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.

Trimline Recovery Collars are available from Amazon.

Photo provided by Trimline Recovery Collars, used with permission.

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

376 Comments on Caring For Your Cat After Surgery

  1. Helen
    August 13, 2017 at 3:37 am (2 months ago)

    I just brought my cat home from the vet today (Saturday), as she had an operation to have some mammary tumors removed yesterday, and I’m worried she could rip some of her stitches while I’m asleep. Is this something I should worry about, or not?

    I’m worried sick, and I’m not sure if I’l be able to get to sleep tonight until I know she’ll be all right.

    • Ingrid
      August 13, 2017 at 5:17 am (2 months ago)

      Please contact your vet with your concerns, Helen.

  2. Prabu
    July 25, 2017 at 1:21 pm (3 months ago)

    My cat got pyometra surgery at that night she can’t control herself so we taken to hospital at that night to give seduction on the way to hospital she died we didn’t know how to care him

  3. Melissa
    July 16, 2017 at 9:44 pm (3 months ago)

    My 15 year old kitty had to have her eye removed. She is 5 days post-op. She still has no desire to eat. She will drink water. I’ve resorted to syringe feeding her. She goes to the vet on Wednesday for a one week checkup. How long can I expect her to have no appetite? She is taking mirtzapine but it doesn’t help.

    • Ingrid
      July 17, 2017 at 4:49 am (3 months ago)

      I wouldn’t wait until Wednesday, Melissa – give your vet a call.

  4. Mel
    July 13, 2017 at 11:38 pm (3 months ago)

    Hi our cat had surgery on hind foot/paw for abses? Is it ok for her to use litter box? The incision is not covered because of drainage tube attached and I’m worried about it becoming infected again.

    • Mary Gabel
      October 6, 2017 at 8:21 am (1 week ago)

      Sterilize an empty litter box (the kind that has sides about four or five inches high). Shred newspapers up until you have the box filled about 3/4ths high (shreds dont need to be too small). Your vet should have told you this. Dust etc.from litter is not good for wounds.

  5. Kaylah
    July 5, 2017 at 5:31 pm (3 months ago)

    My 1 year old female cat got spayed almost two weeks ago. They originally gave her a soft e-collar, but after a week I had to take her back to the vet as she had popped a stitch and had also managed a way around the soft e-collar and had been licking her incision site excessively. They gave her a hard cone collar about 4 days ago to keep her from the incision site. Yesterday/this morning I have been noticing she keeps sitting in her litter box (which she has not done before) and this morning after sitting in her box for a while, I witnessed her having some pretty loose stool so it seems she is having some tummy troubles. She also had managed to get out of her cone collar overnight and it looked like she had taken to licking her incision site once again. (I put her cone collar back on and fastened it a little tighter this time – still able to comfortably slide two fingers in).My question is if its possible there is any link between her litter box behavior/tummy troubles and post-surgery stuff? Or are they likely separate issues? In addition is there anything else I should be looking for in light of either litter box/tummy issues and/or post surgery healing? Any info is helpful – thanks!

    • Ingrid
      July 6, 2017 at 5:23 am (3 months ago)

      It’s certainly possible that stress is a factor in your kitty’s loose stools, Kaylah, but if you haven’t already done so, please contact your vet.


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