Under Pressure

By Dr. Donald Consla, Lead Wellness Veterinarian

Most of us are familiar with getting our blood pressure checked when we go to the doctor. But it is also important to keep an eye on our pets’ blood pressure, too. Just like humans, animals can suffer from high or low blood pressure which may require regular medications to keep under control.

Blood pressure refers to the pressure of the blood in the arteries that carry blood from the heart to organs. When the heart contracts, it pushes blood into the arteries which increases the pressure, known as systolic pressure. When the heart relaxes, the pressure decreases, also known as diastolic pressure. The average blood pressure is determined by a calculation that compares these two different pressures. Heart rate and the tone of the arteries themselves can also affect blood pressure.

There are two common ways to measure blood pressure in dogs and cats. The first is with a Doppler unit which is essentially a little probe that detects sound waves. The Doppler is placed on an artery and then a cuff is blown up to obstruct the artery. The cuff is then deflated and we listen for the swishing of blood through the artery to start again. This gives us the systolic blood pressure. This is just like when we get our blood pressure taken using a stethoscope and a cuff. The second way we commonly measure blood pressure is with an oscillometric unit. This is a machine that takes the blood pressure for us, just like the machine you place your arm into at the pharmacy.

Like humans, the normal blood pressure for dogs and cats is 120/80, but we know that many pets can be nervous at the vet, so we look for the systolic blood pressure to be less than 150. We want our patients to be as relaxed as possible when we measure their blood pressure, so we try to take the reading in the room with the owner once the pet is more comfortable. At Animal Friends, our team may provide treats to keep the patient relaxed and focused on the treat so that they don’t need to be held for the blood pressure reading.

When the blood pressure is too low, this is called Hypotension. Low blood pressure means that there is not enough blood getting to the organs, similar to a plant that is not getting enough water. We usually see this in very sick or emergency patients. These animals can be very lethargic and need immediate care to address the underlying cause which could be dehydration, end-stage heart disease, severe infection or internal bleeding to name a few.

When the blood pressure is too high, this is called Hypertension. Think of a garden hose that is kinked and when released, it sends a blast of water that could cause damage. This condition is far more common than low blood pressure and can go undiagnosed for a long time. High blood pressure can occur secondary to heart disease, kidney disease, hyperthyroidism in cats or old age, but these are only a few of the causes. Some patients may have no clinical signs while others have dramatic signs such as acute blindness, irritated eyes, seizures, lethargy or heart arrhythmias. It is important for Hypertension to be treated as quickly as possible to avoid irreversible damage to organs like the eyes, kidneys and brain.

As you can see, blood pressure has a big impact on maintaining your pets’ health. You can have your pet’s blood pressure measured as part of their regular check up (especially if they are older!), so be sure to talk with your veterinarian so they can help keep your pet healthy and happy.

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