We have previously reported that high dietary salt exposure significantly increases daytime mean arterial pressure in spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR) but not in normotensive Wistar-Kyoto (WKY) controls. In the present study, we used a telemetry monitoring system to evaluate the effects of high dietary salt exposure on diurnal variation of mean arterial pressure and heart rate in SHR and WKY rats. After implantation of a radio frequency transducer, SHR and WKY rats were maintained on either high (8%) or basal (1%) salt diets. Hemodynamic values were then analyzed for diurnal variation with the use of a nonlinear data-fitting program. After 2 weeks of dietary exposure, high salt-fed SHR had significantly greater 24-hour mean arterial pressure (156±3 mm Hg) than SHR receiving basal (135±2 mm Hg) and WKY rats receiving high (100±2 mm Hg) or basal (100±1 mm Hg) salt diets. Rhythm analysis indicated significant increases in both daytime and nighttime mean arterial pressure during high salt exposure in SHR. In WKY rats, high salt exposure increased nighttime but not daytime mean arterial pressure, with no net effect on 24-hour mean arterial pressure. High dietary salt exposure significantly decreased heart rate in both SHR and WKY rats, and it did not significantly alter the pattern of diurnal blood pressure or heart rate variation. These results indicate that WKY rats manifest an acute sensitivity to salt ingestion but have compensatory mechanisms sufficient to prevent sustained increases in mean arterial pressure; such mechanisms are lacking in SHR.