When bladder and urinary tract infections occur in pets, a veterinarian’s first reaction is to prescribe antibiotics along with a prescription diet and send them on their way. However, holistic veterinarians have a variety of means including herbal formulas and dietary recommendations to not only treat bladder and urinary tract infections, but to support healthy bladder function.
Chinese theorists conjecture that bladder infections are due to damp heat in the bladder, meaning there is swelling in the bladder tissue. Typically, this swelling can be attributed to changes in the pH of the urine. The pH changes create an environment in the bladder that is favorable for bacteria to “set up shop” and create an infection.
The best way to help treat and prevent these infections is to take steps to drain the damp heat and change the internal environment of the bladder.
Types of Stones
Before discussing products to help treat and prevent bladder and UT infections, we have to take a look at the types of crystals and stones created when damp heat is present.
Urinary tract infections occur when bacteria invade the urinary tract and bladder and become established, creating damp heat in the bladder. This can lead to crystal and stone formation, as well as prostate inflammation. One way for bad bacteria to take up residence in the bladder is for bacteria on the skin to ascend up the urinary tract into the bladder. Improper diet, which will be discussed later, also contributes to damp heat in the bladder, creating these unfortunate crystals and stones.
Struvite stones are the most common cause for obstruction in the urinary tract and are nearly impossible to pass. These struvite stones are composed of magnesium, ammonium and phosphate, and are primarily caused by dietary magnesium. They also thrive in high pH alkaline environments.
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Prescription diets lower the pH and magnesium levels, which will help prevent struvite formation. However, because we’ve created a more acidic environment in the bladder and haven’t resolved the base problem associated with the damp heat, pets have started to develop more calcium oxalate crystals, which thrive in acidic environments. By the late 2000’s, we started to see a fairly even amount of struvite and oxalate stones; by acidifying the urine, we changed the type of stones that were developing.
When veterinarians realized that calcium oxalate stones thrive in acidic environments, they took a look at the composition of prescribed diets to try to combat the calcium oxalate stones. By changing the prescription diets yet again, the number of calcium oxalate stones decreased, and we are once again seeing a higher percentage of struvite stones. It’s an unfortunate predicament.
There are several other types of stones including urate, cystine, and silicate, which form in acidic environments, and calcium phosphate stones, which form in alkaline environments. However, these stones only occur in about two percent of the cases and can be genetically based.
There a number of holistic means available that not only treat UTI’s or crystal/stone formation when they occur, but also maintain a healthy bladder environment.
Herbs to Support Bladder Function
Holistic veterinarians use a variety of Chinese herbs to help treat bladder and urinary tract infections as well as help support bladder health. These formulas help to prevent bladder infections by maintaining a healthy bladder environment. Several herbs are also used to directly treat UTI’s when they occur.
Akebia is a flowering plant known for its draining and cooling abilities. It aids in eliminating damp heat from the bladder and promotes healthy urination.
Plantago seed and Talcum powder both promote healthy bladder function and drain damp heat. Talcum is also helpful in calming the pain associated with urination. Other cooling and draining ingredients include polygonum, dianthus, gardenia and licorice root.
Rhubarb root is known for its natural ability to empty the system of waste. Its fiber content supports colon function along with healthy bowel movements.
Another supportive Chinese herb is rush pith. Besides clearing heat from different areas of the body, rush pith is a mild diuretic, which is especially helpful in treating painful dribbling.
In addition to the aforementioned herbs that are used to both treat and support bladder health, cranberries acidify the urine, making it an unfavorable environment for most types of bacteria to survive in. Cranberries also have the ability to attach to bacteria such as E. coli and prevent it from attaching to the bladder wall. Another added benefit of cranberries is that they contain salicylic acid, a natural anti-inflammatory.
D-mannose is a simple sugar that works in a similar way to cranberries by also decreasing the ability for bacteria to adhere to the bladder wall.
Another method holistic veterinarians have found effective in supporting bladder health is oral glucosamine for cats. A portion of glucosamine enters the urinary tract system to be urinated out and forms a mucus coat on the bladder wall. In turn, bacteria, such as E. coli, cannot adhere to the wall. Unfortunately in cats, struvite can present without any apparent infection.
You Are What You Eat
Dietary magnesium is viewed as one of the main contributors to urinary struvite formation. High grain carbohydrates that are present in most commercial dry pet food brands are high in magnesium. High carbohydrate diets are also considered to be inflammatory. Therefore, holistic veterinarians conjecture that because dogs and cats are naturally carnivorous animals, a meat based diet, which is low in magnesium, promotes healthy bladder and urinary function.
It’s also important for pet owners to feed a diet that combats obesity, another contributor to frequent UTI’s. However, the most important way to support a pet’s bladder health is to feed an appropriate diet. Proper nutrition supports proper organ function throughout the body, and the correct diet can both prevent and solve bladder and UT infections.