17 January 2020

High Blood Pressure in Cats – the Silent Killer

Claire Smith, Vet

Did you know? Around 1 in 6 cats over the age of seven years suffer from hypertension (high blood pressure) and this can have serious consequences for their health. Cats are masters of secrecy and often will not show overt signs of hypertension until the disease has progressed quite far; for example, once they have severe heart disease or become blind. 

High blood pressure causes damage to the small blood vessels which can be irreversible. The organs most affected by this damage are the eyes, heart, brain and kidneys. By looking at the retinas at the back of the eyes, we can see if the blood vessels look engorged or have small ruptures. Half of cats with high blood pressure will have a degree of retinal damage, but this can be reversed if the process is caught early enough. Cats rely heavily on their vision and some cats with hypertension will start to behave abnormally at home due to visual changes, but this could also be related to damaged blood vessels in the brain.

The most common cause of hypertension is chronic kidney disease. It is estimated that a quarter of cats with renal disease have high blood pressure too. There are also strong links between hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid glands) and hypertension. 

Luckily, at Beacon View Vets in Sandwich we have the resources and time available to check the blood pressure and eyes of every cat over the age of 7 years that comes in for a health check, during our nose to tail examination. Blood pressure measurement is a painless and stress-free procedure that takes only a few minutes.

Depending on the average blood pressure reading, the treatment recommendations vary. If your cat has normal blood pressure, then we would advise an annual check up. If they have very mildly elevated blood pressure then we may recommend repeated measurement every 3-6 months. If their blood pressure is high enough to be causing damage to organs and small blood vessels then we will recommend starting treatment. Of course, this will all be discussed with you at the time.

Management of feline hypertension focuses on two main aims. Firstly, we will prescribe medication that acts to lower the blood pressure to an acceptable range and prevent further damage. Secondly, we search for any other underlying diseases that may be linked to high blood pressure such as kidney disease and overactive thyroid glands. With medication and regular checks, the outlook is very good and most cats will eat the medication as if it were a treat!

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