We’re used to getting our blood pressure taken as part of a routine visit to the doctor, but what about our dogs? Do we need to know their blood pressure, too?
While the other basic vital signs, including body temperature, pulse, and breathing rate, differ between people and dogs, normal blood pressure values are the same in dogs as people but are taken differently.
Understanding Blood Pressure in Dogs
Blood pressure is the force that propels blood through the vascular system to deliver oxygen and nutrients to every cell of the body. Blood pressure is determined by many factors, including how hard and fast the heart pumps and how dilated or constricted blood vessels are. Each of these is influenced by various hormones, physical fitness, diet and genetics.
There are two components to blood pressure: systolic and diastolic. Systolic blood pressure is the maximum pressure during a heartbeat, while diastolic blood pressure is the minimum pressure between heartbeats. Blood pressure readings are normally written as one number over another number – for example: 120/80. Systolic blood pressure is the top number and diastolic blood pressure is the bottom number.
Blood pressure can tell us a lot about an animal’s overall health. When blood pressure becomes high or low, it is very dangerous and can mean a serious health problem must be addressed.
What’s a Normal Dog Blood Pressure?
The normal range for a dog’s blood pressure is a systolic reading between 110 and 160 mmHg and a diastolic reading between 80 and 100 mmHg.
In dogs, a systolic blood pressure above 160 mmHg is high (hypertension), while a systolic pressure below 90 is low (hypotension). These values are the same across all breeds and sizes of dogs. Young puppies may have lower blood pressure, which is normal.
Because blood pressure is measured at a vet clinic and many animals are stressed or excited there, your veterinarian may not diagnose your dog with high blood pressure until the systolic reading is greater than 160 or 180.
What Causes High Blood Pressure in Dogs?
Many different factors can cause high blood pressure in dogs. While there may be some genetic predispositions, hypertension in dogs is almost always due to an underlying issue, including:
- Cushing’s disease
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Tumors or cancer – some types of cancers or non-cancerous tumors can secrete hormones that lead to hypertension, while others create hypertension due to their size or location.
- Severe injuries or trauma, such as a dog fight or snake bite, can cause temporary hypertension. Adequate pain control quickly settles blood pressure to the normal range.
Symptoms of High Blood Pressure in Dogs
Symptoms of high blood pressure in dogs are typically associated with primary disease symptoms. Symptoms tend to progress slowly, making them easy to miss. These may include:
- Decreased energy
- Exercise intolerance
- Eye pain
- Vision problems
- Behavior changes
- Increased thirst and urination
- Seizure or collapse
- Nose bleed
Your veterinarian may notice other symptoms of high blood pressure during a physical exam, including a new or worsened heart murmur and eye changes. Similarly, hypertension in dogs is associated with abnormalities in bloodwork, including kidney function measures, electrolytes and evidence of inflammation.
Consequences of High Blood Pressure in Dogs
Untreated high blood pressure in dogs can cause severe illnesses, including:
Treatment for Hypertension in Dogs
Treatment for hypertension in dogs is two-fold. Oral medications can reduce blood pressure and are very useful as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.
Treatment plans should address the underlying cause of high blood pressure, such as Cushing’s or kidney disease. Treatment plans may include diet changes, such as low sodium or prescription diets, to manage the primary disease. Weight loss may be recommended, along with a slowly building exercise plan.
What Causes Low Blood Pressure in Dogs?
Low blood pressure (hypotension) in dogs is caused by severe illness, injury or trauma. It is very abnormal and always an emergency. It can be caused by:
- Blood loss
- Abnormal vascular function
- Low protein
- Infection of the blood
- Any other cause of severe illness, such as heart failure or neurologic dysfunction
Some chronic diseases, such as Addison’s disease, can cause episodes of hypotension. Heart failure also leads to hypotension, in which the heart can no longer contract well enough to generate adequate pressure to send blood through all the vessels of the major organs.
Symptoms of Low Blood Pressure in Dogs
Symptoms of hypotension in dogs include:
- Sudden death
Treatment for Hypotension in Dogs
Treatment for hypotension is always an emergency. Dogs diagnosed with low blood pressure require immediate in-hospital treatments such as IV fluid therapy, blood transfusions and fast-acting injectable medications.
Once the dog is stable, treatments focus on the primary disease or injury.
How to Take a Dog’s Blood Pressure
The most common way to take a dog’s blood pressure is indirectly via the doppler or oscillometric methods. The doppler method is equivalent to a healthcare provider manually taking a person’s blood pressure with a cuff and stethoscope. It is more accurate than the oscillometric method and is generally preferred by veterinarians.
While blood pressure is a helpful measurement in assessing your dog’s overall health, it is not generally recommended that you try to take it at home. It is far more beneficial to monitor your dog for more easily recognized symptoms such as lethargy, panting, and changes in behavior.
If your veterinarian is concerned about your dog’s blood pressure, they will likely ask you to have it rechecked in a clinic as needed. This allows for consistency in the procedure and less stress for you over inaccurate high or low readings.
If your dog is behaving normally and not exhibiting any signs of illness, then his blood pressure is almost guaranteed to be within the normal range.
Signs of abnormal blood pressure are not specific, meaning they are signs of many diseases. Blood pressure is just one of your veterinarian’s many measurements to determine overall health and diagnose a sick pet.
How to Manage a Dog’s Blood Pressure
The best things you can do for your pet’s overall health will also support healthy blood pressure. These include maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, feeding your pet a proper diet, and developing a relationship with your veterinarian through routine healthy visits. When your veterinarian knows your dog, they can help you catch signs of illness before they become serious diseases.
If your dog is diagnosed with hypertension, your veterinarian may recommend oral medications, dietary changes, and exercise as a way to manage your dog’s blood pressure at home.