The Importance of Blood Pressure

Most people are aware that maintaining normal blood pressure is essential for maintaining one’s overall health.  Every time we go to the doctor, the nurse checks our blood pressure to ensure it is within the normal range.  For humans, the most common causes of high blood pressure (called hypertension) include obesity, high stress lifestyle, excessive salt intake, high cholesterol and smoking.  If left untreated, high blood pressure can have a number of negative effects on our health.

But what about our pets?  Is blood pressure equally important for their health as it is ours?  The answer is yes, but for different reasons than in humans.  Our furry friends may not worry about paying the bills on time or get high cholesterol the same way people do, but they can still develop high blood pressure as a result of disease.  If that high blood pressure goes unnoticed and untreated, there are a number of potential consequences.


Signs of high blood pressure

What symptoms might your pet have if he/she has high blood pressure?  Likely none.  Hypertension is often called the “silent killer” because there are no obvious signs of it in either people or animals.  That is why blood pressure screening is so important in people.  Why, then, don’t we screen every pet for high blood pressure as is done in human medicine?  The main reason is that, in humans, high blood pressure can be “idiopathic” or “familial”, meaning it has no identifiable cause and is likely genetic.  This syndrome is not recognized in animals, so our pets only develop high blood pressure as a result of a different, primary disease. 

Another reason pets are not screened as frequently as people is that our furry friends suffer more from “white coat syndrome” than we do.  That is to say, they are more scared at the doctor’s office than we are, and being scared will abnormally elevate the blood pressure so that a high blood pressure reading does not necessarily indicate that the pet has true hypertension.


Causes of high blood pressure in animals

Some of the most common diseases that can lead to high blood pressure in our pets include:

            Kidney disease

            Hyperthyroidism (cats)

            Cushing’s Disease (dogs)

            Diabetes mellitus

            Estrogen medication administration

These conditions are most common in older pets, and we screen for these diseases as well as high blood pressure as part of our senior wellness package.  Many pets do not show symptoms of these diseases until they become more advanced, which is why screening older pets with routine bloodwork is extremely important in order to diagnose and treat them early.


Complications of high blood pressure

The consequences of untreated high blood pressure include:

            Damage to the kidneys

            Heart disease

            Sudden blindness

When pressure in the arteries is high, this can cause damage to the blood vessels, especially those in the kidneys and the back of the eye (the retina), leading to kidney disease and possibly blindness.  High blood pressure also makes the heart work harder to pump blood to the body, leading to heart problems.


Is high blood pressure treatable?

Yes!  There are several medications available to help control high blood pressure in our pets, and these treatments can mitigate the consequences of prolonged, untreated hypertension.  In some cases, simply treating the primary disease will alleviate the high blood pressure as well.  This is often the case in cats with hyperthyroidism.  In other cases, we have to treat the high blood pressure separately in addition to treating the primary disease.


The bottom line:   Maintaining healthy blood pressure is as important for your pet as it is for you, but is more likely to become a concern when your pet is older.  If you have an older pet you would like to have screened for high blood pressure and the diseases that can cause it, consider bringing your pet in for a senior wellness package checkup.  It is our pleasure to ensure your older pet is happy and healthy!

April is blood pressure awareness month here at East Towne Pet Clinic.  During the month of April, we will be including a blood pressure check on our patients as part of their physical exam.