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Bladder Stones in Cats: Understanding the Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Bladder stones are mineralized deposits that form in the bladder of cats. They can produce the same symptoms as other issues with the lower urinary system, including frequent urination and straining. Cat owners need to consult a vet before they can tell if they have bladder stones in their cats.

I’ve seen many cats brought to me with a urinary tract infection only to discover they had bladder stones. Cat owners may be unable to distinguish between UTI symptoms and bladder stones. Some cats can have both.

This article will cover the causes, symptoms and testing of feline bladder stones. You’ll know how to help your cat by the end of this article.

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Bladder stones can be formed by minerals and organic compounds found in urine. If a cat’s urinary fluid contains high levels of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and protein, they can combine to form solid stones.

Bladder stones range in size from a grain of sand to several inches. Some have a smooth surface, while others are spikey.

Other terms also know cat bladder stones

  • Urolith
  • Urocystolith
  • Cystic Urolith
  • Cystic calculi
  • Urinary Stone

What is the difference between stones and bladder crystals?

Bladder Crystals are small mineral structures found in the urine of cats. The crystals are so small that they cannot be seen without a magnifying glass. It is not uncommon for cats to have crystals in their urination.

If a cat is prone to these crystals, they may clump and form small bladder stones. If bladder stones are not treated, they can grow in size.

Which cats are at higher risk?

The table below shows the risk factors associated with different types of feline uroliths. Calcium oxalate and struvite bladder stones are the two most common feline bladder stone types.

Type of Bladder StoneAge/Sex of CatBreed
Calcium Oxalate middle-aged to senior male catsPersians, Burmese, Tonkinese and Siamese 
Struvite (Magnesium Ammonium Phosphate) Young to middle-aged  female catsNo particular breed
CystineMiddle-aged to senior male and female catsSiamese may have increased risk
UrateAny age, males and femalesBirman, Egyptian Mau, Ocicat and Siamese

Cornell University veterinarians say other factors can increase the risk of cats developing bladder stones, including being neutered or spayed, being overweight, and only living indoors. Female cats are more likely than males to suffer urethral obstructions caused by uroliths. (1)

How common is this condition?

Cats are often affected by bladder stones. Healthy Paws reported in 2017 that urinary problems were the second-most common insurance claim. Studies have shown that as many as 25% of cats suffering from lower urinary tract disease also suffer from bladder stones. (5)

What is the effect on my cat’s body when I have a cold?

Cats can suffer from bladder stones that cause pain and discomfort. They may also develop life-threatening complications. They can cause bladder irritation, urinary obstructions, infection risk, and bladder wall damage.

Causes & Symptoms

The cause of bladder stones in cats is not completely understood. According to some, a high concentration of minerals in cat urine could increase the likelihood of stones forming. Normal cat urine may contain a high level of minerals without causing bladder stones.

Other conditions can cause bladder stones to form

  • Eat a diet high in magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, chloride, and fiber
  • Bladder Infection
  • Increased urine pH
  • High calcium levels in the blood (calcium Oxalate)
  • Abnormalities of liver circulation (urate).
  • Kidney abnormalities

What are the symptoms of a stroke?

When they cause symptoms, these are similar to those seen with other lower urinary tract diseases. They can cause symptoms similar to other diseases of the lower urinary system, such as Feline Idiopathic Cystitis.

Cat bladder stones can cause a variety of symptoms.

  • Urinating in the litterbox
  • Vocalizing when urinating
  • Urinate with a lot of force
  • Frequent urination
  • Bloody urine
  • Foul urine odor
  • The obstruction can cause nausea, vomiting, and lethargy.

A cat with bladder stones must be tested, as the symptoms are similar to those of other bladder problems.

Is this condition contagious or infectious?

The stones in the cat’s bladder are not spread to other cats or humans.

Diagnosis

Veterinarians use radiographs and ultrasound images to diagnose bladder stones in cats. These tests can help detect a mineral-opaque item in the bladder. Some bladder stones are found by cats passing them during urination or surgery.

A veterinarian may feel or see a larger stone during an examination.

Abdominal X-rays can detect bladder stones up to 3 mm in size but cannot identify the type. Abdominal ultrasonography can be used to show stones and assess the soft tissue of the bladder.

Urinalysis checks for abnormal pH, blood, crystals and other contaminants. A Urine Culture is a test that can help identify bacterial infections. It also helps guide antibiotic selection.

Your veterinarian can order a test on bladder stones that have been passed or removed surgically by your cat. It is important to identify the type of stones to prevent further occurrences.

