Feline Hypertension

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Episode based on:

ISFM Consensus Guidelines on the Diagnosis and Management of Hypertension in Cats. J Fel Med Surg 2017. 19:288–303.

1. Evidence base:

Guidelines based on comprehensive review of currently available literature; where clinical studies and scientific data were not available the Guidelines represent consensus opinion of the Panel.
Many areas where more data is required which may either confirm recommendations in these Guidelines or cause some to be modified.

2. Secondary versus primary hypertension:

Feline hypertension more commonly diagnosed in association with another disorder, i.e. secondary hypertension more common than primary (idiopathic) hypertension.
Most common associated disorder is chronic kidney disease followed by hyperthyroidism; there are others but they are much less common.
Unlike in humans, prevalence of hypertension in cats with diabetes mellitus is typically low, but often confounded by concomitant conditions such as CKD.

In secondary hypertension “the relationship between the hypertension and the underlying disease may not always be understood.”
Concurrent underlying disease must be managed as well as possible – which will help management of hypertension as well.

3. Target organ damage:

Can be severe and potentially irreversible
Main target organs: eyes, heart and vasculature, brain, kidneys
Problem(s) relating to TOD may be reason for presentation; especially vision impairment due to hypertensive ocular changes.

“Hypertensive ocular changes have been reported in approximately 50% of hypertensive cats…However, the high prevalence of reported ocular lesions may reflect the relatively late diagnosis of hypertension in many studies.”

“The retina and choroid have separate blood supplies and both can suffer hypertensive damage…with an array of fundic lesions visible on ophthalmoscopy”.

“Many cats with severe hypertensive ocular damage present with blindness and bilateral mydriasis resulting from complete retinal detachments and/or intraocular haemorrhage; the changes are often irreversible…Lesions that are not associated with an impaired menace response or pupillary light deficits...are much more amenable to anti-hypertensive treatment…highlighting the importance of early diagnosis and management. Detection of early hypertensive ocular lesions requires an ocular examination to be performed on all cats at risk of developing lesions.”

4. Monitoring and Underdiagnosis:

Early diagnosis followed by appropriate therapeutic management should help reduce hypertension-associated morbidity associated; however authors suggest monitoring is generally performed infrequently probably leading to underdiagnosis.
Encouraged to identify and monitor patients at risk of developing hypertension.

5. Which cats should we monitor blood pressure in?

Authors’ recommendations:

  • Any cat that has been diagnosed with a recognised risk factor for hypertension, such as chronic kidney disease or hyperthyroidism, should have their blood pressure measured at the time this diagnosis is made and then every 3-6 months thereafter.
  • Any cat that has an unexplained disease compatible with hypertensive target organ damage should also have their blood pressure measured immediately and then every 3-6 months thereafter.
  • Check blood pressure at least every 6–12 months in healthy cats aged eleven years or older.
  • Check blood pressure every 12 months in healthy cats aged 7-10 years.

Should we consider checking blood pressure every 12 months in healthy adult cats 3–6 years of age? “The main purpose of monitoring in this age group is to obtain baseline measurements for the individual cat. As few cats in this age category have hypertension, great care is needed in the interpretation of elevated BP measurements, especially in the absence of [target organ damage] or a clear underlying disease.”

5. Ensure BP is measured as accurately as possible with a reproducible technique:
Major take-home message alert!!!

“Indirect measurement of BP in cats can be readily performed, although care is needed with both the choice and use of the equipment to ensure meaningful and accurate results are obtained.”

Recommend using either Doppler sphygmomanometry or high-definition oscillometry; HDO is more accurate, reliable and consistent and easier to perform than traditional oscillometry.

Only systolic blood pressure measurements should be used for clinical assessment. Diastolic and mean arterial pressure readings are less accurate and should generally be ignored.

Use of standardised protocols imperative to improve accuracy and reproducibility of measurements.

Guidelines include extensive recommendations by the Panel covering:

  • Cat’s environment
  • Acclimatisation
  • Personnel
  • Restraint and positioning
  • Choice and position of cuff
  • Actual use of equipment
  • Taking and interpreting measurements

Consistency is essential.

“Blood pressure is labile and varies considerably within and between cats, depending in part on their level of arousal, activity or stress.”

