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

Bladder stones in cats are tenacious, mineralized formations that develop in the urinary bladder. These can cause the same symptoms as other lower urinary tract issues including frequent urination with straining. Unfortunately, cat owners can’t tell if their pet has bladder stones without consulting a veterinarian.

I had treated many cats brought in for a suspected urinary tract infection only to find they had bladder stones. It’s not easy for cat owners to tell symptoms of bladder stones apart from UTI. And some cats have both!

In this topic, I’ll go over the causes, symptoms, testing and treatment of feline bladder stones. By the end, you will understand the condition and the next steps to take to help your feline friend.

What is bladder stones in cats?

Bladder stones, also known as uroliths or urinary calculi, in cats are small mineral deposits that form in the bladder. They can range in size from tiny sand-like particles to larger stones that can cause blockages in the urinary tract. Bladder stones are more common in male cats than females, and the risk of developing them increases with age.

Bladder stones can be made up of various minerals such as struvite, calcium oxalate, or urate. The type of stone a cat develops depends on several factors, including diet, genetics, and underlying health conditions.

Common symptoms of bladder stones in cats include frequent urination, straining during urination, blood in the urine, and discomfort while urinating. In severe cases, bladder stones can cause a complete blockage of the urinary tract, which is a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate veterinary attention.

Treatment options for bladder stones in cats depend on the type, size, and location of the stones. In some cases, prescription diets or medications can help dissolve the stones, while in other cases, surgery may be necessary to remove them. Preventative measures, such as providing a balanced diet and promoting adequate water intake, can help reduce the risk of bladder stones in cats.

Bladder stones can be as small as a grain of sand all the way up to several inches in diameter. Some are smooth and some have a spikey surface.

Other terms for cat bladder stones

# Urolith
# Urocystolith
# Cystic urolith
# Cystic calculi
# Urinary stone

What is the difference between bladder crystals and bladder stones?

Bladder crystals and bladder stones are both urinary tract conditions that can occur in cats and dogs, but they differ in their formation and characteristics.

Bladder crystals, also known as urinary crystals, are microscopic mineral deposits that form in the bladder when certain substances in the urine become too concentrated. They are often caused by dietary factors and can lead to irritation and inflammation of the bladder lining, which may result in urinary tract infections and discomfort during urination. Bladder crystals can be detected through a urinalysis and can usually be managed with a prescription diet that helps dissolve the crystals.

Bladder stones, also known as uroliths or urinary calculi, are solid masses of minerals that form in the bladder when certain substances in the urine crystallize and clump together. They can range in size from small pebbles to golf ball-sized stones and can cause significant discomfort and urinary tract obstruction. Bladder stones are usually diagnosed through imaging tests such as X-rays or ultrasounds and may require surgical removal in some cases.

In summary, bladder crystals are microscopic mineral deposits that can cause bladder irritation and can be managed with dietary changes, while bladder stones are solid masses that can cause urinary tract obstruction and may require surgical intervention.

Which cats have a risk of getting bladder stones?

Below the table that shows risk factors for different types of cat uroliths. The most common bladder stones are calcium oxalate and struvite stones.

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

As per Cornell University veterinary specialists, other risk factors for cats to develop bladder stones include being spayed or neutered, being overweight and living strictly indoors. Male cats are much more likely to develop urethral obstructions from uroliths than females.

How common cat bladder stones?

Bladder stones are relatively common in cats, especially in middle-aged and older cats. The incidence of bladder stones in cats is estimated to be between 1-25%, depending on the population studied. Certain breeds, such as Persian cats, are more prone to bladder stones. Additionally, male cats are more likely to develop bladder stones than female cats, because their urethra is longer and narrower, making it easier for stones to become lodged and obstruct urine flow. If you suspect your cat may have bladder stones, it’s important to consult with your veterinarian, as these can cause discomfort, pain, and potentially serious health complications.

How do bladder stones affect my cat’s body?

