Between time of 2007 and 2019, the amount of active board certified veterinary specialists increased by 32 percent according to the American Veterinary Medical Association's market research statistics. While nearly all specialties experienced growth in the last decade, the area of cardiology leads those having a 46 percent rise in the amount of active veterinary cardiologists during the last Ten years.

More cardiologists, together with better informed owners, has led to a larger diagnosis of cardiovascular disease in dogs and cats. And a common precursor to heart disease in pets may be the presence of hypertension, also known as hypertension.

Pet parents should understand the causes, signs and treatment options, for example pet prescription heart and blood pressure medication, in dogs and cats to assist prevent or delay longer-term heart complications in the future.

Causes of High Blood Pressure in Dogs and Cats

High blood pressure level in cats and dogs is the place a pet's arteries are too narrow or too “stiff,” making it so the heart muscle (specifically the left ventricle) has to work harder.

In pets, hypertension is often the consequence of another disease process. Common reasons for high blood pressure in dogs and cats include:

  • Kidney disease
  • Cushing's disease
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Hyperthyroidism

Other organs commonly affected by systemic hypertension would be the eyes, kidneys and also the brain.

How High Blood Pressure Plays a role in Heart Disease in Dogs and Cats

As the left ventricle works to pump harder, the elevated workload leads to a pet's heart muscle to stiffen and lose its functionality. Hypertension can also result in the dysfunction of the mitral and/or the aortic valve.

If muscle and/or valve dysfunction becomes severe, pressure within the heart and the veins that drain in to the heart becomes too high, forcing fluid from the circulation and into surrounding tissues like the lungs. This is known as congestive heart failure.

Signs or the signs of congestive heart failure in cats and dogs include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing
  • Low energy level
  • Fainting

Diagnosing Hypertension in Dogs and Cats

Veterinarians are typically able to diagnose high blood pressure in cats and dogs by obtaining a pet's complete medical history, conducting a physical exam, and performing blood and urine testing. In some instances, additional testing (such as an ultrasound) is necessary.

Treating and Preventing Hypertension in Dogs and Cats

There are treatments available that can greatly assist regulate high blood pressure and improve a pet's quality of life.

If your pet continues to be identified as having hypertension, it's important to have your dog's blood pressure checked regularly. Older pets are more likely than younger animals to build up hypertension, so senior dogs and cats may require testing with an annual or semi-annual basis.

The current strategy to hypertension in cats and dogs is daily oral medication that can help to dilate the arteries, for example ACE inhibitors or calcium channel blockers. Most pets tolerate these medications well and experience minimal adverse side effects.

But how about preventing or reversing hypertension? Several studies in individuals have shown that diet plays a significant role in the development and progression of hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Veterinarians and nutritionists (like those at Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine) are presently investigating the potential link between nutrition and also the growth and development of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease in cats and dogs.

If certain diets can handle preventing and/or reversing chronic diseases in pets, this could provide an alternative treatment pathway for countless chronically ill animals. It might be merely a matter of time before look for that the food we feed our pets has much better impact on their health than we have ever thought possible.

Dr. Sarah M. Cavanaugh (Scruggs), DVM, MS, DACVIM (Cardiology) is the assistant professor, Small Animal Medicine at Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine.