Post-Operative Instructions in Cats

By Tammy Hunter, DVM; Catherine Barnette, DVM; Ernest Ward, DVM Catherine Barnette, DVM

What should I do when my cat arrives home after surgery?

After arriving home, you should keep your cat warm and comfortable by providing a soft, clean bed, ideally in a quiet and draft-free room at a comfortable room temperature (68-75°F or 20-24°C). Your cat should remain indoors. For most procedures, your cat’s activity should be restricted for one week after surgery. It is essential to avoid running, jumping, and other strenuous activities that could cause excessive strain on the wound.

When can I feed my cat?

You may offer your cat approximately half his usual dinner a few hours after arriving home. If she eats this and still seems hungry, you may offer the rest of her meal approximately one hour later. Some cats experience nausea after general anesthesia, so dividing the meal into smaller portions may decrease the risk of nausea and vomiting. Unless otherwise instructed, your cat’s access to water should not be restricted.

My cat is very sleepy. Is this normal?

Your cat was given a general anesthetic or a sedative. These drugs can take several hours to wear off and may cause some patients to appear drowsy for a day or so. Over the next 24-48 hours, your cat’s behavior should gradually return to normal. However, do not hesitate to contact the hospital if you are concerned.

Why has my cat’s foreleg been shaved?

If your cat has a shaved area on one of her front legs, this is typically where the anesthetic or sedative was administered. Additionally, many cats receive intravenous (IV) fluids through an IV catheter during surgery. The hair must be removed to allow the area to be adequately disinfected before inserting the catheter.

My cat has developed a slight cough since the operation. Should I be concerned?

Your cat may have had a tube placed in the trachea (windpipe) during anesthesia to administer oxygen and anesthetic gas. This can occasionally cause mild irritation and a slight cough. A mild post-surgical cough will typically diminish over the next few days. If coughing persists or worsens, contact the hospital.

What should I do if my cat licks his wound or chews the stitches?

Your cat instinctively may try to clean her surgical site by licking. If you have been given an Elizabethan collar (often referred to as a cone or E-collar) or recovery suit, please ensure it is used to prevent chewing. If you have not been given one of these items and your cat begins licking or chewing the incision, please contact the hospital and request one. If your cat succeeds in removing any stitches, please call the hospital as soon as possible.

"If your cat succeeds in removing any stitches, please call the hospital as soon as possible."

What should the incision look like, and when should I be concerned?

The incision should generally be clean, and the edges should be together. The skin surrounding the incision should be a normal or slightly reddish-pink color. In pale-skinned cats, bruising is often seen around the surgical site. This may not appear until a few days after the operation and, in some cases, can seem excessive compared to the size of the incision. This is due to seepage of blood under the skin’s edges and is a normal occurrence. Sometimes, a small amount of blood may seep intermittently from a fresh incision for up to 24 hours, especially if the animal is active.

You should be concerned and should contact the hospital immediately if you see any of the following at the surgical site:

  • Continuous or excessive blood draining
  • Intermittent blood seepage that continues for more than 24 hours
  • Excessive swelling or redness of the skin
  • Unpleasant odor or discharge

When do the stitches need to be removed?

Most skin stitches or sutures are generally removed seven to fourteen days after the operation; the actual time depends on the type of surgery performed. You will be instructed if and when your cat should return for suture removal. In some cases, your veterinarian may use sutures that do not require removal. These sutures are placed under your cat’s skin and will dissolve in the coming weeks. Contact your veterinarian if you have questions about your cat’s stitches.

When can my cat resume normal activities?

This will depend upon the type of operation your cat underwent. In most cases, your cat’s activity will need to be restricted for at least one to two weeks or until the sutures are removed (if the sutures are to be removed). During this time, limiting your cat’s activity is essential to prevent the incision from opening. It is also essential to avoid baths during this time, as moisture can help introduce bacteria into the wound and lead to infection. Your veterinarian will give you detailed instructions on activity restrictions and other post-operative instructions.

Will my cat receive medication after her surgery?

After surgery, your cat may be sent home with pain or other oral medications. If you have been given any medication to give your cat, please READ THE LABEL CAREFULLY and ensure that you administer ALL medication as instructed. If you are having trouble treating your cat, please contact the hospital for advice.

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