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High blood pressure is an extremely important concern in human medicine.
But what about our pets?
They don’t live the same high-stress lifestyle that most humans do — and they're not usually indulging in high-salt or high-fat diets — so why would they develop high blood pressure?
The truth is that hypertension, or high blood pressure, is actually much more common than you'd think in pets.
In people, the most common cause of hypertension is called primary or essential, meaning that there is no underlying disease causing it. Pets, on the other hand, most commonly develop secondary hypertension, which means that it is associated with an underlying medical condition.
Here's a look at how the condition is diagnosed in pets — and what veterinarians will do to combat it.
Most people are familiar with the normal blood pressure measurement of “120 over 80” in humans, which refers to a systolic blood pressure of 120 and a diastolic blood pressure of 80. The systolic pressure reading designates the highest pressure reached, while the diastolic pressure represents the lowest pressure present in the arteries during a heartbeat cycle.
Veterinarians do not apply these same values to pets. Since many of them can get easily stressed by a trip in the car or a veterinary visit, a slightly higher normal range of up to “160 over 100” is allowed. And veterinarians most often rely on systolic blood pressure readings, since diastolic pressures are more difficult to obtain in animals because of their small size.
When a pet has hypertension, it means that their blood vessels have become too narrow to handle the elevated pressure flow of blood. A helpful analogy is that of a garden hose hooked up to a fire hydrant — the high pressure from the hydrant could cause the hose to contract and potentially pop. The same thing can happen to blood vessels.
Typically, the affected vessels in pets are small, so the actual bleeding, as well as the resulting lack of blood flow to the area, is not noticeable until more significant damage occurs over time. The same can be said of hypertension in humans — there are often no signs of this "silent killer" until major damage is done.
Dogs and cats are considered hypertensive and at risk for organ damage when they have systolic blood pressures that are greater than 160 or diastolic blood pressures over 100.
One organ that's commonly affected by hypertension is the eye. Damage to the back of the eye, called the retina, may result in sudden or gradual blindness in pets. An owner may notice that his pet has dilated pupils, which do not constrict with light, or the pet bumps into objects because of impaired vision or blindness.
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