Know Your Pet’s Bladder Better
What exactly are urinary problems and how do they affect our pets?
Urinary tract problems
Urinary tract problems are issues your pet may face in his or her lifetime, ranging from a common urinary tract infection (UTI), to more complex and severe conditions such as bladder stones, or cancer of the bladder. Urinary problems can become extremely uncomfortable and painful for your pet. However, if you are able to spot the signs early, you may send your pet to the veterinary clinic for proper treatment. With technological advancement over the years, minimally invasive procedures such as rigid and flexible endoscopy have been made available to treat even the most severe urinary problems with minimum pain and discomfort, resulting in a speedier recovery.
Common types of urinary tract problems
There are three common urinary problems that dogs suffer from: UTIS, kidney or bladder stones, and bladder tumour. According to Dr. Eugene Lin, Senior Veterinary Surgeon at The Animal Ark, five to ten percent of the cases that he deals with in dogs are urinary tract problems. Female cats are more susceptible to UTIS while male cats may suffer from feline urological syndrome (FUS) or blocked urethra in which the cat is unable to urinate, leading to immense pain, and eventual kidney failure and bladder rupture should the syndrome not be timely treated. Dr. Lin has also treated guinea pigs and rabbits with bladder and kidney stones. With all pets vulnerable to contracting urinary tract problems, it is important for pet owners to keep a watchful eye on their pets for any odd behaviour that may signal a cry for help.
What causes urinary tract problems?
Of all urinary tract cases that Dr. Lin deals with, urinary tract infections are the most commonly occurring. Dr. Lin explained, “The most common urinary tract problem is probably UTI. The typical presentations of pet suffering from UTI are when the animal is urinating in inappropriate places, straining to urinate has blood in the urine or when the urine smells unusually pungent.
UTIS are typically a result of a pet not drinking enough water, and hence not passing sufficient urine to flush out bacteria, leading to infections. Drinking less water also means producing more concentrated urine, which is more conducive for bacterial growth.
For kidney and bladder stones, these occur similarly due to concentrated urine; minerals in the urine crystallise coalease, resulting in the formation of ‘stones’ that can range from smooth and pebble-like, to sharp and spikey. Unfortunately, kidney and bladder stones are known to be a potentially hereditary disease. When asked if urine tract problems can be passed down,
Dr. Lin confirms, “possibly some all of them are hereditary.” UTIS predispose pets to certain stone formations and your pet’s diet may also contribute to the formation of stones. However, correcting your pet’s diet may help to slow down and may even avoid the formation of these harmful stones. The first step is to know when your pet is showing signs of a urinary tract problem.
Signs and symptoms
For UTIS, kidney and bladder stones as well as tumours, the symptoms tend to overlap. The most common symptom would be when your pet starts to urinate at inappropriate times or places, which signifies a lack of control over their bladder due to pain or partial blockage. If their urine contains blood or smells strange or contains blood, that is also another serious sign that there is probably an issue such as an infection, or internal bladder bleeding from chronic stone irritation.
For bladder blockages, you will notice your pet’s abdomen start to swell to a huge size. If not treated quickly and your pet is left unable to urinate, it will lead to a kidney failure, bladder rupture and eventual death. Staying alert daily will ensure that you notice signs of distress in your pet as quickly as possible.
UTIS, bladder stones and tumours may have similar symptoms, but they are treated differently. For UTIS, vets will need to find out what type of bacteria is in your pet’s urine. They will scan your pet to make sure there’s no tumour, extract urine from your pet’s bladder via a hypothermic needle (cystocentesis), and once the type of bacteria is cultured in the laboratory and identified, they can then prescribe the appropriate antibiotic(s).
Since there are various types of kidney and bladder stones that can plague your pet. Some stones can be dissolved naturally through dietary changes, while others have to be removed either through open surgery, or endoscopy.
Tumours are a more serious case of urinary tract problems, and Dr.
