High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) in Dogs
High blood pressure (also called hypertension) is an abnormal increase in blood pressure. A dog is said to be hypertensive when systolic blood pressure (SBP) exceeds 160 mmHg. The symptoms exhibited by dogs with high blood pressure depend on the organ that is affected. Early signs tend to be asymptomatic, which means the dog may not show signs of sickness. In cases when pet parents notice early symptoms, these are often mistaken as part of the normal aging process. This is one important reason why high blood pressure is referred to as a ‘silent killer’. Keep reading to learn about high blood pressure and how to help your dog.b
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Types of High Blood Pressure in Dogs
There are three types of hypertension in dogs - primary, secondary, and stress-induced (white-coat) hypertension.
Primary hypertension is rare in dogs. It can develop without a known underlying cause or in the absence of disease conditions. On the other hand, secondary hypertension is associated with an underlying health issue. Undertaking measures to address the problem is an important step in the treatment of secondary hypertension in dogs. Stress-induced or white-coated hypertension can occur during the measurement process as a result of excitement or anxiety.
Hypertension is more common in senior dogs as they become more prone to age-related issues such as chronic kidney disease and Cushing’s disease. Kidney disease caused by an infection or the development of a kidney abnormality is an important predisposing factor of hypertension in younger dogs.
Some of the most common underlying medical conditions associated with high blood pressure in dogs include:
- Diabetes mellitus
- Chronic kidney disease
- Glomerular disease
- Endocrine imbalance - hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s disease), acromegaly (overproduction of growth hormone)
- Pheochromocytoma (an adrenal tumor)
- Polycythemia (an abnormal increase in the number of red blood cells in the circulatory system)
Are certain breeds prone to high blood pressure?
A higher prevalence of hypertension has been observed in certain dog breeds which include:
- Some terrier breeds - because of their increased risk of Cushing’s disease
- Spitz, Schnauzers, Australian Terriers, and Bichon Frises because they are more susceptible to developing diabetes mellitus.
Sighthounds, particularly Greyhounds and Deerhounds, have a higher blood pressure than most dogs. But this is normal for them. Aging dogs also tend to have a small increase in BP. Male dogs have higher BP while intact females have lower BP.
Of course, being overweight or obese can increase a dog’s risk for hypertension as well, regardless of breed.
What is high blood pressure?
High blood pressure occurs when the heart has to work doubly hard to pump blood through the blood circulation. Working overtime can eventually cause the walls of the heart to become thick and this can significantly affect the heart’s efficiency to pump blood. Depending on the severity of the problem, high blood pressure in dogs can range from being a minor health issue to a severe condition that requires prompt medical attention and intervention.
Is high blood pressure harmful to dogs?
A significant problem associated with long-term sustained high blood pressure in dogs is damage to certain tissues. The major organs that are commonly affected by sustained high BP are the kidneys, eyes, brain, and heart.
Symptoms of High Blood Pressure in Dogs
- Kidney damage, including decreased function, early kidney failure, protein loss, and bloody urine
- Eye damage, including hypertensive retinopathy, retinal degeneration and detachment, bleeding into the eye, and blindness
- Brain and central nervous system disease, including encephalopathy, bleeding in the brain, head tilt, disorientation, wobbling, partial paralysis, or stroke
- Heart disease, including murmurs and left ventricular hypertrophy
Other symptoms that may be exhibited include loss of appetite, lethargy, depression, nose bleeds, and an enlarged thyroid gland.
How is hypertension diagnosed in dogs?
Blood pressure is one of the vital signs that are routinely checked during visits to the vet. It is generally measured in the same way as in humans. The inflatable cuff is placed on the dog’s paw or tail. Five to seven measurements are usually taken to get an accurate reading.
A dog’s BP may be affected by stress or anxiety associated with the visit and the process of measurement. It’s important for the dog to keep still while blood pressure is measured. To reduce false readings, the dog should be given at least 5-10 minutes to relax and get used to a quiet room in the veterinary facility. If hypertension is present, other tests may be necessary to identify any underlying condition so the appropriate treatment can be given.
Treatment Options for Dogs with High Blood Pressure
The ultimate goal for treating high blood pressure in dogs is to maintain a blood pressure of 140/90 mmHg or less.
If the dog has secondary high blood pressure, the underlying medical condition should be treated first. Dogs that have developed serious complications associated with hypertension may need hospitalization.
Therapeutic nutrition is essential to the long-term management of hypertension. Your vet may recommend a change in the dog’s diet to one that is lower in sodium.
If your dog is on medication, regular blood pressure checks and laboratory tests are necessary to assess the dog’s reactions to the treatment regimen and progression of the disease. Like in humans, medication for hypertension in dogs is generally for a lifetime. Adjustment of the dose may be done as necessary.
Prognosis for Dogs with Hypertension
Many cases of high blood pressure in dogs have a favorable prognosis when any underlying problem is appropriately managed with medication and nutrition to maintain normal blood pressure.
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