When’s the last time you had your blood pressure checked? If you’re like most of us, probably within the last year or two. Would it surprise you to learn that blood pressure can be checked in cats and dogs, too? Actually, a blood pressure reading can be an important part of monitoring your pet’s overall health.
The heart of a cat or dog is similar to ours in many ways. Basically, the heart is a big muscle, and every time it contracts, it pushes blood through the arteries that carry oxygen-rich blood to the tissues of the body. Blood pressure is the force that the blood exerts as it pushes against the walls of the arteries each time the heart beats. When arteries become narrower, blood pressure increases, and if not treated, the increased pressure (hypertension) can cause a lot of damage in your pet’s body.
While high blood pressure can cause damage throughout the body, organs that are supplied by many tiny blood vessels are especially susceptible to damage from high blood pressure. The smaller the vessel, the less pressure it can withstand. Think of a garden hose being hooked up to a fire hydrant. The pressure of the water is too high for a hose this narrow, and pretty soon areas of the hose start to give. In the body, organs such as the kidneys, the retina of the eye, and the valves of the heart are commonly damaged by hypertension. Sometimes in an animal that has had undiagnosed hypertension for a long time, the first sign is sudden blindness.
Blood pressure in a cat or dog can be measured with equipment quite similar to that used on humans. And just like us, their blood pressure can go up when they get stressed. This makes it trickier to get an accurate blood pressure reading on an animal- especially a cat- but with experience, it can be done. Hypertension in animals is usually secondary to (caused by) some underlying disease, so if your veterinarian thinks your pet has high blood pressure, they will begin to look for a disease that could be causing the hypertension, such as kidney failure or diabetes.
Hypertension is more common in cats than dogs, and more common in older rather than young or middle-aged animals. However, it’s not a bad idea to have even a young pet’s blood pressure checked. First, if your pet does have hypertension, your veterinarian can begin to treat it early before more damage is done. Second, even if your pet’s blood pressure reading is normal now, your veterinarian can record the number in your pet’s chart and use it as a baseline to compare future readings to.
Because high blood pressure can be so damaging to a pet’s health, it’s well worth your while to bring this subject up the next time you take your pet to the veterinarian.