After an operation, your cat will need extra love and attention as you keep them calm and comfortable during the healing period. Our guide will help you understand the basics of looking after your cat after an operation or dental procedure, what to expect after neutering a cat, how to keep your cat from jumping after surgery, how to tell if a cat is in pain after surgery and general advice on what to expect after an operation.
Your vet should provide you with post-operative advice and tips to keep your cat comfortable. Every cat is different, which means cat behaviour after surgery can vary, but your vet will be able to share guidelines and you should listen carefully to their advice –particularly for major surgery such as amputations, where special aftercare may be necessary.
Once your cat is able to come home, your cat is likely to be quieter and sleepier than usual for the first 48 hours or so. It is also normal for your cat to initially use the litter tray less frequently and refuse food. If you have other pets or children at home, you may wish to put your cat’s food, bed and litter tray somewhere quiet in your home, to give them a peaceful space to recover.
If your cat has been given medication, make sure to follow your vet’s instructions and give as directed. Some cats don’t like taking tablets, if you’re concerned ask your vet for advice, as some tablets can be opened and sprinkled on food.
Your cat might not feel like tucking into a feast when they get home, even if they were required to go without food leading up to surgery. Anaesthetic can cause nausea, so it’s a good idea to keep meals light and plain.
Try offering your cat small portions of plain, high-protein food such as chicken or fish. These are very nutritious and will help avoid an upset stomach as they are easily digestible. It’s best to avoid tinned foods containing jelly or gravy until you cat is feeling more normal, if possible. Serve small portions for the first few hours. For cats that have had dental surgery, they may prefer soft, mashed food to help their gums heal.
You should provide fresh water as always, and don’t worry too much if their appetite is less than usual. If you notice your cat isn’t eating much at all after a day or so, you should get in touch with your vet.
Rest is an essential part of healing, but cat behaviour after surgery is different for every cat and it’s not uncommon for some to be unusually energetic after operations. They’ll need your help to stay calm and comfortable to ensure they heal properly.
It is best to keep your cat indoors during the initial healing stages. Their coordination and ability to regulate their body temperature can be affected by anaesthetic, therefore keeping them indoors will minimise risk of injury. Keeping them inside will also prevent damage to any stitches or bandages.
You may wonder how to keep your cat from jumping after surgery, especially after operations such as fracture repairs or other kinds of orthopaedic surgery, where rest is even more important. Your vet may advise cage rest to prevent them jumping or moving around too much. A puppy or dog crate furnished with a bed, litter tray, food and water bowl can be the best way of providing cage rest. Cage rest can be hard for cats and boredom can set in. Talk to your vet about whether limited periods outside of the cage for interaction and gentle play are possible.
Feeding enrichment can help relieve the boredom for cats on extended cage rest. Where cage rest isn’t specifically advised, it is a good idea to limit your cat’s ability to jump and climb onto furniture by placing them in a smaller area of the house with these objects removed for the duration of the recovery period.
You may be familiar with plastic protective collars, commonly called a buster collar or an Elizabethan collar (informally known as the ‘cone of shame’ online!). Soft fabric versions of these collars are now also used, as well as doughnut-shaped collars to restrict movement of the head. Protective collars are helpful in making sure your cat can’t lick, bite or scratch the wound. Your vet will show you how to fit a protective collar correctly.
The collar should allow your cat to eat and drink comfortably. If your cat refuses, you can remove it temporarily and with supervision, but you must put it back on after mealtimes.
Most cats adjust quickly to a protective collar, but some will try to pull it off. It can be tempting to make your cat more comfortable by removing the collar early, but it only takes a moment for your cat to hurt themselves by biting at a wound. Removing it too early can delay the healing process. Your vet will advise you on when the collar can be safely removed.
Looking after your cat after an operation involves paying attention to their wounds and monitoring for any unusual changes. For most procedures, vets use dissolvable stitches that don’t require a second trip to the vet for removal. If they do need to be removed, your vet will let you know when you need to come back in.
One of the most important things you can do to ensure smooth healing is make sure your cat is not interfering with the wound. It’s natural for your cat to want to groom the area or chew the stitches to soothe irritation, but this can lead to complications such as infection. Your cat’s protective collar should help, but you may need to watch out for your other pets trying to lend a helping hand and cleaning it for them!
During the healing period, keep an eye out for excessive swelling, bleeding, redness or discharge. If you notice anything unusual, speak to your vet as soon as possible.
With bandages, it’s very important to keep these clean and dry. Damp bandages can impact the wound beneath and introduce infection so it’s best to keep your cat warm and dry inside. You may want to keep a close eye on your cat when they’re using the litter tray to make sure the bandage isn’t soiled. If the bandage gets loose or wet, speak to your vet about replacing it. Likewise, if your cat is excessively bothering the bandage, speak to your vet.
Many owners want to know what to expect after neutering their cat. Neutering, also known as spaying (females) or castration (males) is a very common procedure. that most cats undergo without complications. Neutering your cat by the time they are four months old not only prevents pregnancy and unwanted behaviours such as spraying, but young cats often recover well from these surgeries.
Females are spayed (womb and ovaries removed). They will have a shaved patch of fur on their left side or in the middle of their belly. They may also have a shaved patch on one or both of their front legs or neck, which allows access to their veins for blood testing and for the administration of anaesthetic drugs during their surgery.
Males are castrated (testicles removed). They do not have stitches but they will have a small cut in the skin over the testicles which will heal by itself within the next seven days. They may also have a shaved patch on one or both of their front legs or neck, which allows access to their veins for blood testing and for the administration of anaesthetic drugs during their surgery.
After surgery, for both males and females, it is important to keep them as calm as possible to help minimise the chance of post-operative complications. As the surgical wound will take around seven to 10 days to fully heal, try to restrict running and jumping where possible until the wound has healed. Check the wound carefully at least twice a day until healed, looking for any signs of redness, swelling or discharge, and don’t allow your kitten/cat to lick the wound. Contact your vet as soon as possible if you notice any of those signs, or if your cat/kitten seems unwell.
As your cat gets older, they might require dental work to keep their teeth healthy. Procedures such as teeth cleaning or extraction will usually require anaesthesia.
Your cat might struggle to eat their usual foods such as dry biscuits after their dental procedure. Soaking their usual dry food in water can help to soften it up and make eating more comfortable. You should continue to pay attention to your cat’s behaviour after the procedure. If your cat is reluctant to eat after a few days or seems unwell, contact your vet.
Cats are very good at hiding pain, which makes it particularly important to monitor your cat for any changes in their behaviour after surgery. You can read more about signs to watch out for here, but here are some of the signs you should look out for:
If you suspect your cat is in pain, you should contact your vet as soon as possible.
Every operation is likely to impact your cat in some way and you may want to pay extra attention to your cat’s behaviour after a surgery or a dental procedure. Alongside the signs of pain listed above, if you notice any of the following, it’s a good idea to call your vet for advice: