High Blood Pressure in Dogs (Hypertension)

High blood pressure in dogs. A border collie getting blood pressure work completed at a vets office
High blood pressure in dogs. A border collie getting blood pressure work completed at a vets office

High blood pressure — also known as Hypertension — is a condition where the force of blood against the artery walls is too high. Ominously labeled as the silent disease, 10% of dogs may suffer from high blood pressure, although symptoms often go unnoticed.

What’s considered high blood pressure in dogs? A dog’s regular heart rate should range from 110 to 160 mmHG systolic pressure to 60 to 90 mmHG diastolic pressure. Hypertension is when blood pressure ratings are above 160/90 mmHG.

Hearts have two phases of action. The systolic phase is when the heart muscle contracts and pumps blood from the chamber and into the arteries. The diastolic phase is when the heart refills with blood.

Hypertension should not be confused with Pulmonary Hypertension, a more severe condition when high blood pressure affects the lungs or right side of the heart.

This article details the causes, symptoms, and treatments of high blood pressure in dogs. By the end, you’ll have a clear understanding of the concerns and risks of high blood pressure, plus early prevention methods to keep your dog’s blood pressure levels at a safe, normal level.

  1. Why does my dog have high blood pressure?
  2. What are the symptoms of high blood pressure in dogs?
  3. How can I lower my dog’s blood pressure?
  4. How are dogs’ blood pressure levels tested?
  5. Maintaining healthy blood pressure levels in your dog.
Hypertension in dogs. A sick senior dog lays on a vet table being examined.

Why does my dog have high blood pressure?

The source of your dog’s high blood pressure is likely an underlying condition. There are two classifications of hypertension, primary hypertension and secondary hypertension.

Primary hypertension is abnormally high blood pressure that has no determinable cause. Diet, poor exercise, obesity, or genetics are all attributed to primary hypertension.

Secondary hypertension is when a disease or condition causes high blood pressure, like kidney disease, diabetes, or hypothyroidism. Secondary hypertension is responsible for 80 percent of hypertension cases in dogs.

What are the symptoms of high blood pressure in dogs?

A lack of appetite or vomiting can often be the first signs your dog is suffering from an ailment. But, it isn’t easy to pinpoint as many symptoms — including aging — begin this way.

Look for signs of fatigue in your dog, including rapid or difficulty breathing. 

As hypertension progresses, it can cause many severe symptoms including:

  • Seizures
  • Sudden blindness, detached retinas, or rapid eye movement
  • Disorientation, weakness, and depression
  • Blood in the urine
  • Nosebleeds

Long term, hypertension can cause:

  • Heart murmurs
  • Congestive heart failure

Congestive heart failure can cause persistent coughing and difficulty breathing.

How is hypertension in dogs treated?

Taking the appropriate steps to lower your dog’s blood pressure depends on why they have it.

In secondary hypertension, the underlying cause of high blood pressure must be discovered and treated first. The common diseases that cause hypertension in dogs include:

  • Kidney disease (chronic renal disease)
  • Cushing’s disease (hyperadrenocorticism)
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Diabetes
  • Adrenal tumor
  • Obesity

Since hypertension is possibly a symptom of a more dangerous condition, it’s vital to take your dog to the veterinarian if you believe they have symptoms. Your vet can test for these diseases and begin a proper treatment plan.

If safe, your veterinarian will also focus on lowering your dog’s blood pressure through medication. The underlying condition will dictate what, if any, diet changes and exercise are appropriate.

Sodium levels for Hill’s Prescription Diet k/d Kidney Care vs. Forza10 Nutraceutic Active Kidney Renal Support food. Images from chewy.com

Nutrition and exercise to lower blood pressure.

When facing primary hypertension, lowering your dog’s blood pressure is done through medication, nutrition, and exercise. Reducing the sodium in their diet is an easy first step.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials standard is 0.3% sodium. Only lower your dog’s diet below AAFCO’s standards when recommended by your veterinarian.

Once you adjust the sodium levels in your dog’s primary food, consider switching their snacks to fruits and vegetables. Most of these healthy snack alternatives have no sodium or are very low in sodium.

High blood pressure is one of the many health risks of obesity in dogs. If your dog is overweight, increase their exercise levels to at least 30 minutes a day and decrease their calorie intake until a healthy weight level is achieved.

Medicine to lower blood pressure.

Aside from nutrition and exercise, medication is commonly prescribed to lower blood pressure. These medications include ACE inhibitors, ARBs, beta-blockers, diuretics, and calcium channel blockers.

