Newswise — (Denver, Colo.) You’ve undoubtedly heard it before—white-coat syndrome—when having your blood pressure read during an annual physical examination or a visit to a doctor’s office for another ailment.

The anxiety associated with the visit often drives the reading higher than normal in the comfort of home—and most physicians take that into account.

Measuring blood pressure of our cats and dogs can be a challenge, too, says Dr. Anthony Carr, of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, who will be addressing the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine Forum in Indianapolis, Ind., June 3.

“Fear and stress in the clinic,” says Carr, “can lead to elevation in blood pressure that does not truly reflect the individual’s usual blood pressure.”

Consequently, in his presentation, “The White-Coat Effect in Small-Animal Medicine,” Carr cautions that if only in-clinic values are used “it is possible to make diagnostic mistakes and potential therapeutic errors.

“. . .Based upon the evidence available at this time it would certainly appear prudent to consider in-home blood-pressure measurements in dogs and cats. This should not be restricted to animals that are hypertensive in-clinic since masked hypertension has been documented in dogs and cats, as well.”

White-coat effect has been documented in dogs and cats, Carr says. In one study, 14 dogs were tested in clinic as well as at home. At home all had normal blood-pressure readings; in clinic, five of the 14 showed higher numbers. Another study using three breeds with several measurement scenarios found that in Labrador retrievers having the veterinarian measure without the owner present increased systolic and diastolic blood pressure in comparison to having the owner in the exam room. In Dachshunds and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels there was no difference in three measuring scenarios. In a study with retired racing greyhounds higher blood pressure values were found in the hospital than at home, independent of whether the in-home pressure was taken by the owner or the veterinarian.

Here’s a brief question-and-answer session with Carr, with queries related to the white-coat effect in small animal medicine:

What are the prime ailments in which blood pressure needs to be checked in small animals?

Carr: “In dogs and cats, unlike people, most cases of high blood pressure are a result of underlying diseases. Some older cats can get hypertension without reason, just like humans. The most common cause is kidney disease. It has been shown that upwards of 20 percent of cats that are initially diagnosed with this disorder will have high blood pressure, with a quite a few developing it over time. Other diseases known to be associated with high blood pressure include Cushing’s in dogs and hyperthyroidism in cats.”

What kinds of readings are normal for the dog and cat?

Carr: “In general, they are similar to humans with 130/70. As they age, blood pressure increases. For a senior pet, it will be closer to 150/80.”

What should be the focus of future research dealing with the white-coat effect in small-animal medicine?

Carr: “Ideally, the information obtained will allow us to better determine which patients identified as being hypertensive in clinic are actually white-coat hypertensives. It will also be important to determine how numbers obtained at home correlate to progression of disease and target organ damage. Target organ damage is the damage done to kidney, brain, eyes and heart by elevated blood pressure.”

In human medicine, it is common to have your blood pressure taken on most office calls and annual physicals. Do you see a point where this will be done with dogs and cats?

Carr: “Ideally, that is where veterinarians will be headed, however blood-pressure monitors available are not all up to the task of obtaining values easily. In addition, pets can often be uncooperative. So that although it is the ideal, it will not likely be done in every animal. Although white coat can cause an elevation in blood pressure, many times this can be minimized by good technique and by limiting the stress the patient is subjected to.”

Media Attendance: Accredited members of the media may attend the 2015 ACVIM Forum at no charge. However, you are required to register with ACVIM. For media registration, please contact Laurie Nelson at [email protected] or 303.231.9933 Ext. 101.

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About the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM)The American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of animals and people through education, training and certification of specialists in veterinary internal medicine, discovery and dissemination of new medical knowledge, and increasing public awareness of advances in veterinary medical care.

ACVIM hosts the ACVIM Forum, an annual continuing education meeting where cutting-edge information, technology and research abstracts are showcased for the veterinary community. More than 3,200 veterinary specialists, veterinarians, technicians and students attend.

“Visit Indy is thrilled to welcome the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine to Indianapolis for their 2015 ACVIM Forum,” said Chris Gahl, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at Visit Indy. “We look forward to welcoming more than 3,200 attendees who will generate more than $4.2 million in economic impact for central Indiana.”

ACVIM is the certifying organization for veterinary specialists in cardiology, large animal internal medicine, neurology, oncology and small animal internal medicine.

To find out more about ACVIM specialists and the 2015 ACVIM Forum, please visit