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.