How To Help Your Cat Recover After Surgery

Here, our Cave Creek vets provide you with some tips and advice you can use to help your cat recover as quickly as possible after their surgery.

Follow Post-Operative Care Instructions

You will most likely experience some feelings of anxiety, before, during, and after your cat's surgery. A critical part of helping your cat recover as quickly as possible is understanding how you have to care for them after their procedure.

Following your kitty's operation, your vet will give you detailed and clear instructions on how you need to care for your cat at home, while they are recovering. It's extremely important to follow these instructions very carefully.

If you aren't clear on any of the steps you have been given, you need to ask your vet for clarification. If you realize you have misunderstood one of the instructions after you have gotten home, call your vet to ask them for clarification. 

How Long it Takes Cats to Recover After Surgery

On average, our vets find that cats recover from soft tissue surgeries such as reproductive procedures (C-sections, spays & neuters) or abdominal surgery faster than ones involving joints, tendons, ligaments, or bones. In most situations, pets heal after soft tissue surgeries in about 2 to 3 weeks and heal completely in approximately 6 weeks.

Pets that have had orthopedic surgeries (which involve ligaments, bones, and other skeletal structures) typically take a lot longer to recover. Roughly 80% of your cat's recovery will take place about 8 to 12 weeks following surgery. But, the complete recovery time after orthopedic surgery could take 6 months or more.

In this post, our Cave Creek vets share a few tips that can help you keep your cat content and comfortable during their recovery at home.

The Effects of the General Anesthetic

During your cat's surgical procedure, your vet will use a general anesthetic to render your cat unconscious and prevent them from experiencing any pain during the operation. However, it can take some time for the effects of anesthesia to wear off after the surgery is complete.

Some of the effects your cat may experience from the general anesthetic could include temporary shakiness on their feet or sleepiness. These after-effects are normal and should fade with rest. Temporary lack of appetite is also a common after-effect in cats recovering from the effects of anesthesia.

Feeding Your Cat Following Their Surgery

As a result of the general anesthesia, your cat will probably feel slightly nauseated and will lose some of their appetite following their surgical procedure. When feeding your kitty after surgery, try giving them something small and light, such as chicken or fish. You can also feed your cat their regular food, but make sure you are only giving them a quarter of their usual portion.

If you find your cat isn't eating after the surgery, you don't need to be worried because this is normal, just monitor them closely. You can expect your cat's appetite to return approximately 24 hours after their surgery. At that point, your pet can gradually start eating their regular food again. If you notice 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.

Managing Your Cat's Pain

Before you and your cat return home after their surgery, your vet 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 carefully explain the dose your cat requires, how often you should be giving them the medication, and how to safely give your cat the meds. Remember to follow all of the instructions your vet gives you in order to prevent any unnecessary pain during recovery and to eliminate the risk of side effects. If you aren't sure about any of the instructions you were provided with, ask your vet 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 a sedative or anti-anxiety medication to help them stay calm while they heal. 

Never provide your cat with human medications without consulting your veterinarian first. Many drugs that help us feel better are toxic to our four-legged friends.

Ways to Keep Your Cat Comfortable At Home

As your cat is recovering from surgery, it's key to provide your kitty with a comfortable and quiet place to rest, well separated 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 part of their body.

How to Keep Your Cat From Jumping After Surgery

Odds are, your veterinarian will suggest restricting 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, especially after procedures involving fracture repairs or other types of orthopedic surgeries where rest is essential.

During your kitty's recovery period, you can keep them in a smaller area of the house and remove furniture that they may want to jump onto.

Very few surgeries require significant crate or cage rest to help your cat recover, and most outdoor cats will be able to cope well with staying indoors for a few days as they recover.

Helping Your Cat Handle Crate Rest

While most surgeries won't require putting your cat on crate rest, if they have had orthopedic surgery, a portion of their recovery will consist of strictly limiting their movements.

If your vet prescribes your cat with crate rest 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.

Ensure the size of your kitty's crate is large enough for them to stand up and turn around. You might have to get a larger crate if your cat needs to wear a plastic cone or e-collar to prevent licking. Don’t forget to provide your kitty with enough space for their food and water bowls. Spills can occur and can make your pet's crate a wet and uncomfortable place to spend time, and make their bandages wet and soiled.

Cage rest can be hard for cats and they could become bored. Ask your vet if you can let your kitty out of the cage for limited time periods for gentle play and interaction.

For cats that must be on extended cage rest, feeding enrichment can help relieve boredom.

Stitches & Bandages

If your cat's stitches are on the inside of their incision, they will dissolve on their own as the incision heals.

If your cat has stitches or staples on the outside of their incision, you will need to come back 2 weeks after the procedure because your vet will have to remove them. Your veterinarian will let you know what kind of stitches they used to close your pet's incision and about any follow-up care, your kitty will need.

It's critical to make sure the bandages are dry at all times so your cat’s surgical site can heal quickly.

If your pet 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, causing infection.

The Incision Site

Most of the time it's hard for cat owners to keep their pets from chewing, scratching, or messing around with their incision site. A cone-shaped plastic Elizabethan collar (available in both soft and hard versions) 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.

Go to Your Cat's Follow-Up Appointment

When you come in for your follow-up appointment, your vet will assess your cat's recovery process, check for any signs of infection, and change your kitty's bandages.

Our veterinary team at Animal Health Services is able to properly dress surgical sites and wounds. Bringing your cat to our veterinary hospital for their follow-up appointment allows this process to happen — and lets us make sure your cat's healing is progressing smoothly. We'll also address any worries you might have.

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.

Don't hesitate to reach out to our Cave Creek vets with any questions or concerns you may have about your cat's surgery or recovery process.