When your dog goes to the veterinarian, their vital signs and weight are generally checked, but what about dog blood pressure? Think about all of the times you’ve visited the vet with a dog. Has the vet ever offered or asked if you monitor the dog blood pressure at home? Does the vet ever put a cuff on your dog’s leg to take an in-office blood pressure reading? These are the things I think about, and when my own dog was involved in a (fiasco) recent in-office blood pressure check, I realized other dog parents are likely facing the same problem. Should you monitor dog blood pressure and if so, how? Here’s what we’ve discovered and what you need to know.
What Is A Normal Dog Blood Pressure?
Just like people, the cardiovascular condition of a dog is important in understanding what normal is. At the time the blood pressure is taken in office, whether by a vet tech or the veterinarian, the condition of the dog is super important. Generally, speaking, here are the normal arterial blood pressure values of dogs:
Systolic arterial pressure (top number): 90 – 140 mmHg
Diastolic arterial pressure (bottom number): 50 – 80 mmHg
Mean arterial pressure: 60-100 mmHg
There are many factors that can affect a dog’s blood pressure, and this is why you must consider if the blood pressure reading is accurate along with where/when/how it was taken and under what circumstances. As a general rule, blood pressure should not go above 160/100 mmHG in most dogs.
The upper number, systolic, measures the pressure when the heart contracts. The bottom number, diastolic, represents what happens when the heart relaxes between contractions.
Should Dog Blood Pressure Occur At Regular Vet Visits?
According to integrative veterinarian, Dr. Julie Buzby, the short answer is no. She says that veterinary professionals across the board all agree on this answer, which is very rare. Buzby tells me that The American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine put out a “consensus statement” on blood pressure in dogs (Acierno, et al 2018) which concludes that routine BP screening for healthy dogs is not recommended.
This is for two reasons:
1. Primary hypertension (meaning high blood pressure not secondary to another disease) is not common in dogs and certainly much less common than people.
2. Routine blood pressure screening would likely lead to the discovery of a ton of false positive cases.
However, there are some exceptions:
First, if a dog has an underlying medical diagnosis which predisposes him or her to an elevated BP (like renal disease or Cushing’s syndrome) then routine monitoring is very important.
Second, dogs on certain medications that impact blood pressure—such as the commonly prescribed urinary incontinence drug named Proin, which can cause hypertension—should be routinely screened.
Finally, we have the senior dog category to discuss. We know that early detection of health issues increases the chance of a good outcome. The 2018 ACVIM Consensus Statement says, “…It is reasonable to institute annual screening of cats and dogs equal to or over 9 years of age.”
Dangers of Dog Blood Pressure Results
Dogs can get super nervous or fearful at a vet visit, and for those dogs who are generally okay for medical visits, taking their blood pressure can greatly upset a dog. This happened to us on a recent visit to a veterinary hospital with our Cocker Spaniel, Dexter.
As part of his cardiology care, Dexter had a followup visit for blood work, chest x-ray, and blood pressure check. I asked the vet tech if I could go back with my dog to help keep him calm while his blood pressure reading was taken. Understanding and respecting that the techs need to do their jobs, I also have my dog’s best interests in mind. A calming mommy presence is likely to produce a calmer dog and more accurate reading. The tech asked I don’t come back since it is a vet hospital. I just had a gut feeling this wasn’t going to turn out well.
Dexter flipped out at the sound and feeling of the blood pressure cuff on his arm. This is the first time in 10 years he had his blood pressure checked, and clearly, the super high systolic number indicated his thrashing and nerves. After speaking to his cardiologist, he shared that we would not be exposing Dexter to this again. I am not 100 percent certain if my dog has his blood pressure checked during his nearly one-week stay in the vet hospital for IMT, but this is the first in-office blood pressure check of which I am aware.
Dangers of monitoring a dog’s blood pressure include:
- White coat syndrome: Just like people, dogs can be nervous, worried, or upset when they visit a medical professional. It is a real phenomenon that occurs. Dr. Buzby says that sedating a dog for the purpose of blood pressure monitoring would skew the results.
- Not allowing the dog to relax and rest in the office for 10 to 20 minutes. Dr. Buzby is adept at this, stating, “I ask clients to come in 15-20 minutes before their appointment. I put the dog in a quiet room, often with the lights off (if the room has natural lighting), and ask the client to play music on their phone. Then the technicians come to take the BP after giving the dog time to relax from the car ride and initial excitement of arrival. For best results, several readings are taken and averaged.
- Incorrect blood pressure cuff size: This is one of the most common reasons for an inaccurate dog blood pressure reading. The cuff used for an Irish Wolfhound certainly differs from the size used for a Maltese. Studies have shown that using too small of a blood pressure cuff can cause a patient’s systolic blood pressure measurement to increase by 10 to 40 mmHg.
- Incorrect blood pressure cuff placement: Veterinarians and vet techs are trained to place the cuff in the correct area and to elevate the dog’s paw to heart level for accuracy. A general rule of thumb is to place the cuff at the same height as the dog’s heart on its forelimb. Sometimes the cuff is placed at the base of the dog’s tail. Large dogs are supposed to lie down or sit with their paw held out at heart level. Smaller dogs can be held or lie on the exam table.
- Full bladder: Dogs who have not urinated to empty their bladder prior to the blood pressure check may have a false positive. In some cases, the systolic blood pressure can rise as much as 10 to 15 mmHg if the bladder is full.
- Medications: Just like people, medication can affect blood pressure.
How To Monitor Dog Blood Pressure At Home
Being the savvy dog mom I am, and wanting to be hands-on and proactive in my dog’s care, I asked about monitoring my dog’s blood pressure at home. Could I simply purchase a human blood pressure kit and use a smaller cuff for my dog? Are there veterinary blood pressure kits for sale?
Apparently, I stirred the controversial pot. Dr. Buzby shares that a client could purchase veterinary equipment and be taught to monitor their dog’s blood pressure at home, but should they? She questions whether the benefits outweigh the risks.
Checking blood pressure at home isn’t the same as checking blood sugar levels, which Buzby is a fan of since it is quick and easy and the machine reads the blood sample at home.
“With blood pressure reading, there is a bigger learning curve and more chances to get things wrong,” Buzby reports. “Results will be drastically impacted by cuff size error and/or placement error.”
Further, human blood pressure cuffs are not validated for dogs or cats. She also suspects that human machines use a different algorithm than those designed for pets, but cannot confirm this with certainty. She feels that most vets would not feel comfortable making medication adjustments based on DIY home blood pressure readings because of the liability risk.
Buzby was kind enough to poll some of her veterinary colleagues on this topic, and the answers varied. The general consensus was no, dog parents should not be monitoring their dog’s blood pressure at home for the reasons mentioned above.
One colleague told a story of the dog owned by a human physician whom 2 different veterinary facilities diagnosed with hypertension and wanted to start on medications. The owner didn’t believe the diagnosis and bought a human pediatric BP monitor, and began monitoring the dog. He declared the pressures to be fine at home and refused to start medication. Over time, my colleague watched the dog develop organ disease consistent with hypertension and believes that not treating the dog’s high BP was a significant contributor to his demise.
A search on Amazon reveals what is being called Cat/Dog/Animal/Vet Automatic Blood Pressure Monitor Electronic Sphygmomanometer Tonometer. I don’t recommend these for the factors listed above. There are also veterinary grade machines, but they are both costly and still come with the risks discussed.
Here’s an actual video from a veterinary medical company designed to share with vet techs learning to take blood pressure. You can see the positioning of the large dog and some of the factors we mentioned. Below that is a veterinarian showing how to measure blood pressure on the dog in office. Note his professional equipment and calm dog, two extremely important factors in accuracy of measurement.
When Is Dog Blood Pressure Monitoring Warranted?
Today’s Veterinary Nurse reports there are specific times for blood pressure monitor, and those include:
- During anesthesia, when patients are anticipated to become cardiovascularly compromised due to the effects of anesthetic drugs, type of surgery performed, and nature of the patient’s disease.
- In an emergency/critical care setting, in which the condition of the patient changes from minute to minute.
- In general practice, to obtain and help identify early markers of disease during baseline health checks.
- In patients with known or suspected hypotension or hypertension due to underlying diseases.
Dogs with conditions such as kidney disease, diabetes, thyroid issues, obesity, heart issues, for example, should have their blood pressure monitored in office. Getting an accurate reading has its share of barriers, but it can be done.
Informal polling of members of our Club Cocker Facebook group reveals that some dogs are fine with blood pressure readings and relax during it as if they were at a spa treatment. Other dogs, like mine, want no part of it. The balance between accuracy and need vs. false results is a tricky one at best.
As for us, I will do home monitoring of vital signs, including the very important resting respiratory rate as part of Dexter’s mitral valve care.
If you are like me and enjoy learning more about dog health topics, here are some of the resources we used for this piece and further reading:
Have you ever had your dog’s blood pressure monitored? What has been your experience? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.