Clinical assessment of systolic blood pressure is also affected by many external variables including:

  • Operator
  • Conditions
  • Environment
  • Equipment
  • Position of the cat
  • Size of the cuff
  • Site of measurement

6. ‘White coat hypertension’:

Temporary physiological increase in blood pressure due to excitement- or more likely anxiety-related sympathetic activation associated with veterinary visit.

7. Defining normal blood pressure:

“Establishing reference intervals for estimated [systolic blood pressure] in healthy cats using Doppler or oscillometric equipment is fundamental to the clinical diagnosis of hypertension, and also for determining therapeutic targets in affected cats.”

Provide results from three different studies but: “there is a wide discrepancy between different studies; this reflects, at least in part, the different populations examined, and differences in types of equipment and the way equipment was used. Thus, having a standardised technique is of paramount importance.”

Categories proposed by The International Renal Interest Society (IRIS):

  • Systolic blood pressure (SBP) <150mmHg = normotensive with minimal risk of target organ damage
  • SBP 150-159mmHg = borderline hypertensive with low risk of target organ damage
  • SBP 160-179mmHg = hypertensive with moderate risk of target organ damage
  • SBP >=180mmHg = severely hypertensive with high risk of target organ damage

Strict categorisation is problematic as blood pressure is labile and target organ damage is not only related to severity of hypertension but also duration and relative change.

8. Criteria for therapeutic intervention and appropriate therapeutic targets:

Criteria as per the Guidelines:

“While individual circumstances should always be carefully assessed, based on current knowledge the Panel suggests that antihypertensive therapy is generally justified if SBP is measured carefully and when:

a. Indirect SBP is ≥150 mmHg on a single occasion, and there is clear evidence of ocular or neurological TOD [target organ damage].

Note: if clinical signs do not respond appropriately to adequate antihypertensive therapy, the diagnosis should be reassessed and other potential causes of the signs investigated.

b. Indirect SBP is ≥160 mmHg on at least two separate occasions, and there is evidence of TOD including ocular, neurological, cardiac or kidney damage.

c. Indirect SBP is ≥170 mmHg on at least two separate occasions, and the clinician does not consider ‘white coat hypertension’ is likely to be the cause.

d. Indirect SBP is <150 mmHg, but there is clear evidence of active ocular TOD.

Note: cats should be monitored carefully. If there is any doubt about the diagnosis of hypertension, the need for long-term therapy should be reassessed by trial withdrawal of therapy once stable, and monitoring of BP and clinical signs.

Cats with SBP <150 mmHg and evidence of potential TOD should have their clinical signs and BP monitored carefully, and other possible causes of the signs investigated.”

Therapeutic target:

SBP <160mmHg generally associated with decreased risk of target organ damage and hopefully an improvement in patient’s health
Indeed may be more prudent to aim for <150mmg in long-term

9. What treatment should you use?

“Based on current data, amlodipine besylate is the treatment of choice to manage feline hypertension and is effective in the majority of cats, but the dose needed to successfully manage hypertension varies between individuals.”

Guidelines also cover approach to amlodipine dosing and routine BP monitoring.

“It is worth noting that the Guidelines were supported financially by an educational grant from Ceva to the ISFM and Ceva is a manufacturer of amlodipine; however I don’t think this invalidates the statement about amlodipine being the current treatment of choice.” (Shailen)

Amlodipine causes vasodilation (peripheral arterial dilator) via calcium channel blockade; good response seen in many hypertensive cats suggests increased vascular tone may be a common component of feline hypertension.

Adjuvant therapy required in some cats:

E.g. ACE inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs), beta-blockers
Less effective; typically used in addition to not instead of amlodipine.

“The choice of adjunctive therapy to help manage hypertension may in part be dictated by any concurrent or underlying disease. For example, ACE inhibitors or ARBs may be indicated in CKD patients to help manage proteinuria”.

NB. Whenever hypertension is diagnosed, it is important to search for, and treat, underlying diseases as most cases of feline hypertension are secondary.

10. Emergency treatment of hypertension:

Hypertension generally chronic; acute presentations may be due to:

Acute onset of clinical signs due to target organ damage
Acute elevations of blood pressure (e.g. possible in acute kidney injury (AKI))

Aggressive intervention with oral +/- parenteral antihypertensive therapy may be tempting/seem rational but lack of definitive evidence to support positive risk-benefit assessment. 
Uncontrolled abrupt reduction in systolic blood pressure or development of hypotension can precipitate myocardial, cerebral or renal ischaemia and should be avoided.

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