Systemic Arterial Hypertension in Cats
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Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure and it is something we may associate more with humans than with cats. Risk of developing it increases with age, but it is also linked to lifestyle issues and potentially genetic predisposition. Since it is rare to see a cat smoking a cigarette or regularly drinking whisky, we may think it is not a concern for our feline friends. Unfortunately, it is something which can also affect cats. Like with humans, there are different types of high blood pressure, systemic arterial hypertension relates to the blood pressure in the arteries which pump blood from the heart to the rest of the body.
Unfortunately, many types of high blood pressure are almost asymptomatic, meaning they don't always have obvious symptoms. AnimalWised discusses systemic arterial hypertension in cats to understand what we can do to look out for it, what may cause it in the first place and what to do if our suspicions are correct.
What is systemic arterial hypertension?
Systemic arterial hypertension is a persistent elevation of systolic or diastolic blood pressure. Systolic and diastolic refer to the way in which the pressure is being exerted on the blood vessels, systolic referring to the pressure when the heart is beating and diastolic when the heart is not beating. In domestic cats, the average normal blood pressure values are 124 mmHG and 84 mmHG for systolic and diastolic readings, respectively. The Veterinary Blood Pressure Society (VBPS) indicates that hypertension is considered ‘mild’ in these animals when it is 150/95 mmHG, ‘moderate’ at 160/100 mmHG and ‘severe’ if it exceeds 180/120 mmHG.
Hypertension is common in humans, moderately common in cats and very rarely in dogs. Despite not being the most common disease in felines, its effects are dangerous and need to be taken seriously. Pumping enough blood to the organs in the body is needed to keep them working properly. If they don't, the organs can fail. This is why cats with hypertension are vulnerable to numerous renal, cardiovascular, ocular and neurological problems. If not treated properly, it can lead to death.
Causes of hypertension in cats
Systemic arterial hypertension is called ‘primary’ or ‘idiopathic’ when it appears independently and not related to another disease. This type of hypertension is more commonly diagnosed in humans and very rarely in cats. The exact causes of idiopathic hypertension are unknown, but there is much speculation about possible genetic predisposition.
Almost all causes of hypertension in domestic animals are ‘secondary’, meaning it is derived from some underlying disease or condition. Chronic renal and endocrine (mainly diabetes and hyperthyroidism) appear as the most frequent causes of hypertension in cats. Additionally, aging, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle are also important risk factors for high blood pressure.
Symptoms of systemic arterial hypertension in cats
Hypertension usually progresses silently in the bodies of cats. Their first symptoms are usually so general and unspecific that they may be confused with simple discomfort. This is why it is so important to be alert to any change in your cat's appearance or behavior. It is also why routine veterinary check ups are encouraged.
However, systemic arterial hypertension in cats may present one or more of the following symptoms:
- Rejecting their litter box
- Urination and bowel movements in abnormal places
- Hiding in dark places
- Sudden loss of appetite and/or weight
- Temporary or permanent blindness
- Hemorrhage in the eyeball
- Dilated pupils
- Abnormal and constant movements of the eyeball (nystagmus)
- Nasal bleeding
- Proteins or blood in urine
- Kidney enlargement
- Disorientation and lack of coordination
- Temporal paralysis of extremities
- Heart murmur
Diagnosis of feline hypertension
The diagnostic tools used for high blood pressure in cats is very similar to those included in testing humans. With the help of an occlusive sheet, the vet should take the blood pressure of the feline. This can be done in a couple of places, such as on one of the cat's legs or at the base of the tail.
It is important to remember that stressful situations can make blood pressure rise, not necessarily due to prolonged hypertension. Veterinary visits are one of the many circumstances in which a cat may become stressed. For this reason, it is important to take different readings in the controlled environment of the vet's clinic to avoid a false diagnosis. In some cases, the vet may require a Doppler ultrasound to observe blood flow inside the arteries.
Treatment of systemic arterial hypertension in cats
The treatment of idiopathic hypertension consists of administering pharmaceuticals to control blood pressure. This will be coupled together with lifestyle changes such as providing the right food as well as discouraging sedentary behavior.
Treatment for secondary hypertension, however, will fundamentally depend on the diagnosis of the underlying cause in each individual cat. In such cases, the recommendation of the vet's advice will need to be adhered to. They will also be able to provide a full assessment of the individual cat and evaluate any other health concerns which need to be treated. They may be issued drugs to deal with the problem, they may recommend changes to their diet and/or provide some new exercises to carry out. In cases where the underlying problem is a terminal one, palliative care instructions will be introduced.
How to prevent systemic arterial hypertension in cats
Preventing hypertension in cats is something we may already be doing without realizing it. Preventing hypertension means providing a healthy lifestyle for our cats, as much as we can. As obesity and a sedentary lifestyle are risk factors for cats, you need to provide them with a healthy diet and ensure they have enough room to exercise. Don't overfeed them or provide them with treats in excessive amounts. If you want to provide them with treats which won't encourage an unhealthy lifestyle you can use something like peas. You can even buy specially or made low calories treats and general food for overweight cats.
Toys, scratching posts and many other accessories can be used for environmental enrichment to encourage activity. Also, simply ensuring you have the time to play with your cat is a massive help in many circumstances.
High stress, anxiety and nervousness are also contributing factors for hypertension in cats. This is why we need to ensure we don't allow our cats to become stressed too easily, especially if they are already of a nervous disposition. This would include if they had been adopted and had traumatic experiences in the past. We need to ensure they live in a home which is as stress free as possible (this will also benefit you). You also need to be particularly careful with situations which threaten to be more stressful than others. These include moving home or bringing in a new member to the family (whether human or otherwise).
Lastly in this article, we have something which should be first on your mind when bringing a cat into your family. Preventative medicine in the form of vaccinations and deworming need to be carried out according to the appropriate schedules. We also need periodic visits to the veterinarian to be assured that we are on top of any changes in our cat's health.
This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.
If you want to read similar articles to Systemic Arterial Hypertension in Cats, we recommend you visit our Cardiovascular diseases category.