relating to their short snouts, and it can trigger life-threatening respiratory crises. Two things tend to trigger crises: hot days and heavy activity.

I thought about chasing down the woman to warn her, but she was going fast, and my pal Buster and I probably couldn’t have caught her. Plus, nobody likes a busybody. Fortunately, the Frenchie seemed to be extraordinarily fit, and he appeared to be managing the run relatively well.

But the incident got me thinking about the myriad risks prevalent in the summer. There are so many that summer is universally known as the “busy season” at emergency veterinary hospitals. This is partly because more people and dogs are out and about, and so there’s more opportunity for them to get into trouble. This sort of trouble is somewhat unavoidable, unless you don’t want your dog to have any sort of life. However, some summertime risks are well known and avoidable. I’m here to help you avoid them.

Let’s start with the obvious.

1. Heat stroke

Heat stroke occurs most commonly in the summer, especially early in the summer before dogs have had a chance to acclimatize. Older dogs, brachycephalic dogs, and overweight dogs are at a higher risk. It’s best to keep your dog inside or in the shade during the heat of the day, especially early in the summer. Never lock your dog in the car during the warm months. And remember that shady areas may become sunny as the day moves on, so a yard that’s cool and shady at 9 a.m. may be scorching hot at 1 p.m.

2. Sunburn

The strong summer sun does more than warm. Sunburn and skin cancer are surprisingly prevalent in dogs. Short-haired dogs (especially white ones) may be burned almost anywhere on their bodies. Even dogs with plush coats may have thin hair on their abdomen. This is another reason to keep your dog out of the sun when it’s strongest during the middle of the day.

3. Heartworm

Warm weather favors the transmission of heartworm disease. Also, the mosquitoes that carry the parasite are more prevalent during the summer. No part of North America can safely be considered free of heartworm during the summer. Fortunately, safe, monthly preventatives are highly effective. Talk to your vet about testing for heartworm and starting a preventative.

4. Fleas

Mosquitoes aren’t the only insects that are more active and common in the summer. Warm weather also causes fleas to come roaring out. Dogs needn’t have visible flea infestations to suffer from skin problems, ear infections, and other flea-related issues. Now is a good time to make sure your buddy is on a high-quality flea preventative.

5. Ticks

Many of those flea preventatives also prevent ticks. These eight-legged pests spread all kinds of scary disease such as Lyme disease, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, and anaplasmosis. Heavy tick infestations can also cause life-threatening paralysis in dogs. In temperate areas, ticks are more common during the summer. In addition to using a high-quality tick preventative, I recommend that dogs be kept out of brushy areas and tall grasses, which are likely to harbor ticks.

Don’t forget that many of the products available to treat fleas and ticks are not high-quality. They often are not effective and they may carry a high risk of toxicity. Grocery store brands and products made by Hartz, Sergeant’s, and Bio Spot have poor track records, in my experience. Talk to your vet to confirm that your flea and tick product is safe and effective.

6. Fireworks

If God is a dog, then there will be a special place in hell for people who enjoy lighting off fireworks. July 4 is easily my pal Buster’s least favorite day of the year. I am confident that more dogs are lost on July 4 than on any other day, as they burrow under or knock over fences in an effort to get away from what they perceive as armageddon. Even indoor dogs are at risk — I have seen more than one who jumped through plate glass windows in their terror. If your dog hates fireworks, consider getting some tranquilizers from the vet. Or, better yet, go camping with him.

7. Foxtails

Half the vets in California would go out of business if foxtails went extinct. Unfortunately for dogs, there is no prospect of that happening. Also known as grass awns, foxtails are public enemy No. 1 for dogs in areas where they grow. Foxtails are a seasonal threat, with the greatest risk occurring in the summer. They are shaped like arrows, and they are prone to embedding in eyes, ears, noses, the skin, and even the genitals of dogs. They cause immense irritation and pain. They also cause infections, and they can burrow or migrate from one part of the body into another. Every dog owner needs to know what foxtails are. Keep your dog away from them at all times, and search your dog (especially his feet, abdomen, and ears) for foxtails after every walk.

8. Trauma

Finally, I encourage you to enjoy the summer with your dog. But be vigilant. Dog fights, motor vehicle injuries, wildlife altercations, and all other sorts of trauma are more common during the summer simply because there are more dogs (and wild animals) frolicking for longer every day. Pay attention to your dog, use a leash when appropriate, and stay away from dangerous areas such as cliffs and highways (and, some would argue, dog parks).