Lin stated, “It is really important to ultrasound scan the animal’s bladder before you do anything invasive. If the animal has a suspected bladder tumour, it is very important to not embark on invasive procedures as that may seed the help cancer cells to other parts of the body.” Instead, Dr. Lin recommends cystoscopy, which is endoscopy of the urinary bladder via the urethra that is carried out with a rigid or flexible endoscope. With cystoscopic examination, biopsies of suspected cancer cells can be retrieved without invasive measures.
Endoscopic treatments for urinary problems can be implemented for stones and tumours in pets. A camera is inserted into the animal’s bladder via its vulva, through the urethra and into the bladder. For bladder stones, smaller stones are pulled out of the bladder with a special device like a stone basket. If the stone is too big to be initially removed, a fibre optic laser is inserted to break the stone into smaller pieces to be taken out. This process is done entirely through the natural orifices, so it avoids opening up the animal’s bladder through an incision.
It is not advisable to stick any needles or open up an animal’s bladder if a tumour is suspected. Instead, an endoscope is inserted through the urethra and into the bladder to see where the growth is. From there, biopsy samples are retrieved and sent off for histopathology testing, to establish the identity of the mass. If it is benign as in the case of a bladder polyp, the vet can then open up the bladder and remove the mass, or break down the mass with laser treatments. Endoscopy is thus an immensely useful procedure to ensure the safety of your pets, while also aiding vets in determining the issue your pet is dealing with. Dr. Lin believes that if a vet is confident of performing minimally invasive surgeries safely on a pet, then they should advocate such procedures. “Smaller incision(s) or omission of an incision will better the recovery speed of the animal.” While it is a safer alternative, vets will need to undergo extensive training, as it differs largely from open surgeries that all vets are trained to perform in vet school.
For minimally invasive surgery such as endoscopy, a 3-D patient is projected onto a 2-D screen, where the operator will be unable to perceive depth. Furthermore, the surgeon’s hands are not in direct contact with the tissues but through the usage of specialised tools. This makes it challenging for the vet to intuitively interact with the tissues and on the diseases. However, with the advantages of endoscopy proving a lot less painful on animals, as well as a quicker recovery time, it is definitely an option that all pet owners should know about.
Prevention is better than cure. To avoid UTIS, which can lead on to more complicated issues, ensure that your pet stays well hydrated. The more water your pet consumes, the more they will urinate. Producing more diluted urine and urinating more frequently is healthy, as bacteria and stone forming minerals are being flushed out of the body. Monitor how often your pet urinates, as well as their water intake. If your pet is susceptible to UTI and has alkaline urine, your vet may also advise you on acidifying your pet’s urine either through dietary changes or medication, as acidic urine is less likely to support bacteria growth.
As previously mentioned, changing your pet’s diet can slow down the formation of hereditary kidney or bladder stones. Dr. Lin states, “Your pet may be genetically predisposed to a certain kind of stone and eschewing food that promotes particular stones to form may be all that is needed to prevent future treatments.” However, there are many types of bladder stones common in animals, such as calcium oxalate stones and magnesium ammonium phosphate stones. Thus, a visit to the vet is necessary to find out what sort of stone your pet is predisposed to, to determine the specific food your pet needs to avoid. Drinking plenty of water is also paramount, as it flushes out bacteria and stone forming minerals from the bladder.
For tumours, there is no easy way to detect its presence in our pets as the presenting signs are non-specific, mostly resembling UTI. Most bladder tumour discoveries are incidental findings, where owners send their pets to the vet for what they think is an UTI. Often, your pet will also show signs of discomfort, such as going to the toilet excessively, as they feel irritated in the bladder. If this occurs, it is best to bring your pet for a checkup. Dr. Lin recommends that pet owners send their middle age and geriatric pets for routine full-body health checkups once yearly or every two years, as well as for x-rays of the chest abdomen ultrasound.
With these preventive measures, one can take the necessary steps towards ensuring that your pets have a long, healthy and risk-free life.