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.

412 Comments on Caring For Your Cat After Surgery

  1. Lucy
    January 16, 2019 at 12:56 am (7 months ago)

    Hey! My cat was spayed 5 days ago, everything looks fine, she seems fine and all she wants to do is play and jump. Is she going to be okay?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      January 16, 2019 at 6:10 am (7 months ago)

      I’d try to keep her quiet for a few more days, Lucy.

      Reply
  2. Aaki
    November 29, 2018 at 7:55 pm (9 months ago)

    Hi my 3 yr old cat swallowed a meter or 2 of sweing thread and underwent a critical surgery (lasted for 3 hours) where the threads had cut her interstines in several places passing through her esophagus, the surgery was a sucess however it has been about 14 hours and she still hasn’t completely woken up from her Anesthesia. Her breathing and temperature is normal as she is being given extra heat to help with it aswell, and we are constant monitoring her. I wanted to ask if in cases like this cats come out healthy or not ? and what are the measure that i should to take to ensure that her insides heal properly and loves a long life. Please help me.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 30, 2018 at 6:10 am (9 months ago)

      If you haven’t already done so, please contact your vet or your nearest emergency clinic immediately.

      Reply
      • Aaki
        November 30, 2018 at 12:47 pm (9 months ago)

        She woke up after 12 hours and is still partially under the effect of Anesthesia. She has been given pain killers, anti biotics and antacid . She is trying to get up and move but is all wobbly and cant. Showing signs of progress but has to be monitored for the next 9 days.

        Reply
  3. Kevin
    October 3, 2018 at 10:30 pm (11 months ago)

    My 13 year old cat had a broken fibula on his right hind leg and had to have surgery. It’s been over 24 hours and he is still lethargic and doesn’t seem to be eating (even his favorite treats) or drinking. Is it possible he is still under the influence of his pain medication, or should I be worried about a complication. I should note that he is currently contained in a large dog crate with a small litter box and a bowl of food and water and normally he is very vocal when he is confined in a cage.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      October 4, 2018 at 5:42 am (11 months ago)

      Please contact your vet as soon as possible to reports what you’re seeing. Most likely you’re seeing after effects from the anesthesia and his pain medication, but only your vet knows what medications were used and can advise you properly.

      Reply
  4. Adam
    October 3, 2018 at 3:53 am (11 months ago)

    Hi my 3 month old cat fell from the balcony on the second floor and broke one of her hind legs and had a surgery with a rod inserted, she’s been living in her carrier ever since (only allowed out to play a bit and take her calcium/vitD supplement) but she still cannot bear any weight on her injured leg, should I be worried or is it likely to get better with time (vet says to give more time but it breaks my heart when she meows to get out and play)

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      October 3, 2018 at 5:48 am (11 months ago)

      You don’t mention how long ago the surgery was. Typically, recovery time can take up to two months. Your best bet is to try to find ways to play with her that keep her engaged but not moving around too much. Perhaps a puzzle toy you can put in her cage with her, or iPad games designed for cats that she can paw at with her front paws?

      Reply
      • Adam
        October 4, 2018 at 12:50 am (11 months ago)

        Oh sorry about that, the fall happened when she was around 3 months old and now it’s two months later and she’s 5 months old but still cage bound only gets out a couple times a day kept in a small room so she doesn’t move a lot. What puzzle games would you recommend ? Is there anything else i could do for her? I even got her some pseudoscience “natural supplements” out of frustration since maaaaybe they could help

        Reply
  5. Giulia
    June 20, 2018 at 5:30 am (1 year ago)

    Hi,
    My cat fell from the window and broke a little bone in her left hip. We took her to the vet and they decided not to operate as they said she has dysplasia of her hip and it was a condition that was there before, which got worse after the fall. The vet said we should wait for her left side to heal and see if she can regain her balance and adjust herself. She told me I should let her walk so that she doesn’t lose the muscle in her left leg.
    Iris is a very lively calico, full of energy and so used to run, jump, hunt and be extremely active, so now that she is in pain she is getting very depressed and I am very sad as I don’t know what to do. After the fall the first week that she was in a lot of pain and shock I gave her Bach flowers rescue remedy and I saw that she was calmer. Now that the shock is gone it became depression – she doesn’t want to eat, is loosing weight and is very sad that she cannot move and jump around. The vet said that it is normal, she needs time; but I don’t want her to become depressed. I try to spend as much time as I can with her and reassure her that she will be fine, but during the day I work and she is home alone. Have you ever tried any natural remedies against depression? I really hope this is a moment and that she will get back to normal once she recovers (it will take some time). She is only 2 years old and was very healthy before the fall so I’m hopeful that things will get better in the next weeks, I just want to prevent her from becoming depressed and I am at a loss. The vet also said to avoid giving her painkillers every day as that could cause problems later on to her kidneys and liver. Any similar experience and comments would be greatly appreciated! Thanks a lot! Giulia

    Reply
  6. Emma
    June 19, 2018 at 8:09 pm (1 year ago)

    We just adopted a 6 wk kitten who got spayed and has to wear a cone so she won’t mess with her wound. It’s a cloth collar, so it’s flexible and comfortable besides the typical awkwardness and disorientation.

    I haven’t seen her use a litter box until about 30 minutes ago. She was able to cover her urine, but she didn’t cover her feces. Is this typical for a kitten? Is it because of the cone?

