Doctor's white coat can send dogs' pulses racing too

Mortal fear

In their study, researchers have determined that anxiety associated with being in a veterinary hospital elevates the blood pressure in retired racing greyhounds. The average systolic arterial pressure – the top number in a blood pressure reading – in the dogs was about 30 points higher in a veterinary clinic when compared to blood pressure recorded at home, the latest edition of “Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine” reported.

In general, normal blood pressure in dogs, as in humans, is 120 over 80. Prof Guillermo Couto, who led the study at Ohio State University, said: “We see a lot of greyhounds and they are very high-strung dogs. Some greyhounds come in here with blood pressure above what an instrument can read – 300 systolic.

“We know this could not really be their blood pressure because these dogs would be dead. But we also almost never get blood pressure under 150 or 160 for systolic.
“In the study, their blood pressure was nearly normal at home, independently of whether the researcher or the owner checked the pressure. To my knowledge, nobody has documented that white-coat effect in dogs with hard data before.”

According to the researchers, this study suggests that the presence of the dog owner might have a more calming effect than the passage of time in the clinic. The scientists performed the study with 22 retired racing greyhounds that are enrolled in a blood donor program at Ohio State’s Veterinary Medical Centre. The average age of the dogs was seven-and-a-half years. Twelve were male and 10 female.

Blood pressure measurements were taken in three different ways – in veterinary medical centre by a veterinary student wearing scrubs; in the dog’s home by that same student, again wearing scrubs; and in the home by the dog’s owner.

In-home blood pressure readings were taken between seven and 28 days after the hospital measurements to avoid any effects of the dogs’ blood donations during their hospital stays. The owners then followed the student’s in-home reading 24 hours later.

The systolic and mean arterial pressures, as well as heart rate readings, taken in the hospital were significantly higher than all of those same measures taken in the home environment. The average hind-limb systolic pressure was 165, compared to at-home measures of 131 and 133 when taken by the researcher and the owner, respectively.

“This study emphasises the need to consider the environment in which the blood pressure is measured before diagnosing or eliminating hypertension,” Prof Couto said.

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