Caring For Your Cat After Surgery

The only surgery for most cats, if they’re lucky, will be their spay or neuter surgery.  But as cats get better care, and potential problems are diagnosed earlier, they may also need surgery for other conditions.  According to Dr. Arnold Plotnick, a feline veterinarian who owns and operates Manhattan Cat Specialists in New York City, “the most common surgeries we perform, after spays and neuters, would be removal of skin lumps or masses. Bladder stone removal would also be high on our list.”

Regardless of the type of surgery, caring for your cat after surgery can be a challenge.  Cats may be uncomfortable, experience pain, and their ability to move around freely may need to be temporarily restricted.  Knowing what to expect, and what to watch out for, can make caring for your cat after surgery less stressful for you and help your cat recover faster.

Talk to your veterinarian before and after the surgery.  Make sure you understand the type of surgery your pet needs, as well as any pre-surgical requirements such as withholding food the night before.  Find out what the expectations for recovery are.  This will depend on the type of surgery, and your cat’s age and health status.   Will your cat need to spend the night at the veterinary hospital, or will you be able to bring her home the same day?  Dr. Plotnick sends most  of his surgical patients home the same day, only about a third may need to spend the night.

Ask your veterinarian about post-surgical care instructions.  If your cat requires medication such as antibiotics or pain medication, make sure that you know how, and how frequently to give the medication, and what to do if you miss a dose.  Ask whether the medication has any side effects so you know what to expect.

Discuss financial arrangements prior to the surgery so that you don’t experience “sticker shock” when you pick up your cat.  Most veterinarians will provide you with an estimate for their services.

Provide a safe and quiet place for your cat

Cats may still be a little groggy after anesthesia, and they’ll need a quiet place to rest.  You may need to keep them away from other pets or small children.  You may want to set aside a bedroom or bathroom, instead of giving the cat full run of the house right away.  Put soft blankets or your cat’s favorite bed in the room, and make sure your cat has easy access to a litter box and to water.

Keep an eye on the incision site

Most cats will try to lick the area, and in the process, may chew or rip out their stitches or staples.  While licking and biting at the incision site is a natural healing process for cats, if you notice that the stitches are coming loose, you will need to put an E-collar (Elizabethan collar) on your cat.  Traditionally, these collars were made out of hard, cone-shaped plastic, which made simple actions such as eating, drinking, sleeping and even walking up and down stairs difficult and uncomfortable for cats.  Thankfully, there is now an alternative to these collars.  The Trimline Veterinary Recovery Collar is a soft, lightweight and flexible Elizabethan-style collar that provides a barrier to the treatment area from licking and biting, while still allowing pets to move around comfortably and easily.

Not all surgical patients will need E-collars.  Dr. Plotnick only sends E-collars with cats whose  sutures are placed in a location where they could be chewed out or traumatized by a paw.  “For example,” says Dr. Plotnick, “when doing a delicate eyelid surgery, you don’t want the cat to rub hereye and damage the incision, so an Elizabethan collar is often placed on these cats.”  Dr. Plotnick likes the Trimline collars “because they’re softer and more comfortable. I like that, in some instances, you can fold them down, so that they point toward the body (rather than up as a cone around the head). When they’re directed down, toward the body, cats can eat more comfortably and they still have their full peripheral vision.”

Watch for any redness, swelling or discharge from the incision.  Call your veterinarian if any of these are present.

Watch for any signs of pain

Cats are masters at hiding pain.  The instinct to hide pain is a legacy of cats’ wild origins. In the wild, an animal that appears to be sick or disabled is vulnerable to attack from predators, and survival instinct dictates to act as if nothing is wrong, even when something most definitely is.

A good rule of thumb is that a procedure that is painful for humans will also be painful for cats.  Some signs to look for that may indicate that your cat is in pain are behavior changes (quieter than normal, hiding, pacing, aggression), decreased or no appetite, increased respiratory rate, or vocalization.

Pain control is important – not just because you don’t want your cat to hurt, but because pain causes stress in the body and stress slows down the healing process.  Pain management should never be optional, but rather, an integral part of managing a surgical patient.

It’s always upsetting when your cat is facing surgery, but knowing what to expect, and how to care for your cat after the surgery can make it a less stressful experience for cat and guardian.

FTC full disclosure:  Trimline Recovery Collars approached me about featuring their collars.   Photo provided by Trimline Recovery Collars.

The information shared in this post, and on this website,
is not a substitute for veterinary care.

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268 Comments on Caring For Your Cat After Surgery

  1. khai
    March 24, 2015 at 11:02 am (3 weeks ago)

    Today marks the 2nd day after my cat had his sterilisation surgery. I notice that the incision site has a bit of yellowish thingy. Should i immediately apply the antibiotic or not? help me please!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      March 24, 2015 at 12:16 pm (3 weeks ago)

      You need to contact your vet, Khai, to find out whether your cat should be given oral antibiotics. Do not use a human antibiotic ointment without checking with your vet first.

      Reply
  2. Bonnie
    February 3, 2015 at 8:53 pm (2 months ago)

    Hey there! My cat Matzo was attacked by a bear (or large dog, but doc thinks it was a bear) and he had surgery to remove dead and infected tissue near his hip but lower on his leg-ish. He had the surgery yesterday and today he has been laying around mostly, but when he gets up to eat, the wound (where stitched with a few layers of dissolving stitches) begins to seep a clear or creamy-white-yellow color with a little pink. I understand some discharge is normal, and it really is not a lot, but should I call the vet?

