Mar Vista Animal Medical Center

3850 Grand View Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90066

(310)391-6741

www.marvistavet.com

FELINE STRUVITE BLADDER STONES

STRUVITE BLADDER STONES IN THE CAT

 

WHAT IS STRUVITE?

Struvite is a urinary mineral composed of ammonium, phosphate, and magnesium. These three substances are common in urine and if they exist in high enough concentrations, they will bind together in the form of crystals. Struvite crystals are found in urine normally and have no significance on their own. Problems occur when these crystals combine with mucus and form a urinary plug that can actually cause a blockage in a male cat’s urinary tract (see our page on Feline Urinary Blockage) or when the crystals bind together to form an actual bladder stone.

Struvite is also sometimes called “triple phosphate,” based on some early studies that had misidentified the minerals. The name has stuck, though, so you may hear this term.

In older times, feline bladder stones could virtually be counted on to be struvite, as opposed to some other type of mineral. Nowadays, because of widespread cat food reformulation in the 1980’s approximately 50% of feline bladder stones are struvite and the other 50% are calcium oxalate.

 

IF STRUVITE CRYSTALS ARE NORMAL, WHY DO SOME CATS FORM STONES? 

There are several factors at play here. The pH of the urine, presence of proteins around which the crystals can aggregate, and urinary water content all are important issues. Ultimately, these factors come together to contribute to a urine that is “supersaturated” with struvite. In dogs, infection is necessary to create a struvite bladder stone but in the cat 95% no infection was involved (though sometimes the presence of the stone can lead to infection.)

Struvite crystals in a urine sample as seen under the microscope

  

SYMPTOMS

While bladder stones can sometimes be found incidentally while looking into another problem, most of the time they are found when the cat is showing signs of lower urinary tract disease:

  • Straining to urinate
  • Bloody urine
  • Urinating in inappropriate locations
  • Urinating small amounts frequently

These symptoms are expressed regardless of what the lower urinary tract disease is. Other lower urinary tract diseases include: idiopathic cystitis, bladder infection, bladder tumor, and more obscure issues such as healing bladder trauma. In cats showing signs of lower urinary tract disease, approximately 25% of them will have bladder stones so it is definitely worthwhile to take a radiograph of the bladder to check. A urinalysis will be helpful in determining the type of stone and in ruling out other causes of urinary symptoms.

 

TREATMENT: DIETARY DISSOLUTION

Struvite stones can be dissolved by feeding special diets. There are several commercial brands available and they all act by creating a bladder environment that is favorable to dissolving the struvite crystals back into the urine. In order to proceed with this form of treatment, the patient should be female (as the stone dissolves and the stone gets smaller, we do not want it lodging in the narrow male urinary tract and causing obstruction). Obviously, the cat should not have a second disease which makes the stone diet inappropriate and the cat must be fed only the urinary diet and nothing else.

A typical protocol involves radiographs every 3-4 weeks to confirm that the stone is actually dissolving. If the stone does not completely dissolve, it may not be composed entirely of struvite (calcium oxalate stones will not dissolve with diet) or there may be some other reason why the stone is not dissolving (cat is sneaking food elsewhere etc.). On the average, it takes about 6 weeks for a stone to dissolve. If the stone does not seem to be dissolving after a reasonable time, the stone may require surgical removal.

(original graphic by marvistavet.com)

 

TREATMENT: SURGERY

Surgery to remove a bladder stone is called a “cystotomy.” Here, the bladder is opened and the stones inside are simply removed. The bladder and belly are closed up and the cat is able to go home when he or she has a good appetite and normal urination. Some blood in the urine can be expected for several days after surgery and there may be some urinary discomfort at first but generally removing the stones is the fastest route to recovery from urinary symptoms.

The stones can be sent to a special laboratory for analysis to confirm the stone type.

 

OTHER METHODS OF STONE RETRIEVAL

CYSTOSCOPY
A less invasive method involves using a cystoscope, a long skinny instrument to remove stones from the bladder using a small basket-like retrieval accessory. This can only be done with small stones and can only be done in female cats. For larger stones, laser lithotripsy can be used to break the stone into smaller pieces which can be removed or passed. Laser lithotripsy requires the cystoscope laser to be in contact with the stone so, again, the cat must be female; the male cat's urethra is too small for a cystoscope.

VOIDING UROHYDROPROPULSION
This technique can work if the stones are small enough to pass through the patient's urethra. The patient is sedated, the bladder is distended with fluid, agitated, and manually expressed under pressure. By positioning the sedated patient vertically, gravity "loads" the stones in the neck of the bladder, positioned for expulsion. When the bladder is expressed, often stones can be passed that might otherwise have stayed in the bladder. Larger stones cannot be passed using this technique.

 

PREVENTION

To avoid forming new struvite stones it is helpful to use a diet that creates a bladder environment that is not conducive to stone formation. There are numerous such urinary formulas and sometimes the same diet that was used to dissolve the stone can simply be continued. Ideally, a canned formula is used as canned foods have extra water and the extra water helps make for a more dilute urine (and a dilute urine means a lower crystal concentration).

If it is not possible to feed an appropriate diet, the use of urinary acidifiers may be necessary. Your veterinarian may recommend some monitoring tests to make sure the pH and urine concentration stay in a range where struvite stones should not form. 

 Page posted: 10/25/11