  • ACE inhibitors (angiotensin-converting enzymes) relax and widen the blood vessels by blocking the conversion of angiotensin I to angiotensin II. Angiotensin II is responsible for narrowing blood vessels and releasing blood pressure rising hormones.
  • ARB inhibitors (angiotensin receptor blockers) reduce angiotensin II actions to prevent blood vessel constriction.
  • Beta-blockers reduce adrenaline in the body, slow the heart rate, and effectively lowering blood pressure.
  • Diuretics help rid the body of salt. Reducing sodium helps remove water from the system, decreasing the level of excess fluids flowing through the veins.
  • Calcium blockers lower blood pressure by preventing calcium from entering the heart and arteries. Calcium is responsible for the heart and arteries squeezing stronger. By blocking them, the blood vessels can relax and open.

How are dogs’ blood pressure levels tested?

If your dog shows signs of high blood pressure, your veterinarian can complete an indirect, non-invasive test. Like blood pressure tests for humans, your vet will use a blood pressure monitor to place an inflatable cuff around your dog’s leg or the base of its tail. 

The cuff is inflated above the systolic pressure level to stop the blood flow temporarily. The machine will read the systolic and diastolic blood pressures while the cuff slowly deflates.

Anxiety and stress from being at the veterinarian’s office can raise your dog’s blood pressure. For that reason, it’s common to be placed in an exam room with your dog for some time while they relax, usually about 20 minutes.

The veterinarian will take several pressure readings to come to an average blood pressure reading. If your dog receives a positive diagnosis of hypertension, you may need to take frequent blood pressure measurements as you work to correct it.

Can I check my dog’s blood pressure at home?

There are many blood pressure monitors you can purchase online. Most blood pressure monitors provide multiple sizes of cuffs to fit your dog’s leg or the base of their tail.

As an example, this CONTEC Blood Pressure Monitor from Amazon has 6 different sizes. Blood pressure monitors range in price from $50 to $100.

Maintaining healthy blood pressure in dogs. A lab holding its leash asking for a walk.

Maintaining healthy blood pressure levels in your dog.

Once you’ve successfully lowered your dog’s blood pressure, it’s critical to maintain it at a normal level. This is best achieved through a healthy diet and exercise. 

To keep your dog healthy, they should receive at least 30 minutes of exercise each day. Exercise should be a combination of long walks and playtime. 

Like Border Collies and Labradoodles, many active dog breeds require one to two hours of exercise each day.

Even your senior dog requires exercise to keep them healthy. Just be sure not to overextend the workout, especially if they have been inactive. Consider different low-impact activities, like swimming, hide-and-seek, and toys that stimulate their problem-solving. 

Now that you’re exercising, it’s time to maintain a healthy diet. Instead of traditional dog cookies, consider the following vegetables:

  • Cucumber: Cucumbers are 96% water and low in calories, making them a refreshing and healthy snack for dogs — 16 calories per 100 grams.
  • Zucchini: Zucchini is a healthy vegetable for dogs and is low in calories. It’s also a good source of vitamins A, B, and C — 17 calories per 100 grams.
  • Carrots: Carrots are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber for dogs. They’re low in calories and a perfect way to keep your dog’s teeth clean — 41 calories per 100 grams.

For a sweeter treat, you can give your dog fruits, like:

  • Watermelon: This juicy fruit is 90% water and is low in calories, making it a great summer snack for dogs. Be careful to remove the seeds before feeding watermelon to your dog — 30 calories per 100 grams.
  • Strawberries: These low-calorie sweet berries are 91% water and a good source of fiber and protein — 32 calories per 100 grams.
  • Cantaloupe: This sweet melon is also high in water content and low in calories — 34 calories per 100 grams.

If they’re new to fruits and vegetables, make sure to introduce them slowly, so you don’t upset their stomach.

Final thoughts

Nobody knows our dogs better than we do. Observing your dog’s behavioral patterns and health conditions becomes increasingly critical as they age.

Always look for signs of discomfort and pain when waking from a long nap or in the mornings. During or after walks, check that their breathing is normal and they aren’t excessively panting.

Fatigue or difficulty jumping on the sofa can be a sign worth investigating.

Your dog’s appetite can change as they get older. Any changes should be at a gradual pace and not sudden. The same goes for drinking water and urinating.

The best opportunity to provide our pets with a long, healthy life is by giving them enough exercise with healthy diet choices.

Does your dog have high blood pressure? Share tips that have worked for you to lower and manage your dog’s blood pressure.

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