    It only started seeping about 2 hours ago, since he got up for food and to potty. The vet has him on 2 pain meds and an anti-inflammatory medicine, and when he takes the pain medicine he stops licking at the wound, so I am sure the wound is irritating him..

    Thanks for any advice,

    ~Bonnie

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      February 4, 2015 at 7:18 am (2 months ago)

      I’d check with your vet, Bonnie. Some discharge is normal, but with a wound like Matzo’s, you want to be extra careful. All my best to him for a quick recovery!

      Reply
      • Bonnie
        February 5, 2015 at 12:13 am (2 months ago)

        Hey again, thank you so much for positive thoughts! He is better today, but still licking. I was not able to ask the vet, but, how long do you think it will take a wound like that to heal? Just curious.

        Thanks again,
        ~Bonnie

        Reply
        • Ingrid
          February 5, 2015 at 7:38 am (2 months ago)

          It’s hard to say how long healing will take. It depends on how deep the wound was, how much tissue had to be debrided, and your cat’s immune system. A simple wound usually heals in 7-10 days.

          Reply
          • Bonnie
            February 6, 2015 at 5:06 pm (2 months ago)

            He had to stitch 4 layers of tissue, so I expect it will take quite a bit of time… Oh joy!

            Thanks!!

            ~Bonnie

  3. Zoe
    January 24, 2015 at 8:19 am (3 months ago)

    My female cat was spayed 4 days ago. The vet sent her home in an e-collar but she kept freaking out and getting out of it. I caught her licking the external stitches yesterday so I put her in a babies onesie to protect the wound. Tonight I checked the wound and it is moist and slightly sweet smelling. She isn’t in any pain and let me touch her belly. My vet is closed for the long weekend and I live on an island where there is no other options. She has been taking antibiotics since her op as a precaution and there is still another 3 days supply. Do you have any suggestions on how to deal with this while I wait for the vet to get back in 2 days time? Is there a way I can dry the wound without causing infection?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      January 24, 2015 at 2:47 pm (3 months ago)

      Keep a close eye on the incision and try to keep it clean. You can use a clean, damp moist towel to gently clean the area. If you notice and redness or swelling, call your vet immediately or get in touch with an emergency veterinary clinic on the mainland.

      Reply
  4. Kate
    January 16, 2015 at 7:25 pm (3 months ago)

    Hi, My cat was spayed a week ago, after a few days of being very quiet and obviously uncomfortable she seemed to pretty much go back to her old self and has seemed fine until today, this evening she is showing signs of being in pain again, stitches look good, there is no swelling, redness or discharge and her appetite has been good all day. Is it normal to get periods of pain after seeming fine for the last few days or should i be worried?
    Thanks

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      January 17, 2015 at 7:04 am (3 months ago)

      If she was on pain medication after the first few days following surgery, it’s possible that the effects have worn off. Call your vet – seeing signs of pain is always a concern.

      Reply
  5. Shannon
    January 12, 2015 at 9:43 am (3 months ago)

    Hi Ingrid, yes, I’m working with a cardiologist and a veterinary surgeon. The regular veterinarian did xrays which he thought was enlarged heart, but an echo showed it was really her heart and part of her liver.

    Reply
  6. Shannon McCabe
    January 11, 2015 at 10:05 pm (3 months ago)

    Hi, my recently adopted a 2 year old female, Izzy, and she will be having surgery for a congenital peritoneal pericardial diaphragmatic hernia next week and they also said her heart ventricles don’t look normal but they don’t know if that is from the hernia and will have to monitor her closely during surgery while she is on anesthesia. I’m really worried and everything I’ve read said this condition is very rare. Her only symptoms are rapid, shallow breathing. Should I put her through the surgery? Will her symptoms get worse? Have you seen this before and is her prognosis good after surgery? Any information would be really appreciated. Thank so much.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      January 12, 2015 at 7:10 am (3 months ago)

      I’m not familiar with this condition, Shannon. I’m assuming you’re working with a veterinary specialist? If not, I would definitely get a referral to a cardiologist and/or veterinary surgeon.

      Reply
  7. Saylor
    December 28, 2014 at 12:53 pm (4 months ago)

    My female cat just got spayed 5 days ago. She’s been completely fine since then, incision site looks good and everything. Until this morning where she has managed to tear out one of her stitches. It’s bleeding a little bit, I’m trying to keep it as clean as I can as my vet in closed for a couple more days due to the holidays. She has some antibiotics leftover as she had developed pyometra which I’m giving her. Should I be super worried about her pulling a stitch?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 28, 2014 at 1:11 pm (4 months ago)

      Keep a close eye on the incision, Saylor. If you notice any redness, swelling or discharge from the incision site, don’t wait until after the holidays; take your cat to an emergency clinic.

      Reply
  8. Cathy
    December 20, 2014 at 8:34 pm (4 months ago)

    My cat had desexing surgery 8 days ago. Recently, she has developed a lump under the skin by her incision site – it is NOT warm, red or seeping and she allows me to touch it without becoming angry at me. She is still eating fine and drinking, and she is using the restroom on a normal basis. She plays with her brother and her humans and also tolerates our puppy playing with her. Should I be concerned about this lump or could this be normal?
    (She would not keep the ecollar on, she figured out how to take it off within three hours of waking up from her procedure and the last time she managed to hide it so well that I still have not found it.)

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 21, 2014 at 7:05 am (4 months ago)

      Some cats develop these lumps at the incision site. It can be a reaction to the suture material. I would contact your vet about it. I’m chuckling at your kitty hiding her e-collar from you – now that’s a smart cat! :-)

      Reply

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