Struvite Crystals in Dogs

Struvite crystals can form in your dog’s bladder or kidneys after he suffers a urinary tract infection caused by one of two types of bacteria. If left untreated, struvite crystals can form stones that can make it impossible for your dog to urinate, which can become a life-threatening condition. Let’s look how struvite crystals are created and the steps you can take to help protect your dog from potential bladder or kidney stones.

Bacteria Plus Urine Equals Crystals

Struvite crystals form in your dog’s urinary system after he contracts an infection caused by staphylococcus or proteus bacteria. These bacteria cause magnesium, ammonia and phosphates in your dog’s urine to come together to form crystals. As the crystals grow, they can develop into stones, or they can remain as sandy crystals that can irritate your dog’s bladder and urinary tract.

The bacteria can also make your dog’s urine more alkaline, which creates a better environment for crystal growth. Alkaline urine (urine with a pH level above 7.0) causes the crystals to solidify out of urine, while acidic urine (urine with a pH level below 7.0) retards crystal formation.

Another factor that can influence crystal development is the number of opportunities a dog has each day to empty his bladder. Dogs that have to hold their urine for several hours at a time may be more prone to developing struvite crystals because they cannot eliminate as often as they need to.

Symptoms of Struvite Crystal Formation

Although some dogs can develop struvite crystals without showing any symptoms, a few symptoms are likely to present themselves to observant owners, including

  • bladder infections that never fully clear up
  • foul-smelling or bloody urine
  • genital licking
  • pain or difficulty in urinating

Male dogs are less prone to struvite crystals than female dogs, and crystals are most likely to develop in dogs between 5 and 7 years of age.

How to Stop Crystals from Forming

If your dog has developed struvite crystals or stones in the past, he is at risk to redevelop crystals again throughout his lifetime. Your veterinarian can prescribe specialized diets that contain lower protein levels and higher sodium levels to help dissolve crystals. These diets are designed to make your dog's urine more acidic so crystals will not form. They also help control mineral content in your dog's urine, which makes crystal formation less likely. The diet's higher sodium levels make your dog more likely to drink water, and their lower protein content also helps control crystal growth. Your veterinarian may also prescribe other medications to help prevent future urinary tract infections in your dog.

In addition to dietary changes and medications, your veterinarian may recommend increasing your dog’s daily water consumption. You can do this by ensuring that your dog has access to clean, fresh drinking water at all times, and you can also switch your dog’s diet from a dry product to canned food, which contains a higher water content.

Another important component to prevent future struvite crystal development is stress management. Make sure your dog’s stress level is manageable, and take steps to reduce any unnecessary stress on your pet. Give him ample opportunities to exercise each day, and set a predictable routine for your pet to help him feel calmer.