Lew Olson, PhD Natural Health
Normally I wouldn’t revisit a topic I have already covered, but this question has come up numerous times in both private emails and on the K9Nutrition yahoo group list in the last few months. These questions concern finding struvite crystals in the urine, along with a possibility of infection and the recommendation to change the dog’s diet. This recommendation most frequently is for a commercial dog food designed for crystals, stones and urinary tract infections.
This brings the question, “Just what causes struvite crystals in the dog’s urine?” Common symptoms include the dog urinating frequently, showing some pain with urination, squatting frequently only to leak a few drops, and the dog may have spots of blood in the urine. Often a dog that was perfectly housebroken will begin to have accidents in the house or become incontinent (leak urine while awake or sleeping).
A trip to the veterinarian may show struvite crystals in the urine. We learn that high pH in the urine accompanies struvites. Often, a glance by the veterinarian at the urine specimen under a microscope won’t always show bacteria. At this point, the health care professional will suggest a change of diet to help change the pH of the urine, and perhaps prescribe a week to ten days supply of antibiotics.
The owner takes the dog home and things slowly get better and the matter is forgotten . . . until a few days after the antibiotics are completed and the symptoms resume. Or worse, the symptoms stop, but in a few months, the crystals develop into painful struvite stones, which need surgery to be removed.
There is a problem with this common treatment. It misunderstands how struvites develop and how urinary tract infections almost always accompany them. It isn’t that struvites cause the urinary tract infection, but rather that a urinary tract infection causes struvites to develop. When bacteria form in the urine, it causes alkaline urine (high pH value). This is an ideal environment for struvites to grow. Struvites thrive in an alkaline situation. Trying to reduce the pH of the urine produces no results as long as a urinary tract infection is present. The solution is to get rid of the urinary tract infection. But what is the best way to go about this?
Once the symptoms described above are seen (frequent urination, blood in the urine, painful urination) a trip to the veterinarian is needed immediately. Just looking at a urine specimen under the microscope won’t always reveal that an infection is present. The best method is to get a urine sample by a sterile method, called a Sterile Urine Culture and Sensitivity Test. This is done in house at the veterinarian’s office. The urine is taken by cysto (guided needle) and sent out to a laboratory to culture. The results of the culture will show what bacteria are present in about 3 to 5 days. This test will also reveal which antibiotic will work for this infection. It is important to use the proper antibiotic, as urinary tract infections are specific and need the right antibiotic to work. It is often needed to use the correct antibiotic for four weeks. Then ten days off the antibiotic, repeat the sterile urine culture.
Urinary tract infections can be difficult to treat, and they must be treated as thoroughly and effectively as possible. Long term urinary tract infections can damage the kidneys. If the dog has had the struvites and infection for an unknown period, radiographs may be necessary to check for struvite bladder stones, which can form after long term infection with struvites present. These may need surgery to remove and cause great pain and distress to the dog.
The best way to avoid urinary tract infections (for struvite crystals and resulting stones) include:
Fluids: Keep water around the clock for your dog. Feed a moist diet, preferably raw or home cooked. Liquids in the diet flush crystals and bacteria.
Frequent Urination: Don’t let your dog hold their urine for more than a few hours in between opportunities to urinate. This, along with a good intake of fluids, allows the body to flush crystals and bacteria. Holding urine for long periods can encourage bacteria and struvites to grow and flourish.
Good diet: As mentioned previously, there is no special diet, or commercial diet that will prevent or treat struvites or UTI’s. But dogs prone to these problems need the best nutrition possible. This would be either through a raw diet or home cooked. You can find recipes here:
Supplements: Supportive supplements for dogs with Urinary Tract Infections would include:
B Complex- Helps to support the kidneys and fight infection
EPA Fish Oil Softgels- fish oil contains omega 3 fatty acids, which are renal protective and help the immune system. Give one capsule per 10-20 lbs of body weight daily
Cranberry Juice Capsules- these help once the bacteria is completely gone. Cranberry helps to stop new bacteria from adhering to the bladder wall
Bertes Immune Blend- this supplements contains mega doses of vitamin C and E, as well as B complex, with digestive enzymes and probiotics.
Bertes Ultra Probiotic Powder-This contains beneficial bacteria that is composed of friendly flora and fauna needed for good digestion and the immune system. While antibiotics can help kill harmful bacteria, it will also destroy the good bacteria. Adding the Bertes Ultra Probiotic Powder will help maintain the good bacteria during stress and use of antibiotics.
Always take symptoms of incontinence, painful urination, increased thirst and blood in the urine very seriously. Have your veterinarian examine your dog, and ask for a Sterile Urine Culture and Sensitivity Test. Allowing urinary tract infections and struvites to continue can cause renal damage and great pain to your dog. Good diagnosis and treatment will get your dog back to health, and save you money in the long run and give your dog a healthy, long life!
Happy New Year to Everyone, and we may all find good luck, prosperity and good fortune in 2009! Don’t forget to schedule your dog’s yearly wellness check up, always work on improving the diet and take the time to walk your dog, and reflect on the beauty of the great outdoors!