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.

287 Comments on Caring For Your Cat After Surgery

  1. Kent
    November 19, 2015 at 3:47 am (1 week ago)

    My cat just went to the vet about 2 days ago, although, once we came to pick him up. The vet said that there was this strange yellow liquid inside of him. Before we took him to the vet, he was acting strange for days now. We thought he only had an upset stomach, but it turned out to be a rare disease. The vet told us that we wouldn’t have to pay for anything because of this rare disease. The vet also told us that we’d need our cat to undergo surgery, although his chances of living are 1 out of 4 (1/4).

    His symptoms are:
    -Big stomach
    -Loss in weight (He was healthy and quite fat before – heavy.)
    -Yellow liquid inside the stomach. The vet told us that they’ve never seen yellow liquid inside a cat before.
    -Doesn’t eat, just drinks water.

    Can anyone tell me what’s his sickness? or any remedies? Thank you in advance

    • Ingrid
      November 19, 2015 at 7:08 am (1 week ago)

      I’m not sure what to make of the fact that your vet calls this a rare disease, and that you won’t have to pay for any charges because it’s rare. Is the vet you saw a veterinary specialist? Without having more information (lab results, ultrasound and/or radiograph results, etc.) I wouldn’t even want to begin to guess. Since you seem to have a lot of questions, I would recommend getting a second opinion from a boarded internal medicine specialist. Your current vet can refer you to one in your area. All my best to your kitty.

  2. Peggy
    October 14, 2015 at 7:02 am (1 month ago)

    Hello, I took 5 10 week old kittens to be spay and neutered on Mon & Tues. They are now recovered from the anesthesia and are running & jumping on everything they can find. I have them confined to one room but it has not stopped them. I don’t have the space to separate them and am worried they might hurt themselves internally. Is there a natural sedative that I can give them that will calm them down for a few days?

    • Ingrid
      October 14, 2015 at 7:58 am (1 month ago)

      Call your vet to see what they recommend, Peggy.

  3. Meagan
    September 4, 2015 at 5:37 pm (3 months ago)

    My male cat was just nuetured yesterday. When i took him home i noticed that he had looked like he lost weight, however he was eating and has been so I didn’t think much of it.
    He will not let me pick him up even gently, the slightest pressure on his stomach and he cries. Today he tried to jump up on the couch like he usually does to cuddle with me and he didn’t make it fell down and cried in pain. He tried one more time and didn’t make it again. I am super worried about him. My vet is not back until Tuesday today is Friday and I am not sure what to do.

    • Ingrid
      September 5, 2015 at 6:21 am (3 months ago)

      You need to contact an emergency vet, Meagan. While not being able to jump on the couch after general anesthesia may be normal if he hadn’t completely recovered at that point, he should not show a pain response to pressure on his stomach.

    • Hannah
      November 18, 2015 at 5:56 am (1 week ago)

      Hi I’m having a similar experience with my cat I would just like to know when you took him to the vets, did they find something wrong was it to do with neuter surgery that lead to having another problem?

  4. naureen
    August 28, 2015 at 11:33 am (3 months ago)

    Hi I have a six month old kitten who was spayed today. I’m currently posted somewhere with not great vet care and they aren’t answering my calls. She freaked out about her e collar as soon as she woke up and was basically doing flips into things to try and break it off making me worried she would open her incision. I finally had to take her e collar off because I was afraid she’d kill herself because she was trying to wedge her head in my box spring. I’m trying to fashion a double to triple layer of covering of her lower torso with baby clothes once she goes to sleep because she won’t let me touch her yet. Should that work?
    Please note- taking her to the vet is impossible because there is no 24 hour hospital open here except the one that has terrible service on nights and holidays- they handled my last cat’s illness and death terribly. The one good vet there is out of town for the weekend. I think not traumatizing her is key because she had a bad reaction to anesthesia and had to get air. She is really phobic about e collars and even after 8 days would not go near her brother after he was fixed until the collar was off.

    • Ingrid
      August 28, 2015 at 12:42 pm (3 months ago)

      I’m sorry you have such poor access to good vet care, Naureen. I do agree that you want to avoid traumatizing her. Figuring out some way to loosely cover the incision should work if she’ll tolerate it, just make sure you don’t wrap anything around the area too tightly. Keep a very close eye on the incision until the good vet gets back (and hopefully you won’t need them.)

