Most people know that high blood pressure, or hypertension, in humans increases the risk of heart disease and stroke and can be present for long periods of time with no outward signs. Would you be surprised to know it is also “the silent killer” in cats?
Cats are notoriously good at hiding signs of illness anyway, and because high blood pressure by itself has no symptoms, it is that much more insidious. The condition is most frequently found in older cats, and often secondary to an already existing disease like kidney disease, heart disease, diabetes or hyperthyroidism.
Like in people, high blood pressure causes wear and tear on many parts of the body. Like a hose with abnormally high water pressure, it can cause damage, leaks and rupture in blood vessels. What are the effects of ongoing hypertension?
Blood pressure in cats is measured just as it is in humans, with an inflatable cuff and a Doppler, an ultrasonic listening device. To get an accurate reading, it helps if it is done in a quiet room, where your cat can relax a bit. The doctor will take several readings to be sure it’s not artificially elevated by stress. If blood pressure is consistently high and stress is ruled out as a cause, additional tests may be needed, including a complete blood count, blood chemistry, and urinalysis.
Treatment begins with controlling the underlying disease, taking into account any medications that can worsen hypertension, such as steroids, and an evaluation of diet. If additional treatment is indicated, it will depend on other diseases present. The goal is to reduce the blood pressure into a range that minimizes organ damage. Once controlled, blood pressure should be rechecked every three months.
I know it’s hard – on both you and your cat - to visit the veterinarian. But diseases like hypertension can only be diagnosed by a doctor, and your geriatric cat’s life may depend on it. The American Association of Feline Practitioners recommends blood pressure monitoring as part of a regular bi-annual senior cat exam for all cats.
In the final days of a cat’s life, people often try to get a few more days with their pets. But early detection and control of hypertension and other geriatric diseases can extend a cat’s life for years!
Mary Craig, DVM, MBA
Dr Craig is a mobile veterinarian with a house call practice focused on end-of-life care.