Feline Hypertension (High blood pressure)

High blood pressure (hypertension) in cats

Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure, which is a common problem in people. More recently, it has been recognised as an important medical condition of cats.

Feline hypertension is commonly found as a complication of other underlying medical conditions (so-called �secondary hypertension'), although primary hypertension (hypertension without any underlying disease) may also be seen in cats. In contrast to people, where primary hypertension (also called essential hypertension) is most common, secondary hypertension is more common in cats. The most common causes of secondary hypertension in cats are chronic kidney failure and hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland). Other more rare causes of hypertension would include acromegaly (a tumour producing excessive amounts of growth hormone) and Cushing's disease (a tumour of the pituitary or adrenal gland resulting in excessive production of corticosteroids by the body).

Effects of hypertension
Hypertension is damaging to the body. The effects are most serious in certain vulnerable organs:

Bleeding into the eyes and retinal changes such as swelling and detachment can occur and this may result in damage to the cat's vision which is often permanent. In some cases, bleeding into the front chamber of the eye can be seen without the use of special veterinary equipment

Brain and nervous system
Bleeding in this area of the body can cause neurological signs such as odd behaviour, a wobbly or drunken gait, seizures, dementia and coma.

Over time, the muscle of one of the heart chambers (the left ventricle) becomes thickened, as the heart has to work harder to pump the blood when there is high blood pressure. In very severe cases, this can lead to the development of congestive heart failure. Affected cats may show signs of breathlessness and lethargy.

Over time, high blood pressure damages the kidneys and may increase the risk of kidney failure developing. In cats with existing renal failure, the hypertension is likely to make the renal failure significantly worse over time.

Clinical findings
As hypertension is often seen as an effect of other diseases, cats with hypertension may be showing signs attributable to their underlying problem. For example, in the case of hyperthyroid cats with high blood pressure, weight loss (in spite of a voracious appetite) and hyperactivity may be the major clinical signs. In many patients, no specific clinical signs of hypertension will be seen until the condition advances to the point where there is spontaneous bleeding into the eye or retinal detachment - these cats are often taken to a veterinary surgeon as they develop sudden onset blindness. Early recognition of hypertension is therefore important in order to minimise the severe and often permanently damaging effects of persistently high blood pressure on the eyes and other organs. Some cats with hypertension do appear depressed, lethargic and withdrawn, and many owners notice an improvement in their cats' behaviour once hypertension has been successfully managed even if signs of damage to other organs are not present.

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