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Tips to Care for Your Cat After Surgery

Whether it’s a simple spay or neuter or something more serious, here's what should you know about caring for your cat after surgery.

Dr. Arnold Plotnick  |  Sep 29th 2017


Nearly every pet cat, at some point in his life, undergoes some type of surgical procedure. If you’re lucky, the only procedure your cat will ever need is a spay or a neuter. Unfortunately, our beloved feline friends occasionally require additional surgical intervention, with some of the more common procedures being skin biopsy, tumor removal, bladder stone removal, laceration repair, tooth extraction and pinning or plating of a broken bone.

Once your cat is out of surgery, the recovery process begins. Some surgeries require a period of hospitalization after the operation. Others are outpatient surgeries that allow the cat to be sent home the same day. Most veterinary hospitals provide clients with both written and verbal instructions for post-op home care when the cat is discharged from the hospital. The period immediately following surgery is when most complications occur, so it’s critical to carefully follow your veterinarian’s instructions. Check out these important tips for how to care for your cat after surgery.

1. Make sure your cat takes it easy after surgery

A tabby cat with stitches on her belly after surgery.

A tabby cat with stitches on her belly after surgery. Photography ©BackyardProduction | Thinkstock.

Most veterinarians prefer to perform surgery early in the day, so there is adequate time for your cat to recover from anesthesia. Many cats may still feel the effects of anesthesia hours after the surgery and may be a little uncoordinated. If your cat is still a bit woozy, confine him in a safe area, on the floor, with no steps that he could accidentally tumble down. If his litter box is not already in the vicinity of the recovery area, move it so he can get to it easily. A comfortable, cushiony bed is a nice place to recuperate.

Cats recovering from surgery may need to be isolated from other pets or small children while healing. Anesthesia can also make pets feel queasy afterward, so ease your cat into his regular diet routine by starting with small amounts on Day One and working your way up to his normal routine. Confinement is even more critical in cases of orthopedic surgery. Cats who have had a broken bone surgically repaired may require restriction to an appropriately sized cage for several weeks, to foster proper healing. Provide food and water bowls, a litter box, and a bed in the cage for the cat’s comfort.

2. How to give your cat his post-surgery medicine

Many cats require medicine after surgery, such as antibiotics or pain medications. It’s important that cats receive the proper dose. Antibiotics occasionally cause diarrhea in cats, so don’t be alarmed if this occurs. Some vets prescribe a probiotic to be given concurrently to reduce the risk of this occurring. Some pain medications (narcotics, for example) can make cats sleepy and occasionally uncoordinated. Again, confine your cat to an area configured to minimize the risk of injury (no stairs or slippery floors). It should go without saying that indoor-outdoor cats should be denied access to the outdoors until fully recovered.

3. How to care for your cat’s stitches

The surgical incision site should be monitored. A little swelling is expected immediately after surgery; however, promptly bring to your veterinarian’s attention any discharge or oozing, pain, excessive bruising or foul odor.

  • Do not apply topical ointments or creams to the incision site.
  • Do not pet, brush or groom the incision area or bathe the cat while he has sutures in place.
  • The skin in that area will be tender and sensitive, and the incision should not be allowed to get wet.
  • Use an Elizabethan collar on your cat, as felines are notorious for their ability to quickly chew out the sutures that are holding the incision together.

Most sutures can be removed 10 to 14 days after the surgery. This allows your veterinarian to observe the incision and see how well the patient is doing in person. Because the first 24 to 48 hours post-operatively are the most important, it’s imperative that you know where to take your cat if a problem develops after hours. This is not a problem if your veterinarian’s facility is open around the clock; however, if your vet’s office closes in the evening, know where the nearest 24-hour emergency facility is. Bring to the emergency clinic any medications that you’ve been administering and a copy of any written discharge orders given to you by your veterinarian.

Thumbnail: Photography by Shutterstock.

Dr. Arnold Plotnick is the founder of Manhattan Cat Specialists, a feline-exclusive veterinary practice on Manhattan’s upper west side. He is also an author of The Original Cat Fancy Bible. Dr. Plotnick is a frequent contributor to feline publications and websites, including his own blog, Cat Man Do. He lives in New York City with his cats, Mittens and Glitter.

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