      • naureen
        August 28, 2015 at 1:54 pm (3 months ago)

        Thanks! I finally figured out a covering where’s she is miserable but not throwing herself at walls. However by the time I could reach her it looked like she’d opened her wound a bit. It’s not bleeding but doesn’t look completely closed- I’ve never had a cat with glue on an incision- does it look slightly open or should I take her to a second class vet tomorrow. There’s no oozing blood and jihad it had completely opened I would expect there to be since its been less than 12 hours

        • Ingrid
          August 28, 2015 at 4:26 pm (3 months ago)

          I would err on the side of caution and have the second class vet take a look at it tomorrow, Naureen. If it’s just a tiny opening and no discharge of any kind, it’s PROBABLY safe to wait until your good vet is back on Monday, but it’s not worth taking chances.

          • Naureen
            September 5, 2015 at 9:25 am (3 months ago)

            Thanks for the help- she had opened it up and needed stitches but with the help of bandaids on the edge of her dressing and baby clothes- we have kept those in for a week and soups be able to taken out on Monday. I’m hoping to never need this but next time- no e collar!

          • Ingrid
            September 5, 2015 at 9:32 am (3 months ago)

            Thanks for the update, Naureen. I’m glad she’s okay!

  5. Janet
    June 13, 2015 at 12:51 pm (6 months ago)

    This is a great article! Thanks so much for sharing. As you mentioned in the article, my 3.5 yo DSH polydactyl was REALLY good at hiding the pain. We had NO idea she was in pain until she p’s in a box of kitty toys. Turns out she had 7 bladder stones! She had a bad reaction to the anesthesia so her surgery had to be canceled. We tried again a week later with different drugs (2 days before Christmas lat year) and she was “an easy surgery patient.” Because of the earlier complications, my vet kept her overnight. They sent us home with a Trimline E-collar, but she freaked out when she got home and coldn’t walk with it (I guess her legs are a little shorter than normal kitties). I took the collar off and she ran around SO happy, just like a new kitten! WE were stressed after her surgery because she was jumping and running all over. We tried to get her to stop jumping for fear opening the wound, but we couldn’t keep her down. Anytime we put the collar on, she would somehow weasel her way out of it. We think she was just in so much pain and discomfort for so long that she felt like a new kitty and had to make up for lost time. It’s 6 months later and she still acts like a new kitten! She even eats all of her nasty prescription diet. How did we get so lucky with such a sweet girl?!! >^..^<

    • Ingrid
      June 13, 2015 at 1:37 pm (6 months ago)

      I’m so glad your girl had such a good recovery after her surgery, Janet. Sometimes, you just have to give up on the collar… :-)

  6. khai
    March 24, 2015 at 11:02 am (8 months 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!

    • Ingrid
      March 24, 2015 at 12:16 pm (8 months 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.

  7. Bonnie
    February 3, 2015 at 8:53 pm (10 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,


    • Ingrid
      February 4, 2015 at 7:18 am (10 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!

      • Bonnie
        February 5, 2015 at 12:13 am (10 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,

        • Ingrid
          February 5, 2015 at 7:38 am (10 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.

          • Bonnie
            February 6, 2015 at 5:06 pm (10 months ago)

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



  8. Zoe
    January 24, 2015 at 8:19 am (10 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?

    • Ingrid
      January 24, 2015 at 2:47 pm (10 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.

  9. Kate
    January 16, 2015 at 7:25 pm (10 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?

    • Ingrid
      January 17, 2015 at 7:04 am (10 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.

  10. Shannon
    January 12, 2015 at 9:43 am (11 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.

  11. Shannon McCabe
    January 11, 2015 at 10:05 pm (11 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.

    • Ingrid
      January 12, 2015 at 7:10 am (11 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.

  12. Saylor
    December 28, 2014 at 12:53 pm (11 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?

    • Ingrid
      December 28, 2014 at 1:11 pm (11 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.

  13. Cathy
    December 20, 2014 at 8:34 pm (11 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.)

    • Ingrid
      December 21, 2014 at 7:05 am (11 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! :-)

      • Cathy
        June 14, 2015 at 1:02 pm (6 months ago)

        So, update. I finally found her ecollar-she hid it under our summer clothes container. Don’t know how she managed to do that first day out but……this is the cat that can turn her litter box on and off depending on her whims. Thanks for the advice!

        • Ingrid
          June 14, 2015 at 4:32 pm (6 months ago)

          Sneaky girl!


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