Cats are such relaxed creatures that it may surprise you to learn they can suffer from high blood pressure. Some cats, such as those with certain medical conditions and those over the age of seven, are at greater risk than others.
The symptoms of raised blood pressure, or hypertension, can be subtle and difficult to spot but if undetected can lead to organ damage, blindness or even a stroke. With this in mind it is important to know if your cat is at risk, the warning signs too look for and when to call your veterinarian.
1. Why is High Blood Pressure Dangerous?
If blood is forced through vital organs at too high a pressure it can result in haemorrhage, or cause swelling, within those tissues. The outward signs of damage will depend on which organ is affected: for instance in the eye, bleeding can lead to blindness; and in the brain it can result in a stroke or in severe cases, a seizure.
2. What Are the Risk Factors?
Certain common diseases in older cats have a proven link to hypertension, the most prevalent of which is kidney disease or having overactive thyroid glands. Other conditions such as diabetes mellitus or obesity are also associated with raised blood pressure, although the mechanism by which this happens is not fully understood.
If your cat has been diagnosed with one of these ailments it is a good idea to discuss with your veterinarian, getting your pets blood pressure measured.
Even if your cat is fit and healthy, once over seven years of age, the chances of developing raised blood pressure go up. This is because a cat’s organs, especially the kidneys, function less effectively which predisposes him or her to hypertension. However, this is nothing to be alarmed about because the majority of cats won’t have a problem. Veterinary experts advise measuring blood pressure once a year until the age of fifteen and then twice a year thereafter.
3. What Warning Signs Should I Look For?
In an ideal world your cat will regular blood pressure measurements because in cases of mild hypertension the warning signs are difficult to spot. If left unchecked the most obvious symptoms include the cat walking in a drunken manner, sudden onset blindness or in severe cases a fit or stroke. If you are in doubt it is always best to seek veterinary advice since acting promptly increases the chances of a good recovery.
It can be difficult to recognise if your cat has gone blind since he or she may not necessarily do obvious things like bump into furniture. Cats are expert at compensating for blindness by using their other senses. (Indeed, one scientific study showed that blind cats with whiskers to be better at catching mice, than sighted cats with no whiskers.) One way to tell is to look at your cat’s eyes in bright light; the pupils should narrow down to slits, if they stay large and black then it is likely the retina is not responding and his vision is impaired.
An important sign of a mild stroke is your cat’s eyes flicking from side to side, as if watching a tennis match. Also, hypertension leads to dizziness so if you notice your cat walking in a drunken zigzag or seeming unsteady on his or her feet, then contact your vet for urgent advice.
4. How is Blood Pressure Measured?
The equipment used will be familiar from your doctor’s office and involves an inflatable cuff fitted around the cat’s foreleg, or sometimes the tail, being pumped up and the pressure slowly released. This is entirely painless and most veterinarians are happy for the owner to stay and calm the pet, whilst blood pressure is measured.
Can High Blood Pressure be Treated?
The first step in control is to treat any underlying illness such as kidney disease or an overactive thyroid; this can be done with special prescription foods, medications, or a combination of both. If despite treatment the blood pressure remains high your vet may prescribe a tablet to bring it down to normal. These medications are very effective so remember if you seek urgent help the chances of recovery are greatly increased.