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How Do We Measure Blood Pressure in Pets?

Blood pressure measurement is performed similarly to the way it is in humans. An inflatable cuff is fit snuggly around the foot, foreleg, or even tail of the pet. In pets, this measurement should not exceed 160. A reading of 180 is considered to indicate high risk for organ damage while readings of 150-159 are considered mildly elevated.

Some pets (obviously) are nervous at the vet’s office and this factor must be taken into account when reading blood pressure. It is possible for a pet to have high blood pressure at the vet’s office and normal pressure at all other times. You might think this would be a common situation but most pets are able to maintain normal blood pressure despite being surrounded by hospital staff. To account for the “White Coat Effect,” several measurements are taken so that the pet becomes accustomed to the process and understands that no pain is involved.

What Does High Blood Pressure Do?

Problems from high blood pressure arise when a blood vessel is simply too small for the high pressure flow going through it.  Since the affected vessels are small, the bleeding may not be noticeable but a lot of little bleeds and a lot of blood vessel destruction can create big problems over time. The eye is especially at risk, with either sudden or gradual blindness often being the first sign. Kidney disease is an important cause of high blood pressure and also progresses far more rapidly with it. High blood pressure also increases the risk of embolism: the formation of tiny blood clots that form when blood flow is abnormal. These clots can lodge in an assortment of inopportune locations including the brain, causing strokes and other neurologic disorders.

What Causes High Blood Pressure in Pets?

In animals, primary hypertension is unusual; there is almost always another disease causing it and if routine screening does not identify the problem, more tests may be in order.  Diseases in pets that are associated with high blood pressure: chronic kidney failure, hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, Cushing’s disease, Diabetes, and more…

How is High Blood Pressure Identified?

To find high blood pressure in people, virtually any time you see a doctor, a nurse will take your blood pressure. Similarly, in pets, a great deal of high blood pressure is identified by screening.  The other time high blood pressure is discovered is when it makes its presence known. This usually means some degree of blindness or some other obvious eye problem. With early identification, some vision may be restored.  A sudden neurologic condition could indicate a stroke or vascular accident in the brain or spinal cord. 

What Treatment is Available for Hypertension?

Ocular disease may require prescription eye drops depending on how much bleeding is in the eye and whether or not return of vision is likely.   When hypertension is identified, a search for the underlying cause is indicated. It may be that controlling the underlying disease totally reverses the hypertension (especially true for hyperthyroid cats).  Beyond these methods, as with people, medication to lower blood pressure is often in order. 

Adapted from the article “High Blood Pressure in Pets” by Wendy Brooks, DVM, DABVP reviewed and revised 07/19/2018

About Us

The Healing Paws Veterinary Care promise is a thorough and kind experience. Taking the time to listen to you (and your pet) while being thorough in our examination, pain assessment and diagnostic testing means that we can find answers and solutions that keep your friend living longer and more comfortably.