Just like people, dogs can suffer from hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. Systemic hypertension refers to high blood pressure throughout the body, while pulmonary hypertension refers to higher-than-normal blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs.
Pulmonary hypertension, in particular, can dramatically shorten your dog’s life and cause sudden death. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of the symptoms and the steps you to take if you suspect your dog is suffering from this condition.
What Causes Pulmonary Hypertension in Dogs?
The heart is responsible for pumping deoxygenated blood into the lungs. Then, once the blood has collected oxygen from its trip through the lungs, the heart pumps it back throughout the rest of the body. Because the heart and lungs work in concert, many of the causes behind pulmonary hypertension are tied to the heart. That includes any blockage in the pulmonary artery (the main artery from the heart into the lungs), heart disease on the left side of the heart (which can lead to fluid in the lungs), or congenital heart defects.
But the lungs can be the root cause of pulmonary hypertension in dogs, as well. For example, heartworm disease affects the lungs, as can other disorders, such as pneumonia or bronchitis. Scarring, tumors, or blood clots in the lung tissue are other culprits. Plus, anything that causes low oxygen levels in the blood, such as living at high altitudes or lung disease, can eventually lead to pulmonary hypertension.
Finally, other conditions like Cushing’s disease (overactive adrenal glands), pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), immune disorders, or obesity can be factors. Although there is a wide range of causes of pulmonary tension, most dogs who develop this condition are seniors. Small-breed dogs are at higher risk than large breeds, and female dogs are more commonly affected than males.
What Are the Signs of Pulmonary Hypertension in Dogs?
Because pulmonary hypertension involves elevated blood pressure in the arteries inside and leading to the lungs, symptoms often involve breathing problems. The most common sign is a dog no longer tolerating any kind of exercise. Your dog might get tired easily while you’re playing or out on walks. They might have trouble breathing and even find it difficult to walk up stairs or across the room. Other signs to watch for include:
- Rapid breathing
- Blue tint to the skin and mucus membranes in areas like the gums and tongue
- Weight loss
- Spitting up blood
- Swollen abdomen or enlarged blood vessels in the neck
If you see any of these signs, consult your veterinarian right away. Pulmonary hypertension can lead to permanent and progressive changes in a dog’s heart or lungs. A more severe diagnosis and history of heart failure will decrease the chance of a positive outlook.
How is Canine Pulmonary Hypertension Diagnosed and Treated?
Depending on the severity of your dog’s symptoms, your veterinarian’s first concern will be increasing the oxygen levels in your dog’s blood. They may use medication to open the breathing passages and provide your dog with oxygen. And your dog might need to stay at the veterinary hospital until symptoms improve.
Your vet will also want to look for signs of congestive heart failure, a consequence of the pressure-constricted pulmonary arteries in the heart. Often, the diagnosis, treatment, and management are determined by consulting with a canine cardiologist or cardiopulmonologist (when available).
Besides treating your dog’s immediate symptoms, your vet will also prescribe medication such as sildenafil, which has been shown to lower pulmonary blood pressure and increase a dog’s ability to exercise, and possibly diuretics or vasodilator drugs. They will also want to conduct a thorough examination to identify any underlying causes of the high blood pressure. Some tests your vet might want to perform include blood work, a chest X-ray, and a cardiac ultrasound. Once your vet has determined if there is any underlying disease, appropriate treatment for any additional conditions can begin, as well.
What Is the Outcome for Dogs With Pulmonary Hypertension?
Once your dog is back home, it’s important to follow your vet’s instructions. For example, they will tell you how much exercise is safe for your dog and might prescribe a low-sodium diet. In general, you will want to limit exercise and keep your dog’s life as stress-free as possible. Don’t expose them to anything that might hinder their breathing, such as cold air, extreme heat, secondhand smoke, or high altitudes.
It’s also important for your vet to monitor your dog’s condition, which means regular visits to their office. Your vet can best do that if they keep an eye on your dog’s blood pressure and heart function. There is no cure for pulmonary hypertension, so the goal of treatment is to manage symptoms. Although a diagnosis of pulmonary hypertension can be frightening, with proper treatment, your dog can live comfortably for some time.