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High Blood Pressure in Dogs

What Is High Blood Pressure in Dogs?

High blood pressure in dogs refers to the amount of force exerted by the blood against the walls of the arteries. This pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and is represented by two numbers: systolic, which measures pressure during heart contraction, and diastolic, which measures pressure when the heart relaxes. Each heartbeat pumps oxygen-rich blood and nutrients throughout the body’s tissues. Elevated blood pressure, known as systemic hypertension, increases the workload on the heart and blood vessels, leading to damage to the vessels themselves and potentially affecting organs such as the eyes, kidneys, and brain.

What Is a Normal Blood Pressure in Dogs?

Determining diastolic blood pressure in dogs can be challenging, so systolic blood pressure is typically relied upon for diagnosing high blood pressure. In dogs, a blood pressure below 150mmHg is deemed normal, while a reading of 160mmHg warrants further investigation for pre-hypertension. Hypertension is confirmed when blood pressure consistently registers above 180mmHg.

Symptoms

Most dogs with high blood pressure typically don’t exhibit noticeable symptoms. However, internal organ damage often occurs, exacerbating kidney disease and impacting the heart or brain. Potential signs may include the development of heart murmurs and blood clot formation. Sudden blindness can occur due to retinal lesions, accompanied by manifestations such as blood in the eye, urine, or nose (epistaxis). Behavioral changes, weakness, seizures, coma, and even death may also occur.

Causes

  • Primary, or idiopathic: This refers to cases where the cause is unknown, although it’s relatively uncommon in dogs.
  • Secondary: This type of hypertension is often linked to underlying diseases such as Cushing’s syndrome, kidney disease, diabetes, adrenal tumors (specifically pheochromocytoma), dietary factors, polycythemia (an increase in red blood cells), or as a side effect of certain medications like phenylpropanolamine and steroids. Dogs with any of these conditions should have their blood pressure monitored as part of their treatment plan.
  • “White coat effect”: Similar to the phenomenon observed in humans, this involves a temporary rise in blood pressure triggered by fear or anxiety. For instance, when a pet becomes nervous or stressed during a visit to the veterinarian, their blood pressure may temporarily spike. This condition typically doesn’t necessitate treatment and resolves once the stressful situation is alleviated.

Diagnosis

Veterinarians have several methods available to measure a dog’s blood pressure in a clinical setting, each with its own limitations and level of accuracy:

  • Direct arterial measurement: Considered the most accurate method, it involves puncturing an artery, making it invasive and risky. This method is typically reserved for dogs in critical condition.
  • Indirect oscillometric measurement: This method is readily available and easy to use but tends to be less accurate compared to direct measurement.
  • Indirect Doppler measurement: More accurate than the oscillometric method, it involves using a Doppler device to obtain only the systolic blood pressure reading and is relatively easy to use.

Prior to diagnosing high blood pressure, it’s crucial to take multiple readings over several visits to ensure accuracy and minimize the influence of the “white coat effect.” Monitoring trends and allowing the dog to become accustomed to the testing equipment can also help reduce stress-related elevations in blood pressure.

Treatment

In most instances, even after managing the underlying disease, dogs with high blood pressure will typically require lifelong medication for treatment. The primary objectives of treatment are to prevent organ damage and alleviate symptoms. Usually, a single medication is prescribed, but if the response to a single medication is inadequate, multiple drugs may be necessary. Commonly prescribed medications include enalapril (an ACE inhibitor) or amlodipine (a calcium channel blocker). Other options may include phenoxybenzamine or atenolol (alpha and beta blockers), as well as hydrochlorothiazide and furosemide (diuretics). In emergency situations, drugs like hydralazine and nitroprusside are often administered.

Living and Management

The positive aspect is that for some dogs, high blood pressure can resolve once the underlying disease process is effectively treated or managed. However, the majority of dogs will necessitate lifelong medication to control high blood pressure.

Furthermore, it’s crucial for dogs to undergo re-examination and blood pressure measurement within a few weeks of initiating medication. The objective of treatment is to achieve a normal blood pressure level (below 150mmHg). Subsequent measurements should be taken every few months thereafter, following the recheck guidelines recommended by your veterinarian.

During these follow-up appointments, additional tests such as bloodwork and urine testing may be advised. These tests are essential for assessing any organ damage resulting from the disease or potential side effects of the medication. Your dog likely already has follow-up appointments scheduled to manage their other underlying conditions.

High Blood Pressure in Dogs FAQs

What can pet owners do to assist their dog with high blood pressure?

Pet owners can aid their dogs by desensitizing them to the process of having their blood pressure measured at home through practice and patience. They can ask their veterinarian to lend them a cuff or purchase one themselves to make the blood pressure reading process easier and less stressful for their dog. Decreasing exposure to stressful events such as thunderstorms, fireworks, and unfamiliar individuals can significantly help maintain a more stable blood pressure. While salt restriction is often unnecessary, it’s advisable to avoid high salt intake. Pet owners should consult their veterinarian regarding potential dietary recommendations.

How long can dogs live with hypertension?

The duration varies, but with proper care, regular follow-up, and monitoring, a better prognosis can be achieved when a dog’s blood pressure is adequately controlled. Adequately managing hypertension also reduces the risks of developing more severe complications.

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