Urinary crystals and bladder stones are collections of minerals that form in the urinary tract. They can range in size from microscopically small to several millimeters in diameter. While crystals may not cause any symptoms, larger stones can cause irritation, inflammation, and even dangerous urinary blockages.

What causes bladder stones?

The most common cause of bladder stones is low water intake, often the result of feeding a dry diet. They can also be caused by a high concentration of minerals in the urine. Certain drugs and dietary supplements may contribute to the formation of crystals and stones. Cats with congenital liver shunts may be at increased risk of developing crystals and stones, as are some breeds, such as male Persian, Himalayan or Burmese cats.

Symptoms of urinary stones

Cats with urinary stones may show many of the same symptoms as cats with other urinary tract diseases, such as urinary tract infections or kidney disease. Symptoms may include frequent urination, straining to urinate, painful urination, urinating outside the litter box, and licking around the genitals.

How are urinary stones diagnosed?

Diagnosis will include bloodwork (blood chemistry and blood count), urinalysis and radiographs. Ultrasound may also be used to diagnose stones. Cats with bladder stones don’t always showsymptoms, and the stones are often discovered as part of a routine exam and lab work. If the stones are large enough, they can be felt on palpitation.

The two most common types of bladder stones are struvite stones and calcium oxalate stones.

Treatment of bladder stones

Treatment will depend on the type of stone that has been diagnosed. For struvite stones, dissolution with a special diet may be an option for some cats to avoid surgery. This is not always successful. It takes several weeks, not all cat will eat the special diet, the ingredients in the diet are not optimal, and cats will need to be monitored closely for the possibility of a urethral obstruction during the dissolution process.

The most common treatment for bladder stones is a cystotomy, in which the bladder is surgically opened and the stones are removed. Cats usually recover quickly from this common surgery.

Bladder stones can also be treated with laser or shockwave lithotripsy. These treatments are usually only available at specialty hospitals or veterinary schools. This treatment breaks the stones into smaller pieces that can then be passed through the urinary tract.

How to prevent bladder stones

Feeding a moist (canned or raw) diet and providing plenty of fresh water at all times is the best way to prevent bladder stones and other urinary tract disease. Urinary tract disease in cats has been linked to stress, so keeping the cat’s environment stress-free and minimizing changes in the cat’s routine can also help.

Bladder stones can be seen in cats of any age, but are more frequently seen in older cats. Being alert to any changes in your cat’s normal litter box routine can help detect problems early.

7 Comments on Urinary Crystals and Bladder Stones in Cats

  1. I am hoping for a bit of advice… my 17 year old cat has been diagnosed with a urine infection and crystals… the infection seems to be resistant to antibiotics…he has always eaten canned foot, not biscuits, yet the vet has said that he will need to eat prescription cat food for the rest of his life and will not be allowed treats of any kind, not even a small bite of plain chicken breast…. he hates the prescription food and after having the odd piece of chicken as a treat all his life, he is not a happy boy… all this, combined with the expense of the prescription food and the struggle of trying to feed my other cat normal food and keep the foods separate, i am just wondering if i need to be as strict as the vet suggests? Any advice would be greatly appreciated… many thanks

    • Wouldn’t hurt to get second opinion. One thing I know for sure is to encourage plenty if water intake. Good luck to you snd you kitty

    • Hi Holly,

      although I don’t recommend a huge diet change for an older kitty, my young cat was just diagnosed with Struvite crystals. it was recommended to eliminate any dehydrated treats (even if rehydrated with h20, it’s still not enough moisture) fish, and keep him on a raw diet but add additional warm water to his bowl (the idea is for more moisture). I’m also giving him Animals’ Apawthecary Tinkle Tonic a few times a day to acidify his urine because it’s too alkaline. I just started these slight changes so I hope it works. I also don’t trust big brand cat food, check out this website it really opened my mind to a raw diet that i’ve been feeding my cats for 4 years now. But again, I tried a raw diet with my last kitty Cali that passed away, but she was already immune compromised and older; i felt like it stressed out her system even more. Anyway, I hope your kitty is doing better!

  2. Ingrid, thanks for this article … as you know, Miss Gracie has been prone to bladder stones and UTIs since she was a kitten … I think in her case it is stress related but it’s good to get a reminder now and again of what to look for and how to help her when they occur.

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