Hypertension typically occurs as a secondary disease to another illness like acute or chronic kidney failure and/or hyperthyroidism. In fact, hypertension occurs in over 60 percent of cats with renal failure and about 90 percent of hyperthyroid kitties.
Less frequently the condition has also been linked to over-production of the adrenal hormone aldosterone, as well as adrenal gland tumors.
There are also cases of idiopathic hypertension, which is high blood pressure with no discernible cause, as well as blood pressure elevation resulting from stressful situations like a trip to the vet.
Hypertension can result in damage to four major organ systems: the kidneys, the eyes, the nervous system and the cardiovascular system.
Many cat owners aren’t aware that kitties can develop dangerously high blood pressure.
Hypertension does significant damage to a cat’s body. It causes small blood vessels to leak and in some cases, rupture. The result can be a detached retina or a stroke.
High blood pressure also takes a toll on the kidneys and the heart, causing further debilitation to kitties already suffering with poor kidney function or thyroid disease.
Hypertension is most commonly seen in older cats.
Symptoms of Hypertension
Unfortunately, there aren’t really any early warning signs of high blood pressure to look for.
If your cat’s hypertension is secondary to another condition like chronic renal failure (CRF) or hyperthyroidism, symptoms of those diseases will be what you notice. They are similar for both illnesses and include:
- Loss of appetite
- Increased thirst and urination
- Weight loss
- Dull coat
If you take your kitty for regular checkups, your vet might notice a new heart murmur or alterations in your cat’s eyes during a routine examination. These changes in your pet’s health status should prompt the taking of a blood pressure reading.
This is one of the reasons I stress regular vet visits, preferably twice a year, and especially if your pet is older. The sooner you know about your kitty’s high blood pressure, the sooner you can take action to prevent organ damage.
If a cat’s high blood pressure goes unchecked, the most common eventual symptom will be sudden, acute blindness. Blood vessels in the eye will burst, causing the retina to detach. Your pet will lose part or all of her eyesight. Signs will be dilated pupils, disorientation, and an unwillingness to move around.
Less commonly, chronic hypertension can cause bleeding in the brain. Signs of this crisis include head tilting, difficulty walking, disorientation and seizures.
Either of these events (blindness or signs of bleeding in the brain) is a medical emergency requiring immediate veterinary attention.
Your vet can take your cat’s blood pressure with a cuff placed on any leg or the tail. The procedure is painless, and if your kitty is cooperative and not overly anxious, an accurate reading can be taken in just a few minutes.
However, if your cat is stressed at the vet’s office (and many are), it can have a dramatic influence on his blood pressure – a phenomenon known as ‘white coat’ hypertension.
If this is the case with your pet, it’s helpful to sit with him and soothe him until he is more relaxed. Consider administering a flower essence (OptiBalance, Spirit Essences) or homeopathic Aconitum prior to your vet visit. These remedies won’t alter your cat’s blood pressure reading, but can greatly reduce the likelihood of stress-induced increases in measurements. Several readings may need to be taken to obtain an accurate blood pressure.
Treatment of Feline Hypertension
The first step is to address any underlying disease, like CRF or hyperthyroidism that is causing the elevation in blood pressure.
If the hypertension is diagnosed before organ damage occurs and the reading isn’t dangerously high, regular monitoring of blood pressure while treating the underlying hyperthyroidism or kidney failure may be all that is required initially.
There are no veterinary hypertension drugs available for cats. In some cases veterinarians prescribe human blood pressure medications, but in my opinion this is an option of last resort. Blood pressure meds are very powerful and it can be extremely challenging to get the dosage correct for a kitty. If you must use these medications, I recommend starting with a lower-than-recommended dose, as many cats respond well to sub-therapeutic doses of these potent drugs. If your cat isn’t exhibiting any symptoms of hypertension, I strongly recommend starting with nutraceuticals, homeopathics and herbs.
If your pet is in very bad shape due to high blood pressure, she’ll need treatment and close monitoring at an emergency or critical care veterinary hospital until the crisis passes and she is stabilized.
- Consult a holistic or integrative vet who can help you design a species-appropriate diet to meet the special nutritional requirements of your hypertensive kitty. Proper nutrition will also help to address any underlying disease.
- If your cat is overweight, it’s extremely important to get those extra pounds off. Obesity causes high blood pressure and heart problems in companion animals just as it does in humans. Exercise and daily movement is very important. It can be hard to get your cat moving, but use these tricks to encourage aerobic activity.
- Avoid unnecessary vaccinations. There are significant health risks associated with over vaccinating pets, and especially a kitty that is already at risk due to high blood pressure.
- Also avoid giving your kitty the drug meloxicam, which can cause renal failure in cats.
- Maintain consistency in your cat’s environment and routine. Kitties become highly stressed by changes in their external world, and a cat who is already dealing with health challenges needs a calm, consistent, enriched environment.
- Make sure your cat is getting enough vitamin C and E. Studies indicate these vitamins can be helpful in lowering blood pressure. If your pet is eating a balanced, species-appropriate diet, he should be getting the right amount of both these nutrients through diet alone. If you and your holistic vet decide your kitty needs a supplement, make sure to provide a natural (not synthetic) form of vitamin E. You can tell what you’re buying by carefully reading the label. Natural vitamin E is always listed as the ‘d-‘ form (d-alpha-tocopherol, d-beta-tocopherol, etc.) Synthetic vitamin E is listed as ‘dl-‘ forms.
- Supplement with olive leaf extract. In one 2008 study, supplementing with 1,000 mg of olive leaf extract daily over eight weeks caused a significant dip in both blood pressure and LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol in people with borderline hypertension. Talk with your holistic vet about appropriate dosing for your cat.
- Normalize omega 6:3 ratios. Both omega-3 and omega-6 fats are essential for your cat’s health. Most Americans and their cats, however, are getting too much omega-6 in their diet and far too little omega-3. Consuming omega-3 fats is one of the best ways to re-sensitize your cat’s insulin receptors and decrease blood pressure. Omega-6 fats are found in corn, soy, canola, safflower and sunflower oil, so avoid feeding cat foods that contain them. Supplementing with a high quality krill oil, which has been found to be 48 times more potent than fish oil, is a good source of omega 3 fatty acids.
- Electrical acupuncture. Acupuncture combined with electrical stimulation has shown to temporarily lower elevations in blood pressure in animals by as much as 50 percent.