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Urinary Crystals in Pets

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Urinary crystals are one type of “bling” that even fashion-conscious pet owners do not want! Urinary crystals and stones are caused by a buildup of natural minerals found in your pet’s urine. There are several types of urinary crystals and stones with the most common being struvite (magnesium ammonium phosphate) and calcium oxalate. Occasionally, cysteine conglomerations are seen. All these minerals can form crystals that resemble tiny, microscopic grains of salt or stones that are large enough to be visible to the naked eye. For pet owners who have spotted urinary crystals or have noticed their pet displaying odd bathroom behavior, here is the needtoknow info about urinary crystals and when to seek emergency veterinary care.  

Causes of Urinary Crystals and Stones 

Crystals or stones form for many reasons, including: 

  • in dogs, an underlying urinary tract infection
  • when the urine’s pH is higher or lower than neutral (in both cats and dogs)
  • metabolic issues that cause increased excretion of certain compounds in the urine
  • diets high in certain minerals, proteins, or some types of carbohydrates that alter the minerals and metabolites in urine
  • dry food diets in animals who don’t drink enough water
  • when urine becomes concentrated, compounds bump into each other and are more likely to stick together.  

Note that the causes in cats are often less straightforward than in dogs.  

Common Symptoms 

  • frequent urination
  • straining to urinate (which can look like constipation, too)
  • bloody urine
  • inappropriate urination (accidents) 

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Diagnosing Urinary Crystals 

Your family veterinarian can diagnose urinary crystals by collecting a urine sample and examining it under a microscope. Bloodwork may also be recommended, especially if urate or cysteine crystals are observed. To rule out stones, radiographs may be done – though crystals and stones are often not seen in the same pet. Keep in mind that just because the microscope did not reveal crystals doesn’t mean that stones have not already formed. 

When to Seek Emergency Care 

If a male cat shows any signs of urinary issues, he should be seen sooner rather than later. Due to the substantial risk of urinary obstruction in cats with stones or crystals, any cat that has been unable to produce urine for six hours (despite attempting to do so) should be brought in promptly to rule out a life-threatening obstruction.  

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If you suspect your pet may have urinary crystals or any other bladder or urinary issues, contact your family veterinarian. If you are unsure if your pet is experiencing an emergency and your family veterinarian is unavailable, contact your local animal emergency hospital for advice 

Dr. Bruns, ER vet, emergency veterinarian, Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota


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