How Dog Food for Urinary Issues Can Help
Canine Urinary Issues: Symptoms, Types, and How Specialized Urinary Tract Dog Food Can Help
Every dog needs to urinate. Peeing helps clear waste out of the body, and, in the case of some dogs, serves as a useful tool for marking territory. Some dogs pee just a few times a day—say, once per walk—while others might drip and mark a spot 15 or 20 times during a half-hour stroll. These behaviors are perfectly normal.
So how can you tell if your dog’s urinary tract (and kidney and bladder) are healthy, and what are the signs of a dog with urinary distress? What factors contribute to urinary tract issues in dogs? And what kinds of steps can owners take to help keep dogs’ urinary tract healthy and functioning normally? In this article, we’ll explore the several types of canine urinary tract issues that can occur, how to spot urinary discomfort in your dog, and how to use diet and water as tools to help keep a dog’s urinary functions running smoothly.
Urinary Tract Issues in Dogs: Definitions and Symptoms
First, let’s look at the types of issues that can affect a dog’s urinary tract. Some are infections, while stones can cause others. Here are some examples:
A Bladder, Kidney, or Urinary Tract Infection:
Lower urinary tract infections are more common, but if left untreated, they can become kidney infections—which can be life-threatening. These infections are treated with antibiotics and sometimes with diet post-care, and they typically have similar symptoms to stones (see checklist). Dogs of either sex can get these infections, but they are more common in females.
Bladder or Kidney Stones (Uroliths or Crystals):
Minerals can crystallize in a dog’s urinary tract and aggregate into stones. If small, the stones can be passed through urine. Large stones can block the urinary tract, which can lead to painful urination and a dangerous health condition.
Kidney or Bladder Issues:
Though urinary problems may be isolated; they could also be related to other kidney or bladder issues. The crystals that form may also be known as bladder stones, urolithiasis, urinary stones, ureteral stones, urinary calculi, ureteral calculi, or urinary calculus disease.
Some older dogs (over seven years) can lose control of the urethral sphincter, which is the muscle that prevents urine from leaking out of the bladder.
When dogs ingest a toxic substance, such as antifreeze, they can experience kidney failure. Treatment can help with their comfort level, urinary function, and appetite.
What Is Considered Normal Urination in a Dog?
Normal urination can vary widely from dog to dog. Typically, dogs need to urinate about three times a day to empty their bladders. However, many dogs—mostly males and some females—like to mark their territory, and can pee up to 20 times or more on a single walk. If this is typical for your dog, it’s no cause for alarm. However, if your dog typically urinates just once or twice on a typical walk and then begins to strain to urinate several times (with only a small amount coming out), that could indicate an issue that requires examination.
As dogs get older, the amount of their urination may change than in previous years. Puppies have to “go” often before they are house-trained, but then they should settle into the routine of peeing twice or three times a day. As dog’s age, especially females, they may need to pee more often. This behavior can be a result of a loss of strength in the muscles that hold urine in the bladder, and it may not be a significant health issue. If you’re concerned, you should talk to your veterinarian.
If a dog who is normally well house-trained begins to have accidents in the house, there could be several reasons. Has there been a change in the dog’s living environment: A new dog or cat in the family? A new baby? A move to an unfamiliar place—especially one where previous dogs may have peed in the house? The situation may simply require patience, extra walks, and love. If the accidents continue, and your dog seems to be straining or uncomfortable when peeing, it’s time to take your pet to the vet.
Signs of Potential or Existing Urinary Tract Issues in Your Dog
Healthy dogs may have different patterns and preferences for when and how often they urinate. However, you’ll want to be aware of any deviation to their usual habits and to have those behaviors checked by your vet.
Warning Signs that Your Dog May Have a Urinary Issue
If your dog shows one or more of these behaviors or symptoms, take your pet to the vet right away.
