Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Hypertension (high blood pressure) is fairly common in older cats. The condition can cause serious health problems but is treatable. Senior cats and cats with kidney or thyroid disease benefit from routine blood pressure screening.
High blood pressure is silent; it has no symptoms of its own. But high blood pressure damages organs of the body, causing symptoms that cat owners might notice.
In cats, hypertension is usually caused by another disorder. The most common causes in cats are chronic kidney disease and hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). Sometimes high blood pressure in cats seems to develop on its own with no known cause, as can happen in humans. Older cats are more likely than younger cats to have hypertension.
Blood pressure measurement
Current guidelines recommend measuring blood pressure in cats in these categories [2,4]:
In cats, blood pressure is usually measured with an inflatable cuff similar to the cuffs used in people (but much smaller!). The cuff is placed around a leg or the tail. During the procedure cats can lie down or sit upright, whichever is more comfortable for them. Most operators try to position the cuff at the level of the heart, but forcing a cat to lie down can cause agitation and raise the blood pressure.
Blood pressure readings are most accurate in calm cats. You might be asked to wait with your cat in the examination room for a few minutes to give her time to settle down and get comfortable. Consider bringing a cat bed, blanket, or towel from home so your cat can rest on something familiar during the procedure. Blood pressure is typically measured several times during each session to account for variation from motion or anxiety. Cats tend to tolerate the procedure well.
A systolic blood pressure below 140 mm Hg is considered normal in cats. (In blood pressure readings like “110/70 mm Hg,” systolic pressure is the first number and diastolic pressure is the second number). A systolic blood pressure of 160 mm Hg or higher indicates hypertension and an increased risk of organ damage.
Veterinarians often measure blood pressure on more than 1 clinic visit before making a definite diagnosis of hypertension. Cats’ blood pressures can vary from visit to visit depending on their stress levels. However, signs of organ damage can confirm the diagnosis and justify starting treatment after only 1 measurement session. Cats with hypertension (or at risk for hypertension) should have blood pressure checks every few months.
The goal of treatment is to reduce the risk and extent of organ damage. The underlying problem causing the high blood pressure is treated at the same time. Most cats with hypertension receive daily oral medication. The dose is adjusted as needed after blood pressure rechecks. Medication is usually effective in reducing the blood pressure, especially if the underlying disease is also controlled.
1. Syme H. Systemic hypertension: World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2013. VIN website. https://www.vin.com/doc/?id=5709837. Accessed March 25, 2019.
2. Taylor SS, Sparkes AH, Briscoe K, et al. ISFM consensus guidelines on the diagnosis and management of hypertension in cats. J Feline Med Surg. 2017;19(3):288-303.
3. Quinn R. Cardiovascular effects of systemic hypertension in cats. MSPCA Angell website. https://www.mspca.org/angell_services/cardiovascular-effects-of-systemic-hypertension-in-cats/. Accessed March 25, 2019.
4. Acierno MJ, Brown S, Coleman AE, et al. ACVIM consensus statement: guidelines for the identification, evaluation, and management of systemic hypertension in dogs and cats. J Vet Intern Med. 2018;32(6):1803-1822.
Photo by Hunt Han
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM