Knowing how to care for your cat after they have surgery is essential to helping your feline friend return to their normal activities as soon as possible. Here is some advice from our Stanwood veterinary team about how to care for your cat after surgery.
Follow The Post-Op Instructions From Your Vet
After your cat's surgery, your vet will provide you with clear and detailed instructions about how to care for them while they are recovering at home. It is critical that you follow these instructions carefully. If there are any steps you are unclear about ask your vet for clarification. If you return home and realize you've forgotten some aspect of your cat's aftercare, don't hesitate to call and clarify.
Recovery Times for Cats After Surgery
Cats will typically recover from soft tissue surgeries - such as abdominal surgery or reproductive surgeries - more quickly than surgeries involving bones, joints ligaments or tendons. Often, soft-tissue surgeries are predominately healed within two or three weeks, taking about 6 weeks to heal completely.
For orthopedic surgeries, those involving bones, ligaments and other skeletal structures, recovery takes much longer. About 80% of your cat's recovery will occur within 8 to 12 weeks following surgery, but many orthopedic surgeries take 6 months or more for complete recovery.
Here are a few tips from our Stanwood vets to help you keep your cat contented and comfortable as they recover at home:
Getting Over the Effects of General Anesthetic
We use general anesthetics during our surgical procedures in order to render your pet unconscious and to prevent them from feeling any pain during the operation. It can take some time for the effects to wear off after the procedure is completed.
Effects of general anesthetic may include temporary sleepiness or shakiness on their feet. These after-effects are quite normal and should fade with rest. Temporary lack of appetite is also quite common in cats who are recovering from the effects of general anesthesia.
Feeding Your Cat After Surgery
Because of the effects of general anesthetic, your cat will likely feel slightly nauseated and will lose some of their appetite after a surgical procedure. When feeding them after surgery, try for something small and light, such as chicken or fish. You can also give them their regular food, but ensure that you only provide them with about a quarter of their usual portion.
If your cat is not eating after surgery, don't be alarmed. Expect your cat's appetite to return within about 24 hours following their procedure. At that point, your pet can gradually start to eat their regular food again. If you find that your pet’s appetite hasn’t returned within 48 hours, contact your veterinarian or veterinary surgeon. Loss of appetite can be a sign of infection or pain.
Post-Surgery Pain Management for Cats
Before you and your cat return home after their surgery, a veterinary professional will explain to you what pain relievers or other medications they have prescribed for your pet so you can manage your cat's post-operative pain or discomfort.
They will explain the dose needed, how often you should provide the medication, and how to safely administer the meds. Be sure to follow these instructions carefully to prevent any unnecessary pain during recovery and to eliminate the risk of side effects. If you are unsure about any instructions, ask follow-up questions.
Vets will often prescribe antibiotics and pain medications after surgery in order to prevent infections and relieve discomfort. If your cat has anxiety or is somewhat high-strung, our vets may also prescribe them with a sedative or anti-anxiety medication to help them stay calm throughout the healing process.
Never provide your cat with human medications without first consulting your veterinarian. Many drugs made for humans, especially anti-inflammatories, are toxic to cats.
Keeping Your Pet Comfortable At Home
After their surgery, it's key to provide your cat with a comfortable and quiet place to rest, well apart from the hustle and bustle of your home, including other pets and children. Setting up a comfortable and soft bed for your kitty and giving them lots of room to spread out will help prevent excessive pressure on any one part of their body.
Restricting Your Cat's Movement
Your vet will likely recommend limiting your pet’s movement for a specified period (usually a week) after surgery. Sudden jumping or stretching can disrupt the healing process and may even cause the incision to reopen.
A good way to keep your cat from jumping after surgery is to remove the temptation by not giving them access to their climbing toy (hide the cat tree in the garage).
Another tip on how to keep your cat from jumping after surgery is to watch them carefully and correct the behavior immediately.
While most surgeries won't require crate rest for your cat, if they underwent orthopedic surgery, part of our recovery will involve a strict limit on their movements.
If your vet prescribes crate rest for your cat after their surgery, there are some measures you can take to make sure they are as comfortable as possible spending long periods of time confined.
Make sure that your pet's crate is large enough to allow your cat to stand up and turn around. You may need to purchase a larger crate if your cat has a plastic cone or e-collar to prevent licking. Don’t forget to make sure that your cat has plenty of room for their water and food dishes. Spills can make your pet's crate a wet and uncomfortable place to spend time, and cause bandages to become wet and soiled.
Dealing With Your Cat's Stitches & Bandages
Stitches that have been placed on the inside of your pet's incision will dissolve as the incision heals.
If your cat has stitches or staples on the outside of their incision, your vet will need to remove them around 2 weeks after the procedure. Your vet will let you know what kind of stitches were used to close your pet's incision and about any follow-up care they will require.
Ensuring bandages are dry at all times is another critical step to helping your pet’s surgical site heal quickly.
If your cat walks around or goes outside, ensure the bandages are covered with cling wrap or a plastic bag to prevent wet grass or dampness from getting between the bandage and their skin. When your pet returns inside, remove the plastic covering, as leaving it on may cause sweat to build up under the bandage, leading to infection.
The Incision Site
Cat owners will often find it challenging to stop their pet from scratching, chewing or messing around with the site of their surgical incision. A cone-shaped plastic Elizabethan collar (sometimes known as the cone of shame) is an effective option to prevent your pet from licking their wound.
Many cats adapt to the collar quickly, but if your pet is struggling to adjust, other options are available. Ask your veterinarian about less cumbersome products such as post-op medical pet shirts or donut-style collars.
Attend Your Cat’s Follow-Up Appointment
The follow-up appointment gives your vet an opportunity to monitor your pet’s recovery, check for signs of infection, and properly change your cat's bandages. Do not skip the follow-up appointment!
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.