The Stone’s Story

D. E. Larsen, DVM

Raymond came through the door with little Sophie cradled in the crook of his arm. Sophie was a really small Chihuahua, and Raymond, her owner, was a large man. It was one of the things that I always found a little odd. Some of the largest men were attached to these tiny dogs.

After he stretched a towel out on the exam table, Raymond placed Sophie in the middle of the towel. Sophie, at four and a half pounds, was overweight. Her spindly legs looked undersized for her round body.

“She has blood in her urine, Doc,” Raymond said. “And she pees a little puddle every 5 or 10 minutes. The wife is getting upset with all the cleaning up after her.”

I looked at Sophie, her gray muzzle told she was past middle age. She should probably weigh two and a half pounds, not four and a half. Her membranes were normal, with normal capillary refill time. Heavy tartar on her teeth and some chronic periodontal disease suggested that she was a good candidate for a heart murmur. That was confirmed when I placed the stethoscope on her chest.

Chronic periodontal disease leaks bacteria into the bloodstream. These circulating bacteria take up residence on the heart valves, in the kidneys, and the liver. Poor dental hygiene, most common in small dogs on pampered diets, leads to all sorts of significant health complications.

She was heavy enough that it was difficult to palpate her abdomen accurately. But when my fingers reached the posterior abdomen, I bumped a hard firm bladder. Sophie immediately squatted and peed a small puddle of bloody urine onto the towel.

“Raymond, we are going to have to pick up the towel so I can get some urine off the tabletop,” I said as I lifted Sophie up so Raymond could remove the towel.

I sat Sophie down and felt her bladder again, more carefully this time. There was a large stone in the bladder. I could feel some movement in the stone, probably a couple of stones. They were large, making the bladder feel full, but there was little room for urine. Sophie squatted again, depositing a small puddle of bloody urine on the exam table.

I drew the urine into a syringe and placed a small drop on a microscope slide. A quick look at the slide under the microscope showed the blood but also many bacteria and struvite crystals.

Struvite stones were the most common type of bladder stones in the dog at that time. Struvite stones in the dog are caused by a urinary tract infection that leads to acidity changes in the urine, crystal formation, and then the development of stones. These stones grow with time. In male dogs, they often cause urinary tract obstruction as the small stones try to pass down the urethra. That seldom happens in the female.

Today there are diets that can dissolve struvite stones in the bladder. That was not the case in the 1970s and 80s. Stones as large as Sophie’s, are best removed by surgery, even today.

“Raymond, Sophie has a large stone, or more likely 2 or 3 large stones in her bladder,” I said. “These are caused by an infection in the urinary tract. She has a lot of bacteria in her urine. We need to do several things. We need to do a culture on her urine, and while we are waiting for the culture results, we will get her started on a good broad-spectrum antibiotic. We need to get an x-ray, so we can see how many stones we are dealing with, if there are stones in the kidneys, or a bunch of little stones also. We need to do some blood work to make sure Sophie’s kidney function is normal. These stones are going to have to be removed with surgery.”

“Doc, you sound like you are talking about a lot of money,” Raymond said. “I don’t have a lot of money. Are there some short cuts we can take.”

“We can shortcut some of the things if that is what you want to do,” I said. “You need to understand, shortcuts are great if everything works out fine. But if things don’t go just right, we end up spending more money than we would have doing things right in the first place.”

“What kind of things are you talking about, Doc?” Raymond asked.

“Looking at her urine, her kidney function is probably okay,” I said. But if it isn’t, and a random urine sample is not the best indicator of kidney function, we might be delayed in finding that out, and we could lose her. If she happens to have an infection that requires a particular antibiotic, we might not know that without a culture. If we have a bunch of little stones along with the big ones I can feel, we could leave a stone behind and have to do a second surgery.”

“She is sort of long in the tooth, Doc,” Raymond said. “Let’s put her on some antibiotics and do the surgery. If things don’t work out, at least we tried.”

“That is fine, just as long as you remember this conversation,” I said as I shook Raymond’s hand.

“Will I be able to take her home tonight?” Raymond asked.

“We are early enough that she should be able to go home tonight,” I said. “We will have her on c/d diet for a time. That will be important, nothing else.”

“You are going to ruin her life and make mine miserable,” Raymond said.

“You know, you are killing her slowly with kindness, don’t you,” I said.

“What do you mean, Doc?” Raymond asked.

“Look at her, Raymond,” I said. “She weighs twice what she should, her teeth are a mess. She should have those cleaned, and there will be many teeth that are not savable. The infection in that mouth could have been what started this bladder thing, and her heart valves are leaking a little. She needs to be eating dog food, period. But we can work on those things after we get this bladder thing fixed.”

I gave Sophie an injection of Amoxicillin and Gentocin. I planned to send her home on Clavamox. We gave her 80 ccs of fluids by subcutaneous injection and placed her in a kennel while we got the surgery room ready. Sophie was unhappy in the kennel, how dare we treat her like a dog.

After anesthesia was induced and the abdomen was prepped for the last time, I draped the incision site, first with towels and then a surgery drape. I made a short incision over the bulge in the posterior abdomen caused by the large stones in the bladder. I was able to squeeze the bladder out of the incision. It was the size of a full bladder but hard as a rock. 

I placed a couple of stay sutures to hold the bladder in position when I incised it and removed the stones. Then I made an incision into the bladder. The bladder wall was thickened from the chronic infection and the mechanical damage from the stones.

I popped the first stone out, then the next. Amazingly large stones for such a small dog. The bladder lining was burgundy red and almost bubbly from the chronic inflammation. I flushed the urethra in both directions and carefully explored the bladder to make sure no small stones were hiding.

Then I closed the bladder in two layers with Maxon and returned it to normal position. I was careful to remove a couple of drops of urine from the incision and flushed the area liberally. Then the abdomen was closed with a standard 3 layer closure.

Sophie recovered quickly and was probably more comfortable than she had been in months. Raymond was pleased with how lively she was when he picked her up.

“I want to see her in a couple of days, just to check the incision and feel her bladder,” I said. “If you get a chance, try to get a look at her urine in the morning. Mainly to see is the blood is cleared up. And Raymond, you have to be strong, c/d diet only for 3 weeks. No bacon off the breakfast table. You understand, we have come this far, don’t ruin it by being weak when she begs.”

“I will do my very best, Doc,” Raymond said.

“I can guarantee you, Doc,” Sue, Raymond’s wife, said. “He has spent our summer trip to the coast, and he will finish the job if he knows what is good for him.”

Photo Credit: d.e.larsen.dvm@peak.org

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

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