Conscious Cat

November 29, 2010 162 Comments

Caring For Your Cat After Surgery

Posted by Ingrid

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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162 Responses to “Caring For Your Cat After Surgery”

  1. ellen says:

    My cat had eye removal yesterday and came home last night. She is still a bit quiet. Is that normal? I have pain meds and she ate a little but not much. She is just sitting quiet.

    • Ingrid says:

      It’s not unusual for a cat to be quiet for a day or two after surgery, Ellen. Make sure that she’s eating at least a little bit, and using the litter box normally. When in doubt, contact your vet.

  2. bob says:

    My cat will be due to have a lung tumor removed next week, just wondering how long after the operation for tissue to be fully healed

    • Ingrid says:

      That’s impossible to predict, Bob, because it depends on a lot of different factors: your cat’s general health status, the extent of the surgery, whether the tumor is localized, where it’s located, etc. All my best to your kitty for a quick recovery.

  3. chanel says:

    Hi my cat had a stone removed surgery its been a coupl of days and he is eating normal and everything but only peeing small amounts ever time he goes not like befor when it would a long flowing stream…please help me is this normal? And how long till he does goe back to normal? Thank you so much Chanel Auchenbach

    • Ingrid says:

      You need to contact your veterinarian, Chanel. Peeing only small amounts, especially if there’s straining involved, may indicate a urinary blockage, which can be a serious medical emergency.

  4. Dan says:

    Hi, My cat had a mass removed from his front right elbow. He has a collar on, and seems rather active(normal almost I would say, other then a bit clumsy.)But I am worried about the stiches. He normally sleeps up on the bed, which is high off the ground. I’m worried about him jumping on/off might impact the wound negatively. Any suggestions?

    • Ingrid says:

      Jumping could be a problem, Dan, especially given the location of the stitches near a joint. I know it’s almost impossible to keep a cat from jumping, but do your best. Keep a close eye on the incision. If you see any gaps, loose stitches, redness or swelling, have your vet take a look at it.

  5. Anna says:

    My 7 month old kitten was just neutered and is very aggressive coming out of anesthesia. I tried putting his e-collar in twice only to have him rip it off once and almost strangle himself the second time. It’s almost more traumatic for him to have it on, at this point. I will try to put it on him again when the anesthesia is fully worn off, but not sure what to do if he won’t wear it. Advice?

    • Ingrid says:

      It sounds like your kitten was having a reaction to the anesthesia. If he won’t keep the collar on, you’ll have to keep a very close eye on his incision. If you notice any redness, swelling or discharge, call your vet.

  6. Aser Mir says:

    Hi, my cat (Cola) has just had her spay surgery. Cola is mostly an outdoor cat and thus relieves herself outdoors. I am concerned that she will not use the litter box at all and particularly since the vet has strongly advised for her to stay indoors for the next 10 days. Is there anyway I can get around this, either by taking her outside under supervision?

    PS. She is well over a year old.

    Many thanks

  7. Ella says:


    My 3-year-old cat has just been through a surgery on her jaw– she was attacked by an unknown assailant. The vet had to pull some of her skin to stretch over the wound, and attached it at the muscle below her lip. She’s in a lot of pain, and hiding away. Is there any kind of home remedy that I can put on the stitches that will take the pain away, and minimize the scarring?

  8. Daniel says:

    Our non longer homeless, one year cat was identify as a female cat. The vet recommended to have her fixed the day we took her to her chek up and vaccines. . The next day we left the cat to be fixed, we received a call hours later from the vet saying that is a male cat. That the cat was already fixed probably when he was a kitten. Using that as a reason why she could not identify him as a male cat. She had had already open his belly to find out that. We are very traumatized and feel sorry about the cat. Is this a normal confusion ? What kind of action should we take. The cat is traumatized and look scared. I will appreciate your comments and suggestion.

    • Ingrid says:

      I’m sorry you and your cat had to go through that, Daniel! It’s a little unusual for a vet to not be able to properly sex a cat, but it has been known to happen. Keep an eye on your cat’s incision to make sure it heals properly. If you notice any redness, oozing of swelling, call your vet. Watch for any signs of pain and ask your vet for pain medication if you feel that it’s needed. As long as your cat is eating and eliminating normally, it shouldn’t take him long to recover.