Bladder stones can cause a variety of problems in cats, depending on their size, location, and number. Small stones may not cause any noticeable symptoms, while larger stones or a large number of smaller stones can cause significant discomfort and health problems. Some of the ways bladder stones can affect your cat’s body include:

  1. Urinary tract obstruction: Large stones or a significant number of small stones can obstruct the flow of urine, which can be a life-threatening emergency. A blocked urinary tract can lead to a buildup of toxins in the body, kidney failure, and even death if left untreated. 
  2. Painful urination, Incontinence, Urinary tract infections, Kidney damage

If you suspect that your cat has bladder stones, it’s important to consult with your veterinarian as soon as possible to prevent serious health complications.

Bladder Stones in Cats
Bladder Stones in Cats

Why do cats get cat bladder stones?

The formation of bladder stones in cats is typically caused by a combination of factors, including diet, dehydration, and underlying medical conditions. Some of the common factors that contribute to the development of bladder stones in cats include:

The formation of bladder stones in cats is typically caused by a combination of factors, including diet, dehydration, and underlying medical conditions. Some of the common factors that contribute to the development of bladder stones in cats include:

  1. Diet: A diet that is high in magnesium, phosphorus, and/or calcium can increase the likelihood of bladder stones forming in cats. This is because these minerals can crystallize and form stones in the bladder.
  2. Dehydration: If a cat does not drink enough water or has an underlying medical condition that causes excessive urination, the urine becomes concentrated, making it more likely for crystals to form and eventually become bladder stones.  Urinary tract infections, Urinary tract abnormalities,  Age and breed

If you suspect that your cat has bladder stones, it’s important to consult with your veterinarian to determine the underlying cause and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

What are the symptoms of bladder stones in cats?

he symptoms of bladder stones in cats can vary depending on the size, location, and number of stones present. Some cats may not show any symptoms at all, while others may exhibit one or more of the following signs:

Straining to urinate: Cats with bladder stones may exhibit difficulty or discomfort when urinating, and may appear to be straining or taking longer than usual to urinate.

Frequent urination: Cats with bladder stones may urinate more frequently than normal or only produce small amounts of urine at a time.

Blood in the urine, Inappropriate urination, Licking or grooming the genital area, Decreased appetite or lethargy

If you notice any of these symptoms in your cat, it’s important to consult with your veterinarian to determine the underlying cause and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Testing is required to diagnose a cat with bladder stones since the symptoms are the same as those seen with other bladder problems.

Are cat bladder stones contagious?

Cat bladder stones are not contagious to other cats, humans or other animals. 

How are cat bladder stones diagnosed?

To diagnose a cat with bladder stones, veterinarians typically use radiographs or ultrasound imaging. These tests help identify a mineral-opaque object in the bladder.

What tests are done to diagnose bladder stones?

To diagnose bladder stones in cats, your veterinarian may perform several tests, including:

Abdominal radiographs are workable at detecting bladder stones larger than 3 mm, but they can’t identify the type of stone. Abdominal ultrasound imaging is effective for showing stones and assessing the bladder’s soft tissue.

Urinalysis is an essential test that checks for blood, crystals, and abnormal pH levels. A urine culture can identify bacterial infections and help guide the selection of antibiotics.

Your veterinarian may order an analysis of bladder stones passed by the cat or retrieved surgically. Identifying the type of stone can help prevent future occurrences.

Basic blood chemistry and cell count tests are performed to rule out underlying liver, kidney, or endocrine diseases.

How cat bladder stones treated non-surgically?

In some cases, cat bladder stones can be treated non-surgically. This approach is typically used for small bladder stones or for cats who are not good candidates for surgery. The non-surgical treatment options for cat bladder stones may include:

  • Diet modification: 
  • Medications: 
  • Increased water intake: 

It’s important to note that non-surgical treatment options may not be effective for all types of bladder stones or all cats. Your veterinarian will help determine the best course of treatment based on your cat’s individual needs and the specific type and size of bladder stones present.

How are cats with bladder stones treated surgically?

To treat larger bladder stones in cats, the most common method is through a surgery called a cystotomy. This procedure involves a veterinary surgically opening the cat’s abdomen and bladder to remove the stones.

After the process, cats are often hospitalized for a day or two to make sure they can urinate normally before going home. Most cats restore entirely from the surgery within a couple of weeks.

