High blood pressure or hypertension is fairly common in cats, especially older cats. Most cats have no obvious signs of disease until there is a sudden problem.
- A hypertensive cat is at constant risk for brain, kidney, heart and eye damage. Long term hypertension will increase the workload on the heart, predisposing to thickening of the heart muscle and eventual heart failure. High blood pressure can cause ongoing damage to the kidneys. Acute blindness from retinal detachment is common. The sudden onset of confusion, seizures or balance issues can signal a stroke-like injury to the brain. Emergency intervention can sometimes bring down the pressure. Given time, these cats may return to “normal,” but the progressive damage already caused by chronic hypertension cannot be reversed.
- Most high blood pressure cases in cats, if not diagnosed on emergency, are discovered as part of a routine senior cat examination.
- Hypertension in cats can be a primary problem, but usually it is secondary to other diseases. It most commonly accompanies chronic kidney disease and hyperthyroidism, both common disorders of the middle-aged to older cat. Your older cat’s annual exam ideally includes bloodwork, urinalysis and a blood pressure check. In addition to detecting disease, establishing what is a normal for your healthy pet provides very useful information if he or she has a veterinary emergency.
- The measurement of feline blood pressure is similar to measurement in people. A small cuff placed around a paw or the base of the tail is inflated until it blocks blood flow through the underlying vessel. The cuff is then slowly deflated until the pulse is detected again. The cuff pressure at this point equals the cat’s systolic pressure. Veterinarians primarily use the systolic pressure to assess hypertension
- While blood pressure values considered “normal” account for the stress your cat may experience at the veterinary office, it is helpful to give a feline patient a few moments to adjust to being out of the carrier in the exam room before taking any measurements. Less than 160 mmHg is considered a normal pressure. 160-180 mmHg is borderline hypertensive and may require treatment or at least rechecking. Greater than 180 mmHg is clearly hypertensive, and greater than 200 mmHg is dangerous and requires immediate attention.
- High blood pressure in cats can usually be managed successfully with oral medication. Your cats blood pressure will need to be rechecked to make sure the pressure is at an ideal level. The dosage of medication can then be adjusted accordingly.
As in people, the best treatment for the danger of hypertension in your feline friend comes from early detection. By collecting baseline bloodwork, urinalyses and blood pressures periodically as your cat ages, you can detect problems and trends early on. When facing this silent menace, prevention is always the best medicine.