    Reply
  7. Nicole
    April 3, 2018 at 5:43 am (1 year ago)

    Our cat has just been spayed today – she got the E collar off and pulled her stitch open – i tried to bandage with gauze and bandage (being a nurse) but she continued to roll and it moved. Ive stuck a bandaid on and rebandaged but concerned. Vet doesnt open for 12 hours….

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      April 3, 2018 at 5:51 am (1 year ago)

      If she opened the incision all the way, I’d probably contact an emergency vet, Nicole.

      Reply
      • Nicole
        April 3, 2018 at 6:06 am (1 year ago)

        She only had one suture – the incision is about half an inch – ive looked and theres no after hours vets in my area.

        Reply
  8. Tim reitberger
    March 15, 2018 at 7:25 pm (1 year ago)

    My cat just had surgery for bladder stones a few days ago. He’s doing well I just wondered if I can pick him up at all or just let him be?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      March 16, 2018 at 5:43 am (1 year ago)

      I would let him come to you rather than picking him up, Tim.

      Reply
  9. Debra
    March 2, 2018 at 1:05 am (1 year ago)

    My female cat just had cysts removed and was spayed. When she moves around she leaves trails of blood. And she threw up so much liquid that looked also like blood… vet not open tomorrow, not sure what to do at this point.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      March 2, 2018 at 6:26 am (1 year ago)

      If you haven’t already done so, contact your nearest emergency clinic, Debra.

      Reply
  10. Gail Marsden
    February 3, 2018 at 5:18 am (2 years ago)

    Hi , my car had an operation on her eye late on Wednesday it is now Saturday and she hasn’t peed yet. . She usually does this outside and is crying to go out. I keep putting her in the litter tray but she keeps getting out . What should I do ?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      February 3, 2018 at 6:41 am (2 years ago)

      Contact your vet immediately or take your cat to the nearest emergency room – if your cat really hasn’t peed in three days, it could be a life-threatening.

      Reply
  11. Tara
    January 29, 2018 at 2:15 am (2 years ago)

    My cat was spayed 4 days ago and I’m worried her incision is getting infected it has a little leakage but doesn’t smell bad and it looks like some of the glue on the outer part of the site has come off… should I take my cat back to the vet or am I freaking out for no reason? How do I send you a picture?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      January 29, 2018 at 6:41 am (2 years ago)

      Contact your vet, Tara.

      Reply
  12. Diane
    December 31, 2017 at 5:39 am (2 years ago)

    My 18 year old cat had cyst removed above eye. I’m terrified. I just want him to get well.

    Reply
  13. Dianne
    December 23, 2017 at 10:44 pm (2 years ago)

    Hello, my kitten got spayed today and had to get him a cone since I noticed he started licking. Have a few questions, such as; how many days should I leave him with the cone on? How many days does it take to heal and is allowed to lick area? Is it safe for him to play/run around? How do I know if the area got infected?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 24, 2017 at 6:23 am (2 years ago)

      While some of these questions are addressed in this article, it’s always best to check with your vet if you have any doubts, Dianne.

      Reply
  14. Isamar
    December 16, 2017 at 8:54 pm (2 years ago)

    My cat had surgery yesterday and she is still very much the same before surgery. Super mellow, no energy, no appetite I’m worried that she isn’t showing improvement.. is this normal ?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 17, 2017 at 6:00 am (2 years ago)

      Contact your vet as soon as possible.

      Reply
  15. Cory
    November 3, 2017 at 2:25 pm (2 years ago)

    Cat had surgery on stomach 8 days ago is eating like normal, playing, running, drinking using bathroom jumping. All like before surgery like nothing happened. Scares me because he is jumping off the top of fridge and cabinets having a good ole time. Can he jar his stitches loose?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 3, 2017 at 4:23 pm (2 years ago)

      Check with your vet, Cory – it depends on the type of sutures that were used.

      Reply
  16. Aisha Nordin
    November 2, 2017 at 1:18 pm (2 years ago)

    My 12 year old cat just discharged from a stay at the animal hospital for her eye removal. She’s hissing and vocalizing like when they use in a cat fight when theres nothing there. Is that the drugs wearing out/hallucinating or her way of telling that she’s in pain?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 3, 2017 at 5:07 am (2 years ago)

      Contact your vet, Aisha. My guess is that this is a sign of pain.

      Reply
  17. Helen
    August 13, 2017 at 3:37 am (2 years 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.

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

      Please contact your vet with your concerns, Helen.

      Reply
    • Stephanie
      August 24, 2018 at 6:27 pm (12 months ago)

      Hi,

      Did your cat recover? My cat is recovering from surgery as well and need advice. Thanks.

      Reply
  18. Prabu
    July 25, 2017 at 1:21 pm (2 years 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

    Reply
    • Mary bowman
      January 28, 2018 at 6:15 pm (2 years ago)

      So sorry for your loss!

      Reply
  19. Melissa
    July 16, 2017 at 9:44 pm (2 years 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.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      July 17, 2017 at 4:49 am (2 years ago)

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

      Reply
  20. Mel
    July 13, 2017 at 11:38 pm (2 years 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.

    Reply
    • Mary Gabel
      October 6, 2017 at 8:21 am (2 years 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.

      Reply
  21. Kaylah
    July 5, 2017 at 5:31 pm (2 years ago)

    Hi,
    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!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      July 6, 2017 at 5:23 am (2 years 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.

      Reply

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