The Bladder Stone Ghost

Urinary1 Comment

horse bladder stone

The email started off well enough…

“The first day after you adjusted him, he was perfect! Moving forward, lifting up, head stretching down easily. It was an amazing ride.” Courtney’s email read.

I love to see happy stories in my inbox. But I was surprised to see the story take a down-turn.

“But after a couple of days, the problems are back. Obi keeps stopping. He feels weak and uneven behind. Is that normal? Does he just need more adjustments?”

“What?! No, that’s not normal.” was my immediate thought.

I replied to Courtney. Basically I said, “I have no idea.” Oberon should have improved as he did, and then continue improving as he got stronger. Although, every once in a while, a horse does a “whoopsy” after an adjustment. Sometimes they run around—bucking and kicking—and they fall. Other times they get cast in the stall. Or other silly horse antic.

The recheck

So I went to see Oberon again. He is an amazing Friesian with the most loving personality. His owner, Roxx, is just as sweet.

I expected to find evidence of the “whoopsy.” But Obi only had a few subluxations. Just his left lumbar and left sacroiliac.

This was even weirder. I needed more clues.

“Courtney, tell me again what Oberon’s issues are?” I asked.

Courtney, Oberon’s trainer, spoke of a talented horse who resisted using himself fully…but not every day. Sometimes he was great. Other days she couldn’t even ride him. And he was only five years old.

But at the very end of the description, Courtney tossed out a diamond for a clue. She thought this “oddity” unrelated.

She said, “And he dribbles pee.”


Obi would “drop” to urinate, and then not. Or sometimes he would stand and urinate. And sometimes he would walk around dribbling pee.

These two signs are classic for bladder stones:

  • dropping of penis to urinate multiple times
  • dribbling urine

From the vet books, bladder stone signs are:

  • blood in urine, especially after exercise
  • low grade colic
  • nervous pacing
  • frequent urinating
  • groan, grunt, or straining to urinate

But I’ll tell you what! These vet book signs are for horses with large bladder stones. Horses with large bladder stones have had stones for years.

The subtle signs – the clues- of early bladder stones include:

    1. mild, occasional dribbling of urine
    2. dropping or partial dropping of penis several times to urinate
    3. unwillingness to work, but not always
    4. unwillingness to go forward or collect, but not always

Why do horses with bladder stones not want to go forward or collect?

Because that makes the stone hurt more.

Collection tilts the pelvis in such a way that the bladder is squished a bit. Depending on how full the bladder is, collection can aggravate the stone.

Bladder stones used to be very rare. Now we’re seeing them more often. Want to know why? Here’s the reason: calcium carbonate.

Calcium carbonate is the primary component of most bladder stones. Where else have you seen calcium carbonate? In everything. Today’s supplements bombard our horses with calcium carbonate. Check your labels and see.

I suggest you eliminate as much calcium carbonate from your horse’s diet as possible. If you have your horse on calcium carbonate for ulcers, please see why that’s a bad idea here.

Back to Oberon

Courtney and Roxx had the vet out to check for bladder stones. Now here’s the “ghost” part.

As part of the normal exam, flexion tests were done. Oberon tested positive for fetlock flexions on the left hind. That means his left hind fetlock really hurt when flexed.

This hurting left fetlock explained the subluxations he did have.

Oberon was scheduled for surgery. X-rays showed a large chip. At surgery, the chip was even larger than expected.

Poor Obi’s “chip” looked like a “chunk” to me.

Oberon chip close-up

And then what happened?

Strangely enough, he stopped dribbling urine after the fetlock chip was removed.

When I heard that, I felt like I’d seen a ghost. I don’t know why. It was just kind of spooky…and made no sense. Why would removing a hind fetlock chip stop urine dribbling?

Oh wait. Because of posturing. Oberon couldn’t get in the correct “pee position” without pain. So, he would start to posture, and drop, but then it hurt so he had to change position. Poor Oberon. So glad this problem was figured out.

Did he have a bladder stone?

So far, not one the vet could feel from palpation.

I’m still a bit suspicious. In my opinion, to get a chip as large as Oberon’s may indicate that there is something funky about his bone constitution.

Meanwhile, we are eliminating all products with calcium carbonate in them. I don’t want to see any more ghosts.

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One Comment on “The Bladder Stone Ghost”

  1. Maybe it was the anaesthetic that moved something. I had a large stone removed from my geldings penis after he was anaesthasised for some dental work many years ago. This might have accounted for why he was bucking but I think it was more than this. He is still a project horse.

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