Effects of gestation on volume homeostasis and renal function were studied in awake spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR). Systolic blood pressure was similar to that of virgin littermates during most of SHR pregnancy but decreased near term (p < 0.005). Plasma renin activity was lower in SHR than in age-matched Wistar-Kyoto (WKY) rats (p < 0.001), but values were similar in gravid and nonpregnant animals from each strain. Renal renin content and lipid volume fractions of papillary interstitial granules were significantly greater in pregnant animals of each strain and those of the gravid WKY were also greater than both pregnant and virgin SHR. Saralasin had no effect on mean arterial pressure in gravid and virgin rats from either group. Plasma volume increased significantly near term in animals of both strains. Kidney weight, glomerular filtration rate (GFR), and renal blood flow were lower in SHR compared to WKY, and the hypertensive rats failed to demonstrate an increase in GFR during gestation, unlike the WKY. All SHR and pregnant WKY excreted infused sodium better than the virgin WKY. Also, regular Wistar animals excreted a salt load better than the virgin WKY. Finally, uterine blood flow, pup number and conceptus weight were similar in SHR and WKY. We conclude that pregnancy induces a decrease in blood pressure in SHR, and that angiotensin II does not seem to play an important role in maintaining blood pressure during gestation in either SHR or WKY. Despite a lower GFR and its failure to increase during pregnancy, renal sodium handling is not impaired in the SHR. The virgin WKY has a decreased ability to excrete sodium which is ameliorated during gestation.