High blood pressure, also called hypertension, affects pets as well as people. Pet owners are often unaware that their pets may be at risk for this condition and that it can be dangerous if not treated.
John N. Stallone, a professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, studies hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases in pets. He discusses the common causes and symptoms of hypertension, as well as the methods used to treat this disease and bring blood pressure down to normal levels.
In people, high blood pressure is usually diagnosed as essential hypertension, which is when the cause of the elevated blood pressure is unknown. In contrast, high blood pressure in pets is most likely a result of other diseases and health conditions.
Most people are unaware that their pet has hypertension until it is detected during a visit to the veterinarian.
“In general, high blood pressure does not have any symptoms, which is why it is often called ‘the silent killer’ by the American Heart Association,” Stallone said.
If symptoms do appear, they are usually during advanced stages of hypertension. He said that in these stages, vital organs such as the kidneys, eyes, brain and heart may be damaged. Symptoms of organ damage include renal failure, blindness, stroke and shortness of breath. In extreme cases, paralysis and heart failure may occur.
Additionally, Stallone said that some of the most common causes of high blood pressure in pets are diseases of the kidney, adrenal gland and thyroid gland. This could include renal failure, renal infections or tumors, adrenal hormone abnormalities and an overactive or underactive thyroid gland.
If you suspect that your pet has a disease that puts them at risk for high blood pressure, visit a veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment.
“Treatment of high blood pressure in your pet will depend upon the cause of the hypertension, but most commonly, medications would be used to lower blood pressure directly,” Stallone said.
Besides direct treatment with anti-hypertensive drugs, veterinarians may also suggest treating the underlying cause of the high blood pressure. For example, drugs may be given to block an overactive thyroid gland, if that were found to be the cause of the hypertension.
“If these underlying problems are treated successfully, then blood pressure can return to normal and anti-hypertensive drugs can be discontinued,” he said.
Pets with hypertension will need frequent visits to the veterinarian for blood pressure checks and treatment of the underlying disease, but after treatment they should be able to return to a normal routine.
Like with any other medical condition, the first step is visiting a veterinarian to identify the problem and create a treatment plan best suited for your pet’s needs.