Dog Heart / Blood Pressure
Heart / Blood Pressure
are the same as humans when it comes to heart disease. It can be
either present at birth – a congenital faulty heart condition, or
acquired – often developing over time during middle age and affecting
many older dogs. Both types can end up with the same serious result
which a condition is called heart failure.
visits to your veterinarian could mean the difference between a
long life and premature death. Dogs are susceptible to many forms
of heart disease, but in most cases, heart disease can be successfully
managed with early detection and treatment, and he can live a decent
and happy life. Although there is no cure for most heart disease
in dogs, new treatments are available. Success of treatment depends
on various factors, but early detection is always best. By following
your veterinarian’s recommendations, you can help your dog live
a longer, more comfortable life.
disease in dogs is often caused by defects in the valves or the
heart muscle (myocardium), and less commonly by tumors.
most prevalent type of acquired heart disease, Chronic Valvular
Disease (CVD), is also known as mitral regurgitation, mitral valve
disease and valvular insufficiency, among other names. In CVD, the
heart valves gradually lose the ability to close effectively, causing
abnormalities in blood flow.
second most common kind of acquired canine heart disease, Dilated
Cardiomyopathy (DCM), caused the muscular walls of the heart to
become thinned and weakened, and the chambers to dilate. When the
heart muscle becomes dilated it results in a reduced output of blood.
Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) means the heart muscle becomes dysfunctional
over time; however, there are drugs available that can help treat
CVD and DCM result in heart failure -which is a major threat to
your dog’s health. Heart failure results from the heart’s inability
to pump blood at a rate required to meet the body’s needs. While
continuing to work harder to pump blood, further heart damage can
with heart failure may retain salt (sodium chloride) and water in
their bodies, and this leads to fluid retention. Fluid may accumulate
in the lungs and in the abdomen, leading to coughing, difficulty
in breathing, and abdominal distension. If the heart is not working
as an efficient pump, the amount of blood circulating to the body
will be decreased, causing fatigue, weakness, and pale-looking gums.
of heart failure include:
coughing or hacking
– Lack of energy and stamina
– Edema (swelling)
– Signs of poor circulation
– Irregular and rapid breathing
– Decreased appetite and weight loss
– Shortness of Breath
– Excessive Weakness (little or no desire to exercise – resist going
for walks or runs)
– Abdominal Swelling (bloated appearance from fluid buildup)
– Heart: Impaired pumping ability
– Kidneys: Sodium and water retention
– Lungs: Fluid build up
– Veins and Arteries: constricted blood vessels and increased resistance
to blood flow
of the early stages of heart failure in dogs have no visible signs,
and need to be diagnosed through a clinical evaluation by a veterinarian.
Dogs with mild to moderate heart failure typically experience heart
enlargement, coughing, lethargy and difficulty breathing. Severe
heart failure is characterized by difficulty breathing (even at
rest), fainting, profound intolerance to exercise, loss of appetite
and weight loss.
veterinarian may ask you for specific information about your dog
before performing a thorough physical examination, and he may want
to do a series of tests. Testing is very important for early detection
of heart disease in dogs.
heart disease is suspected, your vet will discuss and offer some
of the following laboratory and imaging choices:
and Chemistry is important because often heart disease is seen in
association with other diseases such as kidney and liver diseases.
– Radiographs (X-Ray) to see if the heart is enlarged which is typical
of certain types of heart disease, to see if there are tumors, if
the lungs are very congested, and to see if there is fluid around
(This test is not likely to tell anything specific about the heart,
but it’s included in the work up of pets suspected of serious disease
because most serious diseases also involve other organ system. This
fairly inexpensive test of urine gives a vet a good feel for the
health of the kidneys and bladder as well as hints about pancreatic,
liver, and gall bladder health, along with helping on an assessment
of tissue hydration.)
help rule out cardiac blocks and arrthymias, electrical conduction
problems of the heart, and also cardiac enlargement.
Ultra Sound, Angiograms, MRI’s, Cat Scans, and other types of Imaging
veterinarian will also test to rule out Heartworm Disease.
for heart failure may include feeding a low sodium diet, restricting
exercise, and giving your dog one or more types of drugs. These
drugs are used to increase the strength of contraction of the heart
muscle, encourage water loss in the urine, and dilate the blood
vessels so the heart can more easily circulate the blood.
your vet carefully assesses your dog’s individual needs, and you
commit to looking after your dog properly at home, he may be able
to lead a relatively comfortable life.
