Dear Lisa: When my Standard Poodle had his yearly check-up I noticed that the vet didn't take his blood pressure, which is something they check first on us humans and at regular intervals. Why wasn't this test done on my dog? --Pressed about Procedures
You are very observant to notice such a difference between dog exams and human check-ups. High blood pressure or hypertension, just like in humans, can be a serious condition without outward symptoms. Long-term damage to the heart, liver and kidney can occur as a result of this condition.
When one of my dogs was admitted to the hospital, the vet discovered, by accident, that he had very high blood pressure with the top or systolic number at 200. The vet told me that dog blood pressure numbers should be almost equivalent to humans. For example, after they put my dog on a drug known as a "beta blocker" to address his problem, his pressure was stabilized at 108.
The incidence of high blood pressure in the general dog population is not known and it is most often associated with an underlying disease. The most common possibilities would be renal disease, Cushings, diabetes mellitus, and pheochromocytoma. In addition, the procedure to check it isn't as simple as with humans and costs may vary. Vets and their technicians use a little cuff on the dog's leg and another piece of equipment rather than the stethoscope to measure the results. The technique can be difficult to master thus complicating getting an accurate reading.
Currently there are no tables for breed "normals" for vets to follow. Equally challenging for vets is that there are conflicting standards for what is abnormal and what influences the readings. Routine readings of blood pressure are relatively new and still usually only done as part of a cardiac evaluation. Hypertension is usually assessed when the systolic blood pressure is over 160-180 mm Hg or when the diastolic pressure is greater than 100 mmHg.
In addition, experts wonder how the "white coat" effect (where you go to the doctor and have a higher than normal reading because you are all nervous about being at the doctor's in the first place) affects animals.
You should ask your vet if he has the equipment and expertise to take your dog's blood pressure and, if so, add that check to his yearly exam.
If you have a question, send it to Lisa at AskLisa@AKC.org and she may select it for a future column. Due to the high volume of questions she cannot offer individual responses.