Who knew? Cats can suffer from hypertension.
Most of us have heard of high blood pressure in people but probably haven't realised that the condition can affect our feline companions too. High blood pressure or hypertension usually occurs as a symptom of another underlying disease such as kidney disease or hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), but it can be a standalone condition with no discernible cause.
The health risks of high blood pressure in felines
The effects on health can be similar, with high blood pressure causing damage to organs with the eyes, kidneys, heart and brain being most at risk. Unlike people who tend to visit their surgery to have their blood pressure checked at least once a year; there is no such preventative check for cats, and so there can be little in the way of signs to let you know as the owner that your feline’s blood pressure is dangerously climbing.
Symptoms to watch out for
However, sometimes symptoms do suddenly appear, and these can include:
- Changes inside the eye such as bleeding
It is essential to seek veterinary advice as soon as possible because there is a risk of these symptoms becoming irreversible. If the hypertension is secondary in that is being caused by another underlying disease; there will likely be other presenting signs, and a vet should be able to reach a diagnosis after examination and carrying out additional tests if needed.
Your vet will perform a thorough examination to diagnose hypertension including applying a blood pressure cuff to the tail or leg. As is usually the case with animals and humans – several measurements will be taken over a period of time to see if blood pressure truly is at an elevated level or begins to fall and stabilise. This helps to eliminate “white coat” syndrome where blood pressure automatically rises due to the stress of being in a clinical setting but is not actually an indicator of actual disease.
Blood and urine tests may also be carried out to check for those conditions that are commonly linked to high blood pressure.
To treat or not to treat
It may be that your cat does have an underlying health condition and if this is the case, then your veterinarian will likely address this first to see if the blood pressure lowers naturally when the underlying condition resolves. However; in some instances, blood pressure is so high that it presents an immediate health risk and in these cases treatment to reduce the BP readings will begin immediately. High blood pressure linked to hyperthyroidism will usually resolve as the thyroid condition is treated although a short course of medication to keep blood pressure readings in the normal range may be necessary while this is the case. In conditions where hypertension is linked to kidney or heart disease however; it is likely that the patient will be on medication to help keep blood pressure lowered for the rest of the animal's life.
How hypertension is treated
Oral medication is the most common method of treating feline hypertension, and several drugs are available. However; even when your feline is receiving treatment, it is vital that their blood pressure is regularly monitored so that the dose can be adjusted as necessary and the vet keeps an eye on their general sense of health and wellbeing.
The diet factor
As a population we are actively encouraged to keep our salt intake in check due to its well-known link to hypertension and the same can be said for our pets! Many processed cat foods are high in salt as are certain cat treats and treats we like to give our felines such as tuna in brine. If your cat has high blood pressure, then it is eminently sensible to change their diet to one that contains lower sodium levels, and these are available from your vets. However; it is important to note that a change in diet alone will not help to resolve very high blood pressure in your cat.
Will my cat be ok?
Many cats treated for hypertension will happily live for many more years once treatment commences, and blood pressure values begin to, but the prognosis depends on the severity of the condition and the underlying cause. Because some symptoms of high blood pressure such as blindness can be irreversible; it is crucial to seek a vet's advice as soon as you think something may be wrong.