Your veterinarian can recommend a schedule of regular visits and
discuss a treatment plan that can help.
addition, there is a lot you can do to keep your dog happy and in
top shape. Ensure that your dog gets a moderate amount of exercise
on a regular basis and has a balanced diet, because an obese dog
may have a harder time staying healthy and any extra weight may
put more stress on the heart and lungs. If your dog is overweight,
you may be advised to try a low-calorie diet.
sodium diet may help to minimize fluid retention in your dog and
stop him from coughing and feeling uncomfortable. Special diets
for dogs with heart disease are
expertly formulated to ensure that all your dog’s nutritional needs
are met. They may also be supplemented with the extra B vitamins
that are lost in the urine if your pet is on diuretic drug therapy.
with heart disease may have a decreased appetite from feeling unwell
the drugs they need to take. So special diets must not only benefit
their health, but must also taste good. Your vet will work with
you to encourage your dog to eat an appropriate diet. Be sure to
feed the prescribed diet as your vet advises, and only to the affected
dog if there are multiple dogs in the home.
not to feed your dog any snacks or treats unless your vet says this
because these may contain a higher level of sodium than your pet
The Bottom Line:
of the heart problems that affect humans can also affect your pet.
– Pacemakers are available for animals and work much the same way
as those in humans to help regulate heart beats.
– If drugs or other treatments fail, heart surgery is available,
but it tends to be very expensive and the age of the animal is always
– New medicines, radiology, injecting dye into arteries to locate
blockage – all of these have helped tremendously in treating heart
– Heartworms occur when a mosquito bites a heartworm-infected animal
and then bites a non-infected dog or cat. Worms several inches long
can grow inside the heart muscle and will cause illness or death
if left untreated.
– Chagas disease is another heart ailment caused by a parasite and
causes heart abnormalities, but it can be successfully treated with
– It’s important to remember that pets that do have heart trouble
may need to modify their daily routine, but they often can still
have a reasonable life span.
Pressure in Dogs
body has a complex control system that maintains blood pressure
within a normal range. Your veterinarian will refer to diastolic
and systolic pressure – these two values represent the peak (systolic)
and trough (diastolic) of the pressure levels that occur with each
contraction and relaxation of the heart.
the overall pressure within the blood vessels becomes high, it is
called “systemic (affecting the whole body) hypertension,” or “high
blood pressure” – and usually develops gradually. Problems from
high blood pressure arise when a blood vessel gets too small for
the high pressure flow going through it.
The circulatory system reaches every square inch of the body, so
the effects of the pressure buildup in the blood vessels are far-reaching.
Diagnosis of systemic hypertension may require an in-depth evaluation
of your animal’s internal health status.
in the eyes such as sudden blindness when blood vessels rupture
in the back (retina) of the eye or the retina detaches
– Blood in the urine from kidney damage
– Bloody nasal discharge
many animals with high blood pressure show no signs of it, and the
only way to diagnose it definitely is to measure the pressure in
the circulatory system.
of the big problems with diagnosing high blood pressure in animals
is obtaining an accurate blood pressure measurement. Just as humans
get nervous at the doctor’s office where blood pressure measurements
reflect stress rather than their normal levels, the same phenomenon
occurs in some animals when they see the veterinarian, and can lead
to falsely elevated blood pressure readings. But this will be taken
into account when reading blood pressure. Overall, most pets are
able to maintain normal blood pressure in spite of being surrounded
by hospital staff.
veterinarian may perform diagnostic tests, such as blood work, urinalysis,
and hormone assays (for example, thyroid hormone). Imaging studies
such as radiographs (X-rays) or ultrasound (visualization of deep
body tissues by recording ultrasonic waves) of the chest and abdomen
may identify related problems.
