by Suzanne Morris, DVM
It’s time to wind down the month of Valentine’s Day, love, and hearts with a mention of hypertension in cats. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is abnormally increased pressure of blood against the arterial blood vessel walls. Hypertension can affect senior cats with the potential to impact multiple organs (including the heart, brain, eyes, and kidneys). Most comprehensive senior cat exams should include a blood pressure measurement.
Hypertension can occur from other underlying disease (secondary) or can occur with no known underlying cause (primary). Most cases of secondary hypertension involve metabolic diseases (such as kidney disease and diabetes) or medications such as steroids. Hypertension can be influenced by stress (which is often inherent in a trip to the veterinarian, aka “white coat syndrome”), and mild elevations in blood pressure can result. Hence, if a mild elevation is detected during your kitty’s visit, additional blood pressure readings are recommended to help confirm hypertension.
Physical exam can reveal signs of hypertension. For example, the retinas of the eyes are inspected for signs of hemorrhage, which can occur as a result of hypertension. The most common methods used to evaluate blood pressure involve ultrasound (Doppler) that detects blood flow through arterial vessels and oscillometry, which detects oscillations in the artery wall from blood flow. These detectors are used in conjunction with a pressure cuff (as in human blood pressure readings)—typically placed on a limb or a tail.
If elevated blood pressure is detected with signs of organ damage (such as retinal hemorrhage), medication will most likely be recommended to decrease the blood pressure with routine follow-up blood pressure checks. In some cases, the medication may actually reverse hypertension’s damaging effects.
If you are unsure of your senior kitty’s blood pressure status, check with your veterinarian to determine whether Kitty may be due for a blood pressure evaluation!
Jepson, R. Feline Systemic Hypertension: Classification and pathogenesis. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery 2011; 13: 25-34.
Rothrock, K. Hypertension, Systemic. VIN Feline Associate, https://www.vin.com/Members/Associate/Associate.plx?from=GetDzInfo&DiseaseId=959 (2014; accessed 22 February 2019).