Will a special diet help bladder stones in cats?

Yes, a special diet can help treat bladder stones in cats in some cases. Feeding your cat a special prescription diet can help dissolve certain types of bladder stones, as well as prevent the formation of new stones. These diets are designed to reduce the mineral content in the urine and make it less likely that stones will form.

Prescription diets for cats with bladder stones typically have lower levels of certain minerals, such as magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium. They may also contain higher levels of water-soluble fibers, which can help to promote increased water intake and urine volume, helping to flush out the bladder and reduce the risk of bladder stones forming.

The type of diet recommended for your cat will depend on the type of bladder stones present. For example, cats with struvite stones may benefit from a diet that acidifies the urine, while cats with calcium oxalate stones may require a diet with a lower calcium content.

It’s important to follow your veterinarian’s recommendations closely when feeding your cat a special diet for bladder stones. These diets are typically only available through a veterinarian and should be fed exclusively to ensure their effectiveness. It’s also important to monitor your cat’s progress and return to the veterinarian for regular checkups to ensure that the stones are resolving and the diet is working as intended.

Tufts University Veterinary School’s clinical nutrition service has a good article on dietary treatment of feline uroliths.

What medications can help with cat bladder stones?

There are a few medications that can help with cat bladder stones. These medications are typically used in combination with a special diet or as an alternative to surgery in cases where the stones are too large or too numerous to pass naturally. The medications that may be prescribed for cat bladder stones include:

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

How can I reduce my cat’s risk?

There are several things you can do to help reduce your cat’s risk of developing bladder stones:

Encourage water intake: Ensure that your cat always has access to fresh, clean water. Consider offering a drinking fountain or adding water to your cat’s food to encourage them to drink more water. Increased water intake can help to flush out the bladder and reduce the risk of stone formation.

Feed a high-quality diet: Feed your cat a high-quality diet that is appropriate for their age, weight, and health status. Choose a diet that is low in minerals that can contribute to stone formation, such as magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium.

Monitor weight and activity levels,  Regular veterinary check-ups, Follow veterinary recommendations

By following these tips, you can help reduce your cat’s risk of developing bladder stones and keep them healthy and happy for years to come.

What can I expect if my cat has bladder stones?

If your cat has bladder stones, you can expect them to experience symptoms such as:

Straining to urinate: Your cat may be spending an unusual amount of time in the litter box or squatting frequently but producing little to no urine.

Painful urination: Your cat may cry out or show discomfort while urinating due to the stones irritating the bladder lining.

Blood in urine: You may notice a pink or red tinge in your cat’s urine, which is an indication of bladder irritation or injury.

Licking the genital area: Your cat may excessively groom their genital area due to the discomfort caused by the stones.

Urinating outside the litter box: If your cat associates pain with the litter box, they may avoid it altogether and urinate in other places around the house.

Loss of appetite: Your cat may not feel like eating due to the discomfort and pain caused by the bladder stones.

If you notice any of these symptoms, you should take your cat to the veterinarian immediately. Bladder stones can lead to severe complications, including blockage of the urinary tract, which can be life-threatening if left untreated. Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination, blood work, and imaging studies to determine the size and location of the stones and develop a treatment plan. Treatment may involve dietary changes, medication, or surgery, depending on the severity of the condition.

What questions should I ask the veterinarian?

  • What kind of stone does my cat have?
  • Does my cat have an infection?
  • Does my cat need surgery?
  • Should my cat take pain medicine?
  • Should my cat eat prescription food?
  • When should I bring my cat in for a recheck exam?

[su_note note_color=”#66bdff” radius=”5″]

KEY POINTS:

Bladder stones are solid objects that form from minerals and organic substances in a cat’s urine.

Bladder stones cause symptoms that are similar to other lower urinary tract diseases. These symptoms include urinating outside of the litter box, straining to urinate, frequent urination, and bloody urine.

Bladder stones are common in cats, with up to 25% of cats with lower urinary tract diseases having them.

To diagnose bladder stones in cats, veterinarians use radiographs or ultrasound imaging. Treatment options can include changing the cat’s diet, administering medication, or performing surgery.[/su_note]

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