  9. Miasma says:

    Hey all, my cat just had an abscess removal on her hindquarters near her bum. (there was always a ruptured anal gland)

    Im so unsure of what caused it all to happen.. but regardless. its been about a week since her surgery and she’s in the E-cone (hard plastic one) but she’s acting very strange towards me.. normally my cat comes up to me purring and making happy kitty sounds. lately if i get close she’s growling. even when i offer food/water/treats she’s always growling at me. I try to give her as much space as i can but i want to remind her I care and that I’m there..

    Lastly she has a lot of wetness looking around her eyes.. is that something i should be concerned with? is it due to her not being able to wipe her eyes with her paws?



  10. Chrissy says:

    My 9 year old cat Tiger had bladder stones removed and had to have his penis removed to widen his urethra in case new stones form. The vet said that his bladder and kidneys were severely bruised and damaged when they opened him up. It is going on a week after surgery and I finally got to bring him home. He is not eating and attempted to sleep in his litter box, which I removed out of the bathroom where I am keeping him. I am afraid he will not make it. I am so worried and hate to see my once playful, energetic cat so weak and lethargic. I just need to know if he will be better? I can’t live with out my baby.

  11. Amy says:

    Hi Ingrid , thank you for writing this page out with these tips. I do have some questions though as this is my first cats surgery and honestly have no idea what to be expecting as the day goes on. She’s 6-years old and just came home last night from getting a tumor removed from inside her mouth, as well as a tooth extraction. She got anesthesia so was pretty out of it when came home as expected but she didn’t just lay down, she kept pacing back and forth even after I feed her, she seems pretty anxious and will meow at the top of he lungs (isn’t like her) she’s been smashing herself into things especially the door (she’s in the bedroom cause of other cats) she hasn’t drank any water yet and it’s now the next day in the afternoon she’s also barely slept, is the after effects from the anesthesia? Should I be worried? Also last night she went to use the litter box and peed all over herself, I don’t want to stress her out by having her take a bath and struggle so should I use a waterless shampoo or will this effect with her mouth when she licks herself?
    I’m sorry there’s so much to read and a bunch of questions I’m just worried and I’m not sure if I’m just overreacting or if I actually should call the vet or something. I’m not sure what to do..
    I’d really appreciate any help

    • Ingrid says:

      Amy, never hesitate to call your vet if you’re concerned. Some of what you’re describing may be after effects of the anesthesia or any pain medication your cat may be on, but I would run all of this by your vet.

  12. Chrissy says:

    Tiger passed away 1/20/14. He took his last breath in my arms. I miss him so much.

  13. Stephanie says:

    Hi i just got my 9mo old female kitten zaza fixed today. i have two other cats ..i tried putting a ecollar on her so she wont lick her wonds but me being one handed its really hard to get it on and my mom tried too..she is like a lightning bolt and flew out of our arms .. she is eating and drinking a little bit..i put her in a bigger cat carrier so she can rest she does rest a little bit but she is insisting to get out and roam with the other cats.. when can i let her have free run with the other two?? is there anything that i am doing wrong here??? please help!! thank you

    • Ingrid says:

      Ideally, you should try and keep her quiet for a few days after her surgery, Stephanie. Once you let her out with the other cats, make sure you keep an eye on her. Don’t let her play rough with the others, and keep a close eye on her incision. If you notice any redness, swelling or discharge, contact your vet immediately.

  14. Maddy says:

    My 4 month old mushroom got desexed last week, her brother axton ripped her internal stitche for our vet to put her in for emergency surgery to correct it. He’s given me a cone collar for mushroom, I take it off for her to eat because she can’t reach the bowls, is there anything I can do to make her more comfortable? Even her purring is different when she is wearing the cone.


    P.s the vet showed me how loose to do the cone up so I know it’s not too tight

    • Ingrid says:

      Hopefully, you vet gave you some pain medication for Mushroom, Maddy. The soft collars (Trimline) are more comfortable than the plastic cones, so depending on how long Mushroom has to wear hers, you may want to look into getting one of those.

