While most humans know that maintaining a healthy blood pressure is important for their overall health, few of us recognize that this vital parameter is important for animals as well. Godspeed Animal Care recommends checking blood pressure in pets periodically because deviations from normal can have serious impacts on our patient’s overall well being.
Checking Blood Pressure in Pets
In both pets and people, a blood pressure measurement tells us what the pressure of our circulating blood is up against the walls of our blood vessels. We can measure the systolic value (maximum pressure over a heartbeat) and diastolic pressure (lowest pressure over a heartbeat). This information can lend a helpful insight into overall cardiovascular health.
At a human doctor visit, typically our blood pressure is measured noninvasively using a sphygmomanometer (the cuff around your arm that is puffed up) and a stethoscope.
Blood pressure in pets is measured similarly on a limb or tail, although a Doppler unit may be used instead of a stethoscope to hear the small vessels of a pet better. Sometimes our team might choose to use an oscillometric unit instead, which is somewhat easier to use but can have a higher incidence of error.
When we measure blood pressure in pets, it is important to:
- Obtain the reading when the pet’s stress level is lowest, early in the visit, and before other potentially stressful procedures
- Utilize the same technique (bodyposition, cuff size, appendage) each time
- Obtain multiple readings to be sure any changes are repeatable
Causes and Consequences of Abnormal Blood Pressure
Maintaining a normal blood pressure in pets is important to be sure that they remain healthy. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, places undue strain on the heart and can lead to organ dysfunction. This is generally defined as a systolic pressure consistently higher than 140 mmHg.
Hypotension, or low blood pressure, can lead to poor blood flow to vital organs and resulting impairment such as blindness, fainting, weakness, and kidney problems.
While primary hypertension and hypotension can occur, many times blood pressure alterations happen secondary to something else going on in the body. Examples include:
- Hypertension secondary to kidney disease
- Hypertension secondary to Cushings syndrome (overproduction of cortisol)
- Hypertension due to hyperthyroidism
- Hypertension due to other endocrine diseases like diabetes mellitus or acromegaly
- Hypertension due to an adrenal or neurological tumor
- Hypertension secondary to obesity
- Hypotension due to shock after a trauma
- Hypotension due to an Addisonian crisis
- Hypotension secondary to cardiac disease
Generally blood pressure disturbances in pets are addressed by correcting any underlying disease process where possible. After any manageable causes are removed, medications and other therapy such as intravenous fluids are often indicated.
Most times blood pressure changes in pets can be managed. Lifelong treatment may be needed. If we don’t check it, though, we might not know there is a problem until things are quite progressed. Regular blood pressure checks should be a normal part of your pet’s wellness care. Please contact the team at Godspeed Animal Care with any questions.