Dr Hannah Godfrey BVetMed MRCVS.
When we go to the doctor or hospital, we often expect to have our blood pressure taken. After all, that machine with the inflating cuff is a routine part of our human health exams.
But what about cats? Do cats need their blood pressure checked? And what happens if a cat has high blood pressure?
How do you test a cat’s blood pressure?
Checking a cat’s blood pressure isn’t that different from how doctors and nurses do it in humans. A cuff is wrapped around the cat’s tail or one of their legs, near the paw. A probe emitting ultrasound waves, called a Doppler, is applied to a shaved patch of skin below the cuff. The probe allows the veterinarian or veterinary nurse to hear the cat’s pulse. Once the pulse is found, the cuff is inflated until it can no longer be heard. Then the cuff is deflated gradually using the dial to find the exact point where the pulse returns. This gives a blood pressure value near the cat’s systolic blood pressure.
Another method of checking blood pressure is available in some veterinary practices. This is called oscillometric and involves an automated cuff that inflates and deflates regularly, providing estimates for the mean, systolic and diastolic arterial blood pressure.
What blood pressure measurement is considered high in cats?
It’s normal for cats to be on edge at the vet. After all, it’s a new place with new smells, new people, and new animals. Therefore, a cat’s blood pressure measurement must be taken as soon as possible, without a long wait in the waiting room, and before being poked and prodded during the veterinarian’s examination. Even so, it’s expected that a cat’s blood pressure at the vet will be a little higher than when they’re at home relaxing. Normal systolic blood pressure for a cat at the vet is up to 140mmHg or 150mmHg. Consistently higher values could mean your cat has systemic hypertension (high blood pressure).
How does feline hypertension affect cats?
Cats with systemic hypertension can develop health complications throughout their bodies. Their initial symptoms might be vague and include lethargy, depression, and other changes in behaviour. However, as the condition progresses, it causes much more noticeable problems.
Firstly, it can lead to blindness through the detachment of the retina and bleeding within the eye. If your cat is affected, you might notice your cat bumping into things or being more hesitant as they move around. Their pupils may be dilated (much larger than usual) even when it’s very light. Secondly, increased blood pressure can cause kidney damage or speed up the progression of existing kidney disease. If your cat’s hypertension affects their kidney function, you might notice them drinking and peeing excessively, and they might lose some weight.
High blood pressure can also mean the heart has to work harder to cope, and cats with hypertension often eventually develop heart disease. Symptoms of heart failure include breathing distress, open mouth breathing, or even collapse. Sadly, the heart and kidneys aren’t the only major organs affected by hypertension. High blood pressure can cause bleeding on the brain or within the nervous system, which can cause seizures, incoordination, senility signs, or coma.
How is feline hypertension treated?
Feline hypertension can be controlled with medication, including amlodipine and telmisartan. With no underlying conditions, these medications will lower your cat’s blood pressure to the normal range, and this should be monitored regularly.
However, it’s essential to check for any underlying health conditions contributing to or connected to high blood pressure, including hyperthyroidism or kidney disease. Therefore, your veterinarian may recommend a comprehensive blood test to check the health of your cat’s organs before starting treatment.
When should your cat have their blood pressure checked?
Once your cat gets a little older, they’re much more likely to suffer from hypertension. Therefore, blood pressure should be routinely checked in cats over eight years old, ideally at least during their annual check-up. It’s especially important in cats whose owners have noticed changes in their eyes or sight and in cats who have hyperthyroidism or kidney disease symptoms. However, if you’re concerned about your cat’s blood pressure for any reason, it’s worth speaking to your veterinarian and asking them to check it.
The disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic might mean that your cat hasn’t had many veterinary check-ups recently. However, it’s important to find out if your feline friend has hypertension as early as possible to prevent damage to organs like the kidneys, the heart, the eyes, and the brain. So, if you own a cat who’s getting on a bit, speak to your veterinarian about booking them in for a blood pressure check.