Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bladder Stones

I recently learned that my mule, Polly, has bladder stones. Bladder stones are life-threatening, but because of her age (an otherwise young, 24 years) I do not want to put her through the ordeal of a major surgery to remove them. I have decided to attempt to have them removed using a scope through her urethra. She will be placed under heavy sedation. It won’t be an easy procedure, but the fact that she is a big mule might make it easier to remove them without incisions and surgery.

In the past 2 weeks I have learned more about bladder stones in equines/mules than I would have imagined, and even though it is not something that I wanted my aging-gracefully mule to go through, I think that this experience and information might be of use to other equine/mule owners. So, here it is in a bladder stone (nut shell)……

Two weeks ago after returning from a short, fairly easy trail ride we had tied the horse/mule to the trailer and were getting ready for the drive home. Polly urinated before getting back into the trailer. The first part of the urine flow was clear, and I jokingly accused her of walking slow on the trail because she had to pee. As I laughed at her, the urine flow turned to bright red blood. Not something that you want to see or ignore. To say that I was concerned is an understatement.

When we got home I placed a call to my vet. She was out of town on a mule-back-pack-trip, but had left the number of another vet to call in case of emergency. Was this an emergency? I decided no, and that we could wait a few days for her to get back. That was Saturday and she was due back on Wednesday.

On Wednesday morning my vet called me. She had a pretty good idea what was wrong, but wanted to run tests. We made an appointment for the following day. I was to try to get Polly to empty her bladder before she got there at 2:30, and to try to collect a urine sample.

My big girl Polly is no fool. Changing her routine in any way whatsoever makes her suspicious and curious. And so, I was very careful not to do anything differently during my morning schedule, but at noon I locked both animals in their stalls and turned off her water. When I returned at 2, not only did she want out of her stall to urinate, but she knew something was up! So far, so good, she headed right to the corner where she likes to pee, with me and my measuring cup right behind her. You guessed it, no way was she going to pee with me and that cup standing beside her. As soon as I got back to her stall, and out of harms reach, I could hear the urine flow. I hadn’t failed completely; I had managed to accomplish one of my two tasks successfully.

When the vet arrived she had me explain again what had happened on the day that I noticed the bloody urine. She asked if I had seen any blood in the urine since then, and she asked if I had been feeding alfalfa hay or any other supplements high in calcium. I had not, nor had I ever as far as I could remember. She then tranquilized Polly and gave her a rectal exam. By pushing into the rectal area she could actually press on the bladder. In doing this she was able to find first the two small stones and finally the larger oval shaped one. Her official diagnosis was in fact bladder stones, with not much hope of getting the bigger one out without surgery. Grim feeling, when there’s not much one can do.

I don’t know if it’s the fact that she has two mules herself, and that she likes my mule, or if it was the hopeless look on my face as she left, but she called back that night, after discussing Polly’s stones with 2 other referral veterinarians. They both agreed that if the two stones and maybe the third could be removed that a mule Polly’s age could not form another one big enough to threaten her health in her remaining lifetime.

Here’s what I know so far:

Mild to moderate exercise caused the stone-irritated bladder to form blood in the urine.

Calcium causes stones to build in the bladder. Alfalfa is high in calcium.

Bladder stones are more often diagnosed in male horses/mules and are more easily treated because of their anatomy.

In some areas (like Arizona) drinking water is treated with calcium. It’s possible that Polly drank calcium treated water during the 6 years that we lived in AZ. You might want to have your water supply checked.

If an animal is having frequent, but troubled urination you should have a vet check. It could be a bladder stone blocking the flow of urine and this can be extremely painful and life threatening.

Polly is scheduled for treatment to remove her bladder stones this Friday afternoon. She has been my one and only, for better or worse, riding animal for over 20 years now, and I’m really hoping that I’ve made the right decision for her. Except for these darn stones in her bladder she’s still one healthy looking, good, but quirky, mule. I’ll try to keep you all posted. I hope that you keep your fingers and hooves crossed for her.


  1. I sure hope things go well with Polly! She is such a sweetheart. Just caught up with your have a beautiful place...loved following you around.
    The stills of the dogs are great and the trail ride looked like a lot of fun.

  2. I'm so sorry you gorgeous girl is having these problems. Sure hope Friday is successful. Will be thinking of you.

  3. Yes, we'll be thinking of you and Polly and keep our fingers, hoofs and paws crossed!!!

  4. Polly is a nice looking gal and at her age I suppose she might get through this with some dignity. Anyway, I hope things work out for her.

    Thanks for visiting my Pick a Peck of Pixels and for your comment on my Baby Kitty post today.

  5. Best wishes, Polly. She's a beauty.

  6. You and Polly were in my prayers today. May everything have gone smoothly and Polly be well on her way to healing.

  7. For those of you that are following this blog and the outcome of Polly's procedure yesterday, it didn't turn out as we had hoped. I will post something soon and let you know more.

  8. Let me thank you for posting this information, it is extremely well needed for us equine owners. I had to look back and find this after reading your last post.

    I'll keep my out for more updates.
    Again, thank you.