are numerous diseases in pets that are associated with high blood
Renal (kidney) Failure
– Cushing’s Disease (an adrenal cortisone excess)
– Diabetes Mellitus (inability to properly reduce blood sugar)
– Acromegaly (growth hormone excess)
– Glomerular Disease (a disease of the kidney filtration system)
– Polycythemia (an excess in red blood cells)
– Pheochromocytoma (an adrenaline secreting tumor of the adrenal
humans, high blood pressure is frequently considered “primary” meaning
there is no other disease causing it. However, in animals primary
hypertension is unusual because there almost always is another disease
causing it and if routine screening does not identify the problem,
more tests may be in order. If a pet has one of the above diseases
conditions, blood pressure is generally checked. It has recently
been recommended that older pets have their blood pressure checked
whenever they have a physical examination. If you own a pet over
age nine, be sure to ask for a blood pressure check if one has not
been recommended to you.
other time high blood pressure is discovered is when it makes its
presence known. This usually means some degree of blindness or some
other obvious eye problem. The retina of a hypertensive patient
develops tortuous looking retinal blood vessels. Some vessels may
even have broken showing smudges of blood on the retinal surface.
Some areas of the retina simply detach, or even the entire retina
detaches. With early identification, some vision may be restored.
Do not let minor vision changes go unreported. Let your veterinarian
know if you think your pet’s vision is not normal.
Retinal changes can be complicated to interpret. Do not be surprised
or alarmed if your veterinarian recommends referral to a veterinary
Measuring Blood Pressure in Pets:
pressure measurement is performed similarly to the way it is in
humans. An inflatable cuff is fit snugly around the foot or foreleg
of the pet. Sometimes the base of the tail can be used. The cuff
is inflated so as to occlude (block off) blood flow through the
superficial artery. In humans, as the cuff is slowly deflated a
stethoscope is used to listen for the point when the blood pressure
is adequate to pump through the partially occluded vessel. This
point on the pressure gauge is the “systolic” blood pressure. The
cuff is further deflated until the vessel is open and no more sounds
are made. This point represents the “diastolic” blood pressure.
in animals the stethoscope is not sensitive enough and an ultrasonic
must be taped or held over the artery. Using ultrasound, the sound
of the systolic pressure is converted into an audible signal. It
is not possible to measure diastolic pressure in a pet without actually
placing a catheter inside an artery so vets make do with just a
systolic measurement. In pets, this measurement should not exceed
High Blood Pressure in Pets:
hypertension is identified, a search for the underlying cause is
indicated. It may be that controlling the underlying disease totally
reverses the hypertension (especially true for hyperthyroid cats).
treatment for systemic hypertension depends on the severity of the
high blood pressure and the clinical signs. The animal usually is
managed on an outpatient basis unless the condition has progressed
to the point where serious complications, such as eye damage, are
identified. Reducing salt intake may be recommended as part of the
animals with systemic hypertension require medication to lower their
blood pressures. Medications commonly used include vasodilators
that expand (dilate) the blood vessels and diuretics to remove excess
body fluids. Sometimes a combination of medications may be needed
in order to control the blood pressure adequately and to minimize
any side effects.
such as enalapril, amlodipine besylate, diltiazem, and spironolactone
can be prescribed to improve your dog’s health.
ocular (eye) disease is present, special eye drops may be required
depending on how much bleeding is present in the eye and whether
or not return of vision is likely.
An ophthalmology specialist may be especially able to help.
restriction in the diet is a good idea. Your dog may benefit from
a special therapeutic diet that your veterinarian can prescribe.
This generally means a dry or canned formula
prescription diet if the pet will eat it or a diet limited to dry
food if the pet will not accept prescription food. Appropriate home
cooked diets may be designed through a veterinary nutritionist.
patients should be rechecked every two to four months to keep their
blood pressure in a healthy range.
blood pressure generally can be controlled with medications and
if possible, correction of the underlying cause. As with most conditions,
the prognosis for animals with systemic hypertension ultimately
depends on the underlying reason for the high blood pressure. The
prognosis for animals with hypertension due to kidney failure is
generally poor. The prognosis is fair in animals with adrenal gland
disease and generally good with thyroid disease. The most important
aspect affecting the animal’s future is that the problem be identified
before serious organ damage occurs. Once the elevated blood pressure
produces wear and tear on the delicate blood vessels of the eye
and kidney -permanent tissue damage is a concern.
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