green-eyed cat, high blood pressure

Photo: dinadesign/Shutterstock

As cats age, they face a greater risk of developing kidney issues. Veterinarians also have discovered a link between feline kidney disease and hypertension, a potentially deadly condition. Since cats typically make fewer trips to the veterinary clinic, identifying and treating either condition can be tricky. (Have you ever tried slipping a blood pressure cuff on a cat that’s already stressed out from the visit?)

“They don’t understand what a blood pressure cuff is or what a vet is doing, so they get excited, which changes their blood pressure,” says Dr. Scott Brown, a board-certified veterinarian at the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

To understand how feline hypertension is associated with kidney disease, an organization called Visionaire Research & Education is conducting a three-year clinical trial at 35 locations across the United States and Canada. The University of Georgia helped design the study, which will evaluate a new liquid medication to treat the condition. The study seeks felines that have been diagnosed with kidney disease and need to be screened for hypertension, a condition that offers few warning signs.

So how do you know if your cat suffers from high blood pressure? Brown, whose four-legged family includes cats Rachel and Samantha, shares a few tips.

High blood pressure shows few symptoms

Brown says that high blood pressure typically affects a cat’s “target organs” — the brain, eyes, heart and kidney. This may lead to diminished activity or a sudden change in your cat’s vision. If your cat suffers from kidney disease and you notice a change in its vision, schedule an examination as soon as possible and request a blood pressure check.

cat examined for high blood pressure“Whenever we see a change, we always worry, particularly in older cats,” he says. “It’s not currently a standard of care, but experts in the field are recognizing that, if a cat has kidney disease where high blood pressure is probably part of it, they go ahead and measure.”

He notes that about half of the practices in the Unites States have blood pressure measuring devices to monitor animals under anesthesia. Practices also can get a reading without anesthesia, but it takes a very patient cat, veterinarian and vet tech (Oscar shows how it's done in the photo above). If your vet doesn’t have a device, ask for a referral. Specialists in internal medicine can get a reading.

Understand the link between hypertension and kidney disease

“Kidney disease causes cats to retain salt and water, which causes blood pressure to go up, and that leads to more salt retained,” says Brown. “Any time you have a vicious cycle with a bad potential outcome, it’s best to intervene. That’s why blood pressure medication in this trial is so important. It gives vets a chance to interrupt a process that can be deleterious for cats.”

Feline kidney disease remains a medical mystery

Kidney disease is more prevalent among cats than any other species, and studies have pointed to a number of culprits ranging from commercial pet food to kitty litter. But Brown says the primary cause remains unknown, which is why research in this area continues.

“Cheetahs in the wild and in captivity have the exact same kind of [kidney] disease,” says Brown. “In the wild, they are not fed pet food or using kitty litter.”  

Load up on water

Cats that are older or under the weather tend to drink less water. Cats with kidney disease also tend to become somewhat dehydrated, Brown says. Take preemptive action by keeping cats hydrated. He recommends placing bowls of fresh water at multiple sites around the house. It also helps to feed them canned food, which contains more water.

To learn more about the study, visit or call 855-254-3971.

— Morieka Johnson, @Soulpup

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Inset photo: Oscar the cat gets his blood pressure checked as part of a study linking feline kidney disease and hypertension. Veterinarians have found a link between both potentially deadly conditions. (Photo: Visionaire Research & Education)