  15. Shana says:

    My 8 month old kitten just got neutered today. On the way home he escaped from his carry case and crawled under the car seat. We believe when he did this a little bit of the glue the vet used cam undone. Hes been having slight bleeding but we have been washing him twice daily with providone-iodine and putting neosporin on after each cleaning.I have been keeping him in my room whixh incompletely sanitized and vacuum up all the litter as he spills it. I have not left hom alone at all to keep him from licking and I dont intend to for the next 3 days. How long till the bleeding subdues? How likely is it that it will get infected even though I am treating it regularly?

  16. Cassandra says:

    My cat Ramses (about 1 year old now) just had surgery on sunday to remove a foreign object from his intestines. The vet told us not to be too concerned about a bowel movement for a few days. How long should I wait to see if he has a bowel movement before taking him back to the vet?

  17. jenn says:

    My 15 yr old kitty had surgery to get two teeth removed she broke her teeth not sure when. It got really infected snd had puss and blood coming out her mouth so I took her to vet. I brought her home last night she ate her wet food shortly after getting up but today she isa hiding under my bed snd is still bleeding quiet a bit she won’t eat or drink today and hasn’t used her litter box in two days… I got told she would still be bleeding a bit but I’m nervous won’t eat or drink and hasn’t gone to the bathroom.

    Is this normal?

    • Ingrid says:

      If she’s still bleeding, and hasn’t used the litter box at all for two days, I’d call your vet or contact an emergency vet, Jenn. They can advise you whether she needs to be seen.

  18. Shanelle says:

    My 6 month old kitten was spayed two weeks ago. When I picked her up from the vet, she had a large bulge on her belly that I thought was swelling, but it didn’t go down so a week later, I took her back and it was a hernia so she had another surgery. Then yesterday (one week after the hernia surgery, she again had a budge on her belly, so I took her back and they opened her up again and said it was fluid (a seroma?). They gave her a shot of antibiotics and sent me home with anti inflamatories for her. Now today, the bulge is back again. What causes this fluid buildup, and what should I do? She is being kept in a large kennel so she is not roaming free, etc.

    • Ingrid says:

      Seromas are fairly common after hernia repair, Shanelle. Call your vet immediately. Since the seroma keeps recurring, your vet may need to place a drain.

  19. Marie says:

    My 5-yr-old cat had surgery 2 days ago for intestinal obstruction (hairball) and had to have part of his intestine cut out and then sewn together. He’s home now and drinking water/urinating, but does not want to eat. I also hear stomach/digestive sounds coming from him, usually after he drinks water. Is this a good or bad sign? Will he be okay for a while as long as he’s drinking water, even if he doesn’t want to eat? It seems as if he’s afraid to eat, like he remembers how he was throwing up so much before he had the surgery. Does he instinctivelt know that food might have a hrad time digesting right now because his intestine is still sore from the sutures to put it back together? Thanks for any help/advice. :)

    • Ingrid says:

      If he hasn’t eaten for 2 days, you need to call your vet immediately. Cats who don’t eat for more than 24-48 hours are at risk for developing hepatic lipidosis, which can be life-threatening. The bowel sounds you hear after he drinks water are probably not unusual after intestinal surgery.

  20. Lu lianne says:

    My cat had surgery for closing an open wound near her abdomen area. She has been sleeping a lot (most of the day) and eating but less than what she used to when she was ok. Is all of this normal and if not what do you recommend?

    • Ingrid says:

      It’s not unusual for a cat to sleep more and eat less than normal after surgery for a day or two. I would contact your vet for advice – your cat may need pain control if she’s still not back to normal.

  21. Lu lianne says:

    Her surgery was two days ago.

  22. shelby says:

    My cat thats 9 month’s got spayed today and when she was in they found a hernia, she’s home now but very scared and won’t leave the room. She hasn’t eaten since she’s arrived back home and her face looks like she’s been crying. She’s also backes into a corner and hissing at me whenever I go by her, which she’s never done before. Is this normal and should I just let her be?

    • Ingrid says:

      The “tears” are remnant of the eye lubricant that is used to keep the eyes moist while she was under anesthesia. The behavior is a bit unusual, but may be her way of coping with the stress of the surgery and having been at the clinic. If she’s still acting like that in the morning, and if she still hasn’t eaten, call your vet.

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