If you think your cat seems highly strung, you might not be far off. High blood pressure, or Hypertension, is a common condition in cats, especially as they get older. Although it is simple to diagnose, it can be easily missed because there are few outward symptoms, especially in the early stages. In the majority of Hypertension cases, an underlying disease needs to be treated.
What causes Hypertension?
Kidney disease is the leading trigger for high blood pressure and is most common in older cats. In addition, the majority of cats diagnosed with Hyperthyroidism will have mildly raised blood pressure, but this generally falls once the disease is under control. In a minority of cases, no underlying cause for the Hypertension is diagnosed.
What are the symptoms of Hypertension?
One of the barriers to diagnosing Hypertension is that the cat displays very few symptoms. Many pet parents report that once the condition has been diagnosed and treated, their cat suddenly appears brighter and happier. Human patients with high blood pressure often suffer with nasty headaches and it is thought the same might be true for our pets.
The most dramatic symptom of Hypertension is sudden onset blindness. This is a result of the increased pressure causing the tiny blood vessels in the eye to swell and burst, leading to retinal detachment and flooding the eyeball with blood.
Even an examination by your vet won’t always pick up any signs of a problem. Some cats with Hypertension may have an unhealthy sounding heart, but not all of them. Conversely, just because there is an abnormality, it doesn’t mean that they will have high blood pressure. In these cases, it is prudent to monitor them regularly – most vets recommend every three to six months.
How is Hypertension Diagnosed?
Hypertension is easily diagnosed using a blood pressure monitor. These are very similar to those in human medicine: a cuff is placed on the foreleg and your vet listens for the pulse at the wrist (carpal) joint. The tail can also be used.
If the blood pressure is high, it is also important to run blood tests to look for underlying causes.
How is Hypertension Treated?
Firstly, it is important to treat any underlying diseases that have been diagnosed. For the Hypertension itself, your cat will most likely be prescribed daily tablets.
Why is treatment important?
It is vital that Hypertension is diagnosed and resolved as soon as possible, because it can cause serious, and sometimes irreversible, damage to the internal organs:
Eyes - If not treated promptly, the blindness caused by retinal detachment and blood in the eyeball can be permanent.
Heart - The high pressure in the arteries means that the heart has to work harder to pump blood into the system. Over time, this causes the heart muscle to enlarge, thicken and become stiff. Left untreated, this process can ultimately lead to congestive heart failure (Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy).
Brain - If under-pressure blood vessels pop in the brain, it can lead to a wide variety of symptoms including dementia, wobbliness, unusual behavior and even seizures.
Kidneys - Hypertension can reduce the blood flow to the kidneys and the damage it causes may push the organ into failure. In addition, kidney disease itself will exacerbate the Hypertension, potentially leading to a vicious cycle of problems.
If you are concerned about your cat and would like to have his or her blood pressure checked, simply speak to your vet. The procedure is quick, non-painful and relatively inexpensive. Although the condition itself can be easily treated, the key to a successful outcome is rapid diagnosis and early administration of the proper medication.