How to manage high blood pressure in dogs

Did you know that dogs, like humans, can suffer from hypertension? Also known as high blood pressure, it’s a common ailment in dogs. Having high blood pressure means that as blood circulates in the body, the force in which it comes against the artery walls is too high. Like with humans, if left untreated, high blood pressure in dogs can cause health complications, so it’s important to know what to look out for and how to keep your furry friend healthy.

What causes high blood pressure in dogs?

Dogs can have one of two types of high blood pressure: primary or secondary, says Georgina Ushi Phillips, DVM, a veterinarian based in West Chapel, Fla., and contributor to Not a Bully.

Primary hypertension doesn’t have a known cause, although genetics likely play a role in some breeds. Secondary hypertension is elevated blood pressure as the result of another health condition, like tumors, kidney disease, or hormonal imbalances. Secondary hypertension is much more common in dogs than primary, said Dr. Phillips, so if a dog has elevated blood pressure, typically there’s an underlying cause.

Diet and high-sodium foods can make hypertension in dogs worse, but one of the biggest contributors for today’s dogs is obesity.

What’s normal blood pressure for dogs?

Healthy blood pressure for most dogs ranges from about 110/60 mmHg to 160/90 mmHg, although the ranges can vary slightly by breed.

Most veterinary clinics will only measure systolic blood pressure, or the first number, which indicates how much pressure the dog’s blood is exerting against its artery walls while the heart beats.

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Because dogs at the vet are often frightened or stressed, this is taken into account when interpreting blood pressure measurements, says Megan Conrad, BVMS, a veterinarian living in Oregon and a member of Hello Ralphie.

RELATED: What are normal blood pressure levels?

How do I know if my dog has high blood pressure?

High blood pressure in dogs isn’t uncommon, but often goes undiagnosed, says Dr. Conrad. The signs are subtle and can be easily missed by dog owners. Hypertension tends to get picked up during a routine wellness exam or when a patient brings in their pet to investigate something unrelated. If you have a senior dog, your vet may be checking blood pressure regularly.

Outside of a vet visit, the symptoms of high blood pressure in dogs to keep an eye out for are:

  • Seizures
  • Changes in urination habits or bloody urine
  • Nose bleeds
  • Confusion, circling, and disorientation 
  • Broken blood vessels in the eye
  • Changes in vision

Because these symptoms aren’t specific to high blood pressure and could have other causes, it’s important to see your vet and get diagnostic work done if your dog is exhibiting any of these symptoms.

How do you treat a dog with high blood pressure?

If your dog has been diagnosed with high blood pressure, there’s no need to panic. 

“Because the majority of dogs suffer from secondary hypertension, treating the underlying condition causing elevated blood pressure is the best approach,” Dr. Phillips says. In most cases, once the other condition is managed, the dog’s blood pressure will return to normal.

Your vet may also recommend lifestyle changes for your dog related to the underlying disease that will help lower blood pressure. For example, if heart disease is the culprit, your dog may need to be on a low-sodium diet. If it’s because your dog is obese, you might need to take the dog out for more walks or reduce its portion sizes to help it lose weight.

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Veterinarians also use a variety of medications to directly manage hypertension, says Dr. Phillips. If your dog is put on medication, it’s important to monitor them regularly, as their medicine type and dose rate may need to be adjusted. These can include ACE inhibitors, beta blockers, or calcium channel blockers, just like the ones humans take to treat hypertension, such as:

  • Zestril (lisinopril)
  • Altace (ramipril)
  • Lotensin (benazepril)
  • Vasotec (enalapril)
  • Norvasc (amlodipine)
  • Phenoxybenzamine
  • Minipress (prazosin)

You can use SingleCare to save up to 80% for pet prescriptions—as long as they are human medications, too. Most medications that you would pick up at your regular pharmacy are eligible for savings when you bring your pet Rx coupon (or the SingleCare app) to the counter.

RELATED: Can I save on medication for my pets?

How do I check my dog’s blood pressure at home?

Once your dog has been diagnosed with hypertension your vet may want frequent blood pressure measurements performed. If this is the case, you may be able to take measurements at home. “Veterinary-specific blood pressure monitors have smaller cuffs for smaller patients but beyond that, the devices are quite similar,” Dr. Phillips explains. 

You can take a blood pressure reading from the tail or any of your dog’s four limbs. If your dog is especially short-limbed, like a dachshund, then the tail will be the best choice. Otherwise, it’s whatever location your dog most easily allows.

For an accurate reading, choosing the cuff size for your dog is important. The rule of thumb is that the width of the cuff should be 40% of the circumference of the dog’s limb, according to Dr. Phillips. A too-narrow cuff will usually show falsely elevated blood pressure, while one that’s too wide will show a falsely low reading. A handy trick is to lay the cuff lengthwise on the dog’s limb (or tail); an appropriately sized cuff will cover a little under half the limb.

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Once you have the correct cuff size and the best location for your dog, it’s time to check the dog’s blood pressure. Higher stress will likely lead to a higher blood pressure reading, so you may want to reduce the dog’s stress before the reading by having it wear the cuff for a few minutes before starting the machine. Help your dog get comfortable with the cuff and reward calm behavior with positive reinforcements like treats, pats, and verbal praise.

Take note of what limb you use during the reading, so you can keep consistent with every blood pressure reading. Take several readings, keeping in mind that the first few may be high unless your dog is used to the process. “Take the median of several readings and document that for future reference,” says Dr. Phillips.

Since most dogs have high blood pressure because of another condition, the best way to keep your dog healthy and its blood pressure in a normal range is to be consistent with your vet’s visits, ensure that they get treated for any other health issues that may arise, and give them lots of pats—the last one may not be medically required, but your dog will approve.


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About the Author: Tung Chi