Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
What's up with Dalmatians and urinary problems? Unlike other breeds of dogs, the Dalmatian is equipped with a unique liver and kidney biochemistry that makes it different than many other dogs. The issue is that this breed carries a genetic mutation which impairs its ability to process uric acid, which is instead abundantly excreted in the urine. To be more specific, the breed lacks an enzyme responsible for dealing with purine-type proteins, which are found in many meats. Normally, in healthy dogs with normal livers, purines are converted into hypoxanthine, which is then converted to xanthine, which is then converted to uric acid, which then finally coverts to allantoin that is easily soluble in water, and therefore, can be easily secreted in urine. It is thanks to the hepatic enzyme uricase that uric acid is oxidized and transformed into allantoin.
In Dalmatians, uric acid doesn't successfully convert into allantoin. Their liver cells are unable to absorb the uric acid and allow it to transform into allantoin. So Dalmatians excrete uric acid without this last important conversion taking place. Since uric acid is not soluble, it ends up depositing in the bladder and kidneys, causing the formation of uric acid crystals or even a uric acid bladder stone over time. The bladder and urinary tract, therefore, become irritated by these crystals and causing infections. At times, the stone may cause a blockage, which is considered a medical emergency. The medical term for the presence of uric acid in the urine is hyperuricosuria.
What can Dalmatian owners do to protect their dogs from recurrent urinary stones? There are several steps they can take. As with many other medical conditions, it's best to prevent rather than cure.
Preventing Urinary Stones in Dalmatians
The following are some ways Dalmatian owners can help prevent the formation of uric acid stones.
- Allowing your Dalmatian to urinate frequently is helpful as frequent urination helps flush out any potential sediments before they have the time to accumulate and transform into a stone. Your Dalmatian should urinate at least every 4 to 5 hours.
- Drinking lots of fresh water is helpful as this helps dilute uric acid. Feeding dry food with water on it is also helpful. The British Dalmatian Club recommends giving distilled water to dogs with a confirmed diagnosis of urinary stones.
- Offering diets with lower protein is helpful because lower protein equates to lower purine. Veterinarians can suggest appropriate diets and there are also some prescription diets purposely made with Dalmatians in mind. Canned foods are often suggested as they allow increased water consumption. A common diet prescribed is the anti-urate diet, Hill's u/d.
- Avoiding food rich in purine such as anchovies, kidney, beef, game meats, gravies, herring, beef or calf liver, mackerel, and sardines.
- The British Dalmatian Club recommends adding one hard boiled egg per meal (if the Dalmatian isn't allergic to them) and a tablespoon of Canola oil. The shells of the hard-boiled eggs can be pulverized and then added one quarter of a teaspoon on the meal.
- In some cases, vets may prescribe long-term therapy using the drug allopurinol. However, too high doses or prolonged use may lead to the formation of xanthine stones.
- Since uric acid stones are more likely to form in acidic urine, the urine can be made more neutral to alkaline by adding potassium citrate to the dog's diet. While sodium bicarbonate was once suggested, it has been found to possibly worsen symptoms. Always consult with your vet before adding any supplements to a dog's diet.
- Monitoring the Dalmatian's urine pH can be done with special dipsticks. Ask your pharmacy about super litmus paper to test urine for abnormal acidity or alkalinity. The goal is for the urine to be at pH 7.0. Urates tend to form in acidic urine (pH below 7.0).
- Routine urinalysis may be suggested so to monitor the dog's urine. The best urine is collected first thing in the morning prior to feeding.
- Interestingly, there has been a push to breed this mutation out of the gene pool by breeding Dalmatians with pointers and then breeding the progeny with purebred Dalmatians.
Did you know? Dalmatians account for 80 percent of dogs affected by uric acid bladder stones according to veterinarian Wendy C. Brook. The remaining 20 percent are composed by other breeds with the same mutation (the English bulldog and black Russian terrier are other breeds) or dogs with an impaired liver (liver shunt). It appears that males are more likely to form stones than females, perhaps because females have a wider urethra allowing the stones to pass through.
Treatment of Urinary Stones in Dalmatians
When a stone blocks a Dalmatian's urinary tract, or there are a large number of stones, surgery is required. A blocked urethra preventing the dog from urinating is a medical emergency. The blockage causes obstruction of the urinary pathway, allowing urine to back up instead of being expelled. This can happen within 24 hours.
Cystotomy is a less invasive type of surgery where the bladder is opened to remove the stones. This type of surgery allows for a rapid recovery. In cases where there are just small stones, they can be removed by urohydropropulsion, a non-surgical procedure where the stones are flushed out the bladder by using a urinary catheter.
There is a third option which is called "ultrasonic dissolution" where high-frequency ultrasound waves are used to break the stones into smaller particles that can then be easily flushed out. However, this method is not too popular as it's not widely available.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on April 21, 2014:
Dalmatians originated from my region Dalmatia and are such beautiful dogs very smart and great pets. Helpful tips here on urinary problems.