Blood chemistry and cell count tests are conducted to rule out liver, kidney or endocrine disease.

Treatment

Non-surgical Treatment

Treatment of feline bladder stones depends on the size and type.

The pH of urine can be changed by food to dissolve small struvite stones over a few months.

For stones smaller than 5mm, sterile saline can flush them out of the bladder. Some veterinary specialists offer non-surgical treatment for cat uroliths, including cystoscopic extraction and laser lithotripsy.

urethral catheter can be used in the non-surgical treatment of urethral blockage to push the stone lodged back into the bladder. Some cats will require surgery to remove the stone.

Surgery

The most common way to treat large bladder stones in cats is with a procedure called a cystostomy. The procedure involves the veterinary opening the abdomen and bladder of the cat to remove the stones.

Cats are usually hospitalized a few days after the surgery to ensure they can urinate properly before returning home. The surgery is usually over within two weeks for most cats.

Special Therapeutic Diets

Diets that promote urinary health may dissolve bladder stones or prevent their recurrence.

  • Struvite bladder stones can be broken down by feeding prescription diets for a few weeks or months. The food causes the pH level of the cat’s urinary fluid to become more acidic. This will cause the struvite bladder stones to dissolve and pass through the urine.
  • A prescription diet can prevent the recurrence of calcium oxalate stones.
  • Wet prescription kidney diets may be beneficial for cats with urate stones.

The clinical nutrition service at Tufts University Veterinary School has a great article about dietary treatments of feline uroliths.

Medicines

The type of stone, your cat may have or be suspected of having will determine the medication. Underlying conditions and pain assessment also influence prescriptions. Below are some of the most common medications prescribed.

MedicationsPurpose
Potassium citratePrevent the formation of calcium oxalate stones by combining with calcium and raising urine pH
DiureticsDecrease urine calcium levels in cats with recurrent calcium oxalate bladder stones
AntibioticsTreat bladder infections when present
Pain medications and anti-inflammatory drugsAlleviate discomfort in cats with bladder stones

Prognosis

If you treat it properly, the short-term outlook for your cat with bladder stones is good. Stones can be removed by surgery or dissolved with prescription cat foods. It’s also important to treat any underlying problems to avoid the stones returning.

Can bladder stones in my cat be cured or prevented?

In some cases, treating the condition that caused the bladder stone can reduce the chances of it recurring. If you have bladder stones due to liver circulation problems or an infection, the right treatment may cure them.

The following is a list of preventions.

If you have treated it, you can prevent your cat from developing bladder stones again. You should follow your veterinarian’s advice regarding dietary modifications, medication and lifestyle changes.

Obesity and high-quality cat food are two simple ways to prevent bladder stones. Feeding your cat moist food and providing fresh flowing water will increase their water intake.

You can prevent bladder stones in your cat by following the advice of your veterinarian and making simple changes.

Home Care

When should I take my cat to the vet?

Consult your veterinarian immediately if you notice a change in the urination patterns of your cat. Early treatment can help your cat quickly recover from bladder problems. Ignoring this problem can lead to serious complications, such as kidney failure and urethral blockage.

What should I ask my veterinarian?

  • What type of stone has my cat?
  • Is my cat infected?
  • Does my cat need surgery?
  • Can my cat take pain medication?
  • Can my cat eat prescription foods?
  • When should I take my cat back for a recheck?

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References

  1. Bladder and kidney stones. (2021, June 28). Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/bladder-and-kidney-stones
  2. Grauer, G. F. (March 2003), Feline Urolithiasis. Online Clinician’s Brief. https://www.cliniciansbrief.com/column/consultant-call/feline-urolithiasis. Accessed on 3/31/23.
  3. Grauer, G. F. (2009). Prevalence and Urinary Calculi in Dogs & Cats. Can Vet J 50, 1263-1268.
  4. Healthy Paws Pet Insurance & Foundation. (2017). Cost of Pet Healthcare Report 2017 Retrieved March 31, 2023, from https://www.healthypawspetinsurance.com/content/costofcare/pet-care-costs-health-conditions2017.pdf
  5. Lekcharoensuk, C., Lulich, J. P., Osborne, C. A., Koehler, L. A., Urlich, L. K., Carpenter, K. A., & Swanson, L. L. (2000). Patient-related factors are associated with the risk of calcium ammonium phosphate and calcium oxalate urolithiasis among cats. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 217(4), 520-525.

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