How to care for your cat after an operation

Having an operation will be a trauma for your cat’s body, no matter how bright or bouncy they may look on the outside! If your cat has had an operation involving sedation or general anaesthetic, here’s how to best take care of them afterwards:

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Control their diet

  • After the operation, feed your cat a bland cat meat for the next three meals
  • Tinned supermeat in chicken and fish flavours is higher in protein which helps your cat heal faster. It is easily digestible as  their gut motility (the passage of food moving through your cat’s digestive system) slows down during the pre-operation starvation and anaesthetic process
  • Avoid tinned jelly and gravy products as these are too rich and may cause diarrhoea.

Fit their protective collar

A Buster collar or Elizabethan collar is a protective veterinary device shaped like a cone – it is vital to prevent your cat from biting, licking or scratching at their wounds while they’re healing. Although known informally as ‘the cone of shame’, most cats adjust to them very well.

  • Always apply the protective collar if there is the possibility of your cat interfering with their wound or causing self-trauma
  • The collar should be short enough to let your cat eat and drink. If your cat won't eat or drink with the collar in place you can be temporarily remove it for meals
  • The protective collar is there for a purpose. Just a few minutes of self-trauma to a freshly healing wound can cause your cat several more days of recovery time after an operation. If your cat has tried to relieve irritation once by licking or chewing, they are likely to do so again if you take the collar off.

How to look after incision wounds

  • Look for excessive swelling or discharge from the wound
  • Keep the wound clean
  • Reaction to the suture material can cause a small amount of swelling and give your cat’s wound the appearance of being puckered. This should go away in a day or so
  • Being able to lick or chew at the wound will aggravate the healing and cause further swelling, inflammation and the possibility of infection.

Caring for stitches or sutures

  • Watch out for your cat licking or chewing at external stitches
  • Most of the sutures placed are underneath the skin layer and the material used is dissolvable
  • Non-dissolvable external suture material will be removed by your vet about 10 days after the operation
  • Having stitches in can sometimes be irritating for cats and their natural reaction is to try to scratch or chew them out. Make sure they wear their protective collar

Make sure your cat gets plenty of rest

  • Keep your cat indoors after an anaesthetic as their coordination and ability to control their body temperature might be reduced. Speak to your vet about when it’s safe for your cat to go outside again
  • In cases of fracture repairs or surgery performed around a joint it is vital that your cat’s exercