Locally-Owned in Oakdale and St. Paul, Minnesota

The Importance of Monitoring Your Pet’s Blood Pressure

A blood pressure monitor, stethoscope, and heart-shaped figure over a printed ECF results report.

If your pet collapses or experiences respiratory distress, these are considered “RED” – or true emergencies – on our Fast Track Triage system. We advise you to seek immediate veterinary care. Please call ahead of your arrival so the veterinary team knows to expect you!

Every time humans visit their doctors, their blood pressure is likely measured. The reason for such vigilance is that high blood pressure is a serious concern that causes many complications, and it is responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths annually in the United States.

What about our pets? Our pets can develop high blood pressure too (called “systemic hypertension”), and this hypertension affects our pets’ organs in a negative way Therefore, it is important to check our pets blood pressure periodically and during every urgent care or emergency visit. 

A vet tech holding a cat on an exam table.

Why do pets develop high blood pressure?  

Humans usually experience “primary” high blood pressure, meaning that there is no underlying disease that is causing hypertension. However, in pets, primary hypertension is uncommon. There are many diseases that lead to “secondary” high blood pressure in our pets, such as: 

  • Chronic kidney disease  
  • Hyperthyroidism (cats only) 
  • Glomerular disease (tick-borne disease can cause issues in the glomeruli in the kidneys) 
  • Cushing’s disease (an excess of steroids from the adrenal gland)
  • Diabetes mellitus (blood sugar levels are too high)
  • Hyperaldosteronism
  • Acromegaly (growth hormone excess)
  • Pheochromocytoma (a tumor of the adrenal gland) 

Why is high blood pressure dangerous? 

Many organs in the body suffer damage when exposed to high blood pressure, especially when hypertension is chronic.  

  • Sudden or gradual blindness is often the first clue that there is high blood pressure due to the effects on the retina in the back of the eye 
  • The kidneys are also a target of hypertension, and in fact, the relationship with high blood pressure and kidneys is complicated.  Kidney disease often causes high blood pressure, and high blood pressure often causes kidney damage (or worsens the disease that was already there).  
  • The heart is also severely affected by high blood pressure. (However, heart disease does not cause high blood pressure, unlike kidney disease. In fact, patients with severe heart disease often have low blood pressure due to poor cardiac output.) 
  • High blood pressure can also cause blood clots and brain bleeds.  

In human medicine, high blood pressure is often calledthe silent killer” because many people with hypertension are unaware that their blood pressure is abnormal. Similarly, in pets, there are very few signals to a pet owner that an animal’s blood pressure may be high. Loss of vision/blindness, due to the retina detaching from the back of the eye, is one of the few symptoms that is obvious to pet owners, and clearly, we want to identify high blood pressure before a pet’s vision is compromised. Therefore, screening (especially for senior pets or pets with the above conditions) is important.  

Also please note: a sudden decrease in movement or balance could indicate a stroke or brain hemorrhage, especially if the animal is not in pain. Any acute neurologic abnormalities should be promptly evaluated by a veterinarian.  

Two images collaged together. The first image is of a vet tech restraining a cat on an exam table while another vet tech monitors the cat's blood pressure. The second image is a close-up of the blood pressure monitoring device and the cat.

How does my pet’s veterinary team determine if my pet has high blood pressure? 

The most commonly-used device to measure blood pressure in animals is called a Doppler blood pressure monitor. Here is how your pet’s veterinary clinic will measure your pet’s blood pressure:  

  • An ultrasonic probe is held over the artery on the underside of the pet’s paw, and a cuff is inflated until an audible pulse signal is no longer heard through the machine. 
  • As the cuff is deflated, the first pulse that can be heard again represents the animal’s systolic blood pressure(It is very challenging to measure diastolic pressure in a pet accurately without placing a catheter inside an artery.)  
    • In pets, the systolic blood pressure should not exceed 160 mmHg. A normal reading is 120 mmHg, but we “allow” readings up to 160 mmHg to account for potential nervousness in the veterinary clinic, also known as “white coat syndrome.”  
  • Know that your pet’s veterinary team will often take five blood pressure measurements to allow the animal to acclimate to the procedure and realize that no pain is involved.  
    • The American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine considers a reading of 180 mmHg to represent a high risk for organ damage.   
    • If the initial few readings are high, it is encouraged for the pet to spend time with his/her guardian in a low-stress environment for 10-15 minutes, and the blood pressure measurement can be repeated in this environment with its guardian present (if not present originally).  There are multiple solutions for pets who may experience apprehension in the clinic. 

A dog lying on an exam table while a vet tech monitors her blood pressure.  

How is hypertension treated? 

When high blood pressure is discovered, we need to begin a search for the underlying cause. Examples include 

  • Treatment of hyperthyroidism in cats often reverses the hypertension completely. 
  • Kidney disease can be managed/slowed with dietary changes and medications. 
  •  Eye disease may require a prescription for eye drops, depending on whether a return of vision is likely (in the case of retinal detachment and blindness).  

Often, medication to lower blood pressure is prescribedFollow-up visits to determine if the prescription is effectively lowering the blood pressure are essential – there will likely be a few rechecks in the initial treatment phase. Once hypertension is controlled, recheck measurements are recommended every 3 months.  

A close-up image of a woman snuggling her dog.

If you have any questions or concerns about monitoring your pet’s blood pressure, talk to your family veterinarian or your board-certified veterinary cardiologist.  

Learn more about our Cardiology Service here 

More Reading:  

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