- Frequent urination
- Painful urination (or just small drips)
- Increased or decreased water consumption
- Repeated licking of genitals
- Blood in the urine
- Restlessness or listlessness
- Reduced appetite
- Loss of energy and interest in activities
- Cloudy or foul-smelling urine
- Unusual accidents or incontinence
- Urinating in unusual places
- Lower back pain
Additionally, a change in the pH of a dog’s urine can be a symptom of a urinary tract infection. Home kits can enable dog owners to test the pH of their pet’s urine, which should typically range between 6.5 to 7. If pH is acidic (pH below 6) or alkaline (pH above 7), it may allow bacteria to thrive and crystals or stones to form. You can easily share the test results with your vet. If you notice any of the above, and especially two or more symptoms, take your dog to the vet immediately.
Types of Urinary and Bladder Stones Found in Dogs
When dogs urinate, they excrete minerals and other waste in the urine. The minerals are typically microscopic crystals. If the crystals unite, they form small grains of sand-like material. Once those grains develop, additional excretion can lead the crystals to adhere together, creating stones. Some stones measure up to three or four inches in diameter.
Problems develop when stones interfere with urination. There are several types of common urinary tract and bladder stones found in dogs and include:
Magnesium Ammonium Phosphate (Struvite):
These stones are usually caused by an infection and need to be treated medically.
The most common type of canine kidney stone, these are solid masses that form in the kidney when there are elevated levels of calcium, oxalate, cystine, or phosphate along with too little liquid. In 1981, 78 percent of all uroliths (aka bladder stones) tested at the Minnesota Urolith Center were struvites (a type of stone) and only five percent were calcium oxalate stones. By 2006, the struvite occurrence had fallen to 39 percent while the incidence of calcium oxalate stones rose to 41 percent.
Ammonium Urate Stones or Uric Acid:
Urate stones are uncommon, comprising only five percent of all canine bladder stones, according to the VCA.
Urolithiasis is a condition in which stones (uroliths) form in the urinary tract. There are several types of these stones seen in dogs—among them, those made from calcium phosphate. Also known as apatite uroliths, calcium phosphate stones are more often found in the kidneys than in the urinary bladder.
These stones, also called jack-stones, are most common in German shepherds.
This condition indicates elevated levels of uric acid in the urine, which can lead to an increased risk of stones in the kidney or bladder. This condition is linked with certain breeds such as the Dalmatian, Bulldog, and Black Russian Terrier.
When these crystals are present in urine, it can be related to hard water in a region, according to the pet insurance company Trupanion.
Types and Breeds of Dogs at Greatest Risk for Urinary Tract Issues
Urinary tract issues can affect male and female dogs at virtually any age. Male dogs overall are less prone to urinary tract infections and crystals. But the dangers those conditions pose to male dogs are greater because of a male dog’s urethra anatomy. Some pets are slightly more prone to these problems, however. The University of Minnesota found that dogs that are smaller, female, between the ages of four and eight, and already prone to bladder infections have an increased risk of developing urinary tract issues.
Researchers at the University of California at Davis studied hyperuricosuria and found that breeds more likely to inherit the tendency for this condition include Dalmatians (males especially), Bulldogs, and Black Russian Terriers. And as mentioned above, German Shepherds are more prone than other breeds to silica stones or jack-stones. One risk factor is clear: Dogs who have had any urinary tract issues earlier in their lives are more prone to get them again.
How to Diagnose and Treat Dog Urinary Tract Issues
Your vet can perform several possible tests to see if your dog has a urinary tract infection or stone condition, including a thorough panel of urinalysis. Be sure to ask your vet to conduct a “urinary culture and sensitivity test,” since urinalysis can’t detect all canine urinary issues.
Different issues require different treatment. Infections almost always are treated with a course of antibiotics. Stones and crystals may also require antibiotics, and in some cases, a vet may suggest additional forms of treatment to help the dog pass the crystals. If the stones are too big, however, surgery may be necessary.
If your dog isn’t in urgent need of treatment, there are a few tests an owner can do at home. There are home water pH tests that can tell if the pH of your home water supply could be an issue. If you live in a known hard-water area, installing a household water-softening system can help everyone in the home, including pets.
One of the critical treatments for dog urinary tract issues is to increase the dog’s water intake. This option typically means switching from a dry kibble diet to a canned or raw food diet, which immediately introduces more water into the dog’s diet. Adding broth or water to a dog’s meals also helps, as can feeding your dog smaller amounts more frequently during the day.
Some other options that have anecdotal success include cranberry capsules, probiotics, and vitamin C.
How to Choose the Best Food for a Dog’s Urinary Issues
What you feed your dog can have a direct impact on his urinary tract health. If your dog has had issues, switching to a diet that supports urinary well-being can keep him healthy. And if he has never had a urinary problem, the right dog food can prevent these issues, as well as others.
Unfortunately, commercially available dog foods can exacerbate or cause urinary tract problems because of high mineral content. This is particularly the case with dry dog food since it is dry and has less water content.
“Many of the urinary tract issues we see in dogs are caused by (additives in) mass-produced commercial foods.”
–Dr. Timothy Kraabel, DVM, Seattle, WA
Dr. Timothy Kraabel, DVM, is a co-owner of the Lien Animal Clinic in Seattle and focuses on treating dogs and cats. He says, “Many of the urinary tract issues we see in dogs are caused by mass-produced commercial foods, and while those foods can be fine for many dogs, others have more delicate systems. The additives in those foods can become irritants.”
Seek out foods with ingredients designed for optimal urinary tract and kidney health. Consider this advice as you narrow down your options:
Beware of Inflammatory Ingredients:
Grains, refined carbohydrates, or high-starch ingredients can worsen inflammation, which is linked to many health conditions. Look for a species-appropriate diet that features meat and vegetables.
Restrict Certain Ingredients:
Magnesium and phosphorous can promote the formation of struvite crystals, so look for a diet with minimal amounts.
Look for Helpful Ingredients:
You can also find dog food containing special ingredients and supplements such as chitosan (a natural phosphorous binder), cod liver oil (which can slow the progression of kidney disease), spirulina (to help manage anemia). Other ingredients that promote kidney health include cranberry, vitamins E and B.
Focus on Moisture and Taste:
You may need to tempt dogs with urinary tract issues into eating, so it’s important to offer food that’s appealing and tasty. You also should choose a diet that contains moisture (such as raw food) to promote proper hydration.
Dr. Kraabel advises, “We work with our clients who want to try a raw diet for their dogs. It can be a good choice for many dogs. We just want the owners to be sure to wash their hands thoroughly after handling any kind of raw meat food, to ensure that bacteria don’t spread.”
How Darwin’s Pet Food Can Help Maintain Optimum Urinary Health in Dogs
A raw diet with high protein content can be an ideal solution for a dog with urinary tract issues. Raw food, especially a higher pH and higher-protein raw food, is typically the best all-around diet for dogs, and it can help treat and prevent urinary tract diseases. Raw foods typically eliminate excess and unnecessary mineral content and contain little to zero purine. Food without fillers or unnecessary additives helps keep dogs’ immune systems strong.
If you are switching to a raw diet, some dogs will embrace the change immediately, while others may need a slower transition. (Read more about how to slowly transition to raw dog food for the best results.) It’s vital to have fresh water available at all times and to wash both the dog’s water bowl and food bowl often.
Regular Darwin’s dog food contains optimum ingredients, with no fillers or minerals that could irritate a dog’s urinary tract. It contains not only far more moisture than dry dog food but also more quality moisture than typical commercial canned dog food.
For dogs whose urinary tract issues include kidney disease, Darwin’s offers its Intelligent Design™ Prescription Kidney Formula, which features ingredients designed for optimal kidney health. It’s available only by prescription.
Feeding your dog high-quality food and fresh water are key steps to take in order to maintain a healthy urinary tract. And a healthy urinary tract makes for a happy dog—and an owner with peace of mind. Learn more about the benefits of raw dog food, and get a free menu consultation today.