High blood pressure in cats can have a sudden impact even when their owners thought they were fit and healthy. It is shocking and upsetting, when your cat goes from “well” to “very poorly” in the space of a few hours. To learn how to reduce the chances of a dramatic deterioration, read on.
Imagine your senior cat that is sprightly as a kitten:
She’s so well for her age and still enjoys life to the full. Then one morning she seems confused, disorientated, and bumps into the shopping bag on the kitchen floor.
As suddenly as flicking a light switch, the cat has gone blind.
Sadly, this scenario is all too common and the most likely cause in cats is. . . high blood pressure (hypertension). It also causes other serious problems such as a stroke, hind leg paralysis, seizures, and damage to the heart. And the big worry with high blood pressure is you don’t get clues something is wrong until the catastrophic happens.
But there are steps you can take to screen your cat for hypertension.
Risk Factors for Cats
Knowledge is power with regards to hypertension. By working out if your cat is in an ‘at risk’ group, you are in a strong position to take steps to identify it and take protective action.
OK, so the risk factors are:
- Age: Senior cats (technically those older than 7 years) have a tendency to hypertension. The older the cat, the greater the risk.
- Health conditions: Certain problems give high blood pressure a big leg up. Of these, the biggest concerns in cats are:
If you’re now feeling distinctly uneasy because your cat is in one of these groups (and let’s face it, a lot of cats are), what can you do to protect her?
The answer is to get her blood pressure measured. This is super easy, non-painful, and something most vets now do as a matter of routine. Indeed, many clinics offer regular routine screening of their ‘oldies’ because undetected hypertension is a silent problem with catastrophic consequences.
Measuring Blood Pressure in Cats
If you’ve had your blood pressure measured at the doctor, you’ll be familiar with what happens at the vets. The only differences are the inflatable cuff is placed either above the cat’s elbow (or the base of the tail) and the pulse used is located in the wrist (or under the tail) rather than the crook of the arm.
The vet or vet nurse will take several readings, so as to get an average figure. They may well ask you to stay with the cat during measurements, so you can be a calming influence.
The measurement used to judge whether or not medication is needed is something called the ‘systolic’ pressure. This measures the pulse of blood when the heart contracts most strongly (as opposed to ‘diastolic’ when the heart is totally relaxed).
The vet makes a judgement call about what to do next, based on that reading. For example:
- Systolic BP less than 140: Yeah! This is normal and no action is required
- 140 – 180: This is borderline
- 180 – 210: This is high, and most vets start treatment
- 210+: Dangerously high, treatment essential
Of course, cats being cats, they often get stressed at the vets. If the blood pressure is borderline or there’s a concern about stress-induced hypertension (rather than true raised blood pressure) then the readings should be repeated in 2 – 4 weeks’ time.
Treating High Blood Pressure in Cats
And now for some good news: hypertension is treatable
Once the problem is identified there are several different drugs that can bring things back to normal.
For cats with an underlying condition, such as kidney disease or hyperthyroidism, then stabilizing these problems goes a long way to getting blood pressure back down. Some of the common treatments for renal disease (such as the ACE inhibitors benazepril or enalapril) also reduce blood pressure slightly.
But if your hyperthyroid cat is stable and her blood pressure remains high, then a drug such as amlodipine will be added in for extra ‘oomph’.
Signs to Watch for at Home
Blood pressure can spike, meaning a sudden sharp increase in pressure. It’s often these spikes that do the damage, such as causing blindness, a stroke, or seizures. These are serious complications that need urgent attention, not least because if immediate, action can sometimes restore vision.
Signs to be vigilant for include:
- Mental confusion: The cat seems distracted and doesn’t respond when you call
- Wobbliness: She’s unsteady on her legs
- Flickering eyes: The cat’s eyes flick from side to side as if watching a tennis match
- Bumping into things: Hypertensive blindness is the result of fluid being forced out of the blood vessels where it pools behind the retina, forcing it away from the eyeball
- Seizures: Fits often happen as a result of underlying health problems including high blood pressure
- Hiding away: Although a general sign, cat’s that feel vulnerable because they are unwell, tend to hide away more than normal.
Seek urgent veterinary attention if your older cat shows any of these signs.
Signs that Predispose Cats to Hypertension
You may also get signs that indicate your cat has an underlying health problem that predisposes them to hypertension, such as:
- Drinking more
- A ravenous appetite but losing weight
- A poor appetite
- Scruffy, unkempt coat
- Regular sickness or diarrhoea
- Walking on the flats of their feet on the hind paws.
Your vet will most likely run blood tests to diagnose the issue and check her blood pressure.
In many ways, cat health care is much like our own, in that regular screenings or wellness checks help identify issues before they become a problem. And happily, this isn’t an academic exercise because medication can bring down high blood pressure and protect your cat from catastrophic consequences.
So if your cat is at risk of hypertension, speak to your vet about screening. . . it could save your cat’s life and you from heartache.