How to properly care for your cat after surgery

Thatcher spent 4 days at the vets right before Christmas. He ate FLUFF! The dog had got ahold of a stuffed catnip filled toy and ripped it open. He pulled all the stuffing out and along comes Thatcher who smells the catnip mixed into the stuffing and he ate it!

Cat getting post surgical check up

We first realized the problem when Thatcher vomited stuffing all over the floor. It must have been right after he ate it because it was still white...not even discolored by stomach fluids yet! We didn't even consider that he didn't vomit it all up. *sigh* 

Within 24 hours he started vomiting his food back up. By the next day he was a starting to act lethargic and we called for an appointment later that day. When we got to the vet they X-rayed him and noticed his intestines were sort of balled up in one area.

The veterinarian explained that the intestine normally moves the food through but since something was stuck there, the intestine was gathering up a bit giving it that odd appearance. They were going to have to remove the fluff. 

LONG story short, Thatcher no longer has fluff in him and he came home after 3 nights. So today I wanted to talk about feline surgery after care.

Related reading: Most common cat illnesses.

Eventually I will finish the article I have mostly written on care after spay or neuter but for now, we're talking about general surgery. I used to help run clinics for low cost spay & neuter services and part of my job was to explain the post op care. 

I am not a vet nor a vet tech but I have been asked pretty much every question over the years and have got those answers from the vet, so I'm just passing on that info.

First off: ALWAYS refer to the care sheet your pets veterinary professional has given you! They are obviously going to have more details about your pets procedure and will know all the vital details. This is a basic overview.

Cat in surgical recovery at veterinary clinic

How to care for your cat after surgery

Proper care after surgery is crucial to your pets recovery. From wound care to monitoring their behavior, there are common mistakes that you need to be aware of in order to provide the best care possible.

Wound care 

Proper care of the surgery area is essential to ensuring your cat's recovery goes smoothly. Understanding the recovery process includes knowing how to clean and dress wounds to prevent infections and promote healing. Pay close attention to any specific instructions provided by your veterinarian regarding wound care to avoid any complications. 

Take a picture of the wound the day your cat comes home. Check the wound daily and compare it to the picture. If you notice any redness, discharge, swelling, the wound is open or it feels warmer than the surrounding skin, call your vet!!! These could all be a sign of infection. 

The picture is so important to have to compare because our memories can be a little off sometimes, especially when stressed and having one of our pets be sick can be very stressful!

In order to promote healing and prevent infections, it's important to keep the area clean and keep the cat from messing with it. They can cause a lot of damage to themselves (and infection!) by biting or scratching at their surgical incision. So, make absolutely sure your cat is not scratching, biting at or licking the wound. 

If the wound has a bandage on it change it as the vet instructed. Make sure to apply any ointment or creams as directed. Set a timer or write a schedule if you need to. 

You'll probably have to watch him, like a lot! Use a puffy collar or recovery cone if you need to. Make sure to supervise your cat while he/she has the collar on as you don't want them trying to go somewhere the collar doesn't fit and getting stuck!

Tabby cat wearing Elizabethan collar after surgery

Proper Pain Management

Proper pain management is crucial during your cat's recovery. It's important to follow your veterinarian's recommendations for pain medication to ensure your furry friend is as comfortable as possible. Write yourself a schedule if need be or set alarms for when medication is due. 

I absolutely had to write a schedule because Thatcher had pain meds, antibiotics, anti nausea medication and appetite stimulants! Some were once a day, some twice and others 3 times! It was a lot to keep track of and I could never have got it right without a written schedule!

You want to stay ahead of the pain by sticking to the Dr recommendations precisely! By managing your cat's pain effectively, you can help speed up the healing process and promote a smoother recovery overall. 

Do not over or under dose your cat! Pay attention when they take their medicine and if you hide it in their food, make sure they actually ate the part with the medicine in it! If your cat is throwing up their medicine call the vet and let them know. They might want to change medications to something your cat can tolerate better, or give them something for the vomiting.

Monitoring Your Cat's Behavior

It is very important to closely monitor their behavior for any signs of distress or complications. It's completely normal for your cat to not want to do very much the first day or so after surgery, but if it's more than a few days out and your cat is still acting sick, you should call your vet to ask if this is expected. 

It's also normal for them to have a weird appetite at first. They might be super hungry right away, or not really interested in food for the first day. Pay attention to your cats appetite, activity level and overall mood. If you notice her being particularly lethargic, aggressive or excessive vocalization contact your veterinarian immediately. If she is not progressing towards her normal routine over the next few days after surgery, call your veterinarian.

Avoiding Overexertion

Unfortunately you're going to have to keep your cat from being too active. I know, it's a cat so that's kind of hard to do! It's completely normal for your cat to want to resume their normal activities, but it's important to limit their movement and playtime to avoid putting strain on their healing body. 

Encourage your cat to rest and provide a calm and quiet environment for them to recuperate in. If you have a lot of steps or other pets that are trying to play with the recovering cat, put them in a room by themselves for the first day or so. No red dots or teaser toys! By preventing overexertion, you can help facilitate a smoother recovery process for her.

Cat wearing puffy yellow surgical collar

Nutrition and Hydration

Proper nutrition and hydration will help your cat's recovery process. Ensuring that your cat is receiving the right balance of nutrients and staying sufficiently hydrated can help support their healing and overall well-being. Be sure to consult with your veterinarian on the best diet plan for your cat during this time, as their nutritional needs may vary depending on the type of surgery they underwent. 

I can't give a one size fits all recommendation for your cats diet after surgery, but your vet will be able to fill in that info, just make sure you stick to the plan! Ask your vet before they go in for surgery if the cat will need a special diet and pick up any special foods before you pick them up from the vet! 

It'll be less stressful for your cat if you can spend the first day home with them as much as possible and not have to run out for special supplies.

Make sure your cat has access to fresh water at all times to prevent dehydration. The body cannot heal as easily when it's dehydrated! Put out extra water bowls for the first few days so your cat doesn't have to go far to get a drink. Make sure there's a minimum of 1 on each floor if you have a multi level house, but one per room might be a better idea at first!

If your cat is required to wear a cone or collar you'll probably have to take it off so they can eat and drink. I prefer the puffy collars for this reason as they can often still get to the bowl even with it on, but make sure they can reach the food and help them out if they need it taken off to eat.

Follow-up Care and Veterinarian Visits

As you continue to care for your pet, it's important to stay vigilant and schedule follow-up care and veterinarian visits to monitor their progress and address any concerns that may arise. During post op visits, your veterinarian can assess your cat's healing process, address any potential complications, and make any necessary adjustments to their treatment plan. 

You should probably schedule the appointments when you pick the cat up to make sure you get the time and day you need! If it's not check up time yet, don't be afraid to call the vet for any problems you notice, especially with their wound healing! 

Follow-up care is crucial in ensuring that your cat is on the right track towards a full recovery. By maintaining open communication with your veterinarian and staying proactive in your cat's post-surgery care, you can help them to get back to their happy and healthy selves in no time.

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