Djibi may seem like an unusual name for a cat, but it has literary origins: German author, Felix Salten, who was the original author of “Bambi”, wrote a book about a kitten called Djibi.
Trudi has owned Djibi since she was a kitten, and she’s generally been a healthy cat. Her recent problems started in January, when she had a strange seizure of some kind. Trudi had noticed that Djibi’s general condition had been deteriorating leading up to this: her fur looked bedgraggled, she wasn’t grooming herself as much, and her eyes looked a bit “starey”.
The seizure happened out of the blue: she just fell over onto her side, stayed like that for around ten minutes, then struggled up again. She remained conscious, but just wasn’t able to hold herself up normally. Trudi brought her to see me straight away.
When I examined her, her heart was racing, and she had a loud heart murmur, so I immediately suspected that there was some type of heart-related problem going on. As well as checking her over physically, I took a series of blood samples which confirmed that her internal metabolism was working well generally. I then measured her blood pressure, and that’s when the problem became clear: she was suffering from severe hypertension (high blood pressure).
High blood pressure is common in humans, and we all know people who suffer from this. A high stress lifestyle, smoking, and high salt diet are all contributing factors in humans, and many people need to take regular tablets to keep their blood pressure down. But high blood pressure in pets? Most people have never heard of this, yet it’s surprisingly common, especially in cats.
It’s most often seen as a complication of other underlying medical conditions (so-called ‘secondary hypertension’), although primary hypertension (hypertension without any underlying disease) can also happen. This is the opposite to the human situation, where primary hypertension (also known as “essential hypertension”) is the most common type. In cats, the most common underlying cause is chronic kidney problems but other diseases can also be behind it, and these need treatment as well as the high blood pressure itself.
As it happened, Djibi was one of the more unusual cases; she had primary hypertension, with no sign of any other underlying diseases. So her version is more similar to human high blood pressure, and the only treatment she needs is daily tablets to keep her blood pressure within the normal range.
It’s really important that high blood pressure is treated effectively in cats, as if it remains untreated, there’s a serious risk of a sudden crisis. Problems from high blood pressure happen when a blood vessel is too small and fragile for the high pressure of the blood going through it. These small blood vessels burst under the extra pressure. The most vulnerable areas are the blood vessels at the back of the eye (sudden blindness is common) and the tiny blood vessels in the kidneys (kidney failure can develop). As well as that, tiny blood clots are common in cats with high blood pressure, and these can cause issues like mini-strokes.
As well as these serious signs of illness, there’s a more general unwellness that accompanies high blood pressure in cats, and that is what Trudi had noticed over the preceding months. Severe headaches can occur in humans with hypertension, and it is likely that cats may suffer something similar. It hard to know why Djibi had the sudden strange collapsing episode. Perhaps she had a small bleed on her brain, or perhaps she simply felt dizzy. Without doing extra diagnostics like MRI scans, it’s impossible to be sure.
Blood pressure in cats is measured in a similar way to humans: a cuff is placed on the front leg, and a special stethoscope is used to listen to the blood flowing through the arteries. As the cuff is inflated, the pressure goes up, and eventually, the cuff is so tight that blood can no longer be heard in the arteries. At this point, the pressure in the cuff is the same as the blood pressure. The normal range of cat blood pressures is known (it should be less than 150). In Djibi’s case, the blood pressure was over 180, classifying her as suffering from “severely high blood pressure”.
Treatment is simple: the same type of tablets as humans take to reduce the blood pressure. Djibi started on once daily medication, which is enough for most cats. I measured her blood pressure again two weeks later, and although she’d improved, her blood pressure was still too high, so she had to start taking her tablets twice daily. This seems to have done the trick, and on the third measurement, her blood pressure had come back down to normal. The tablets are tiny, and Trudi has no difficulty giving them to her, hidden in some tasty food.
Djibi has responded well to this treatment; she has not had any more funny turns, and her general health has picked up. She is grooming herself again, and her coat looks smooth and glossy. It’s interesting to wonder if she might have been suffering from headaches due to her high blood pressure, but we’ll never know the answer to that question.
At least, not until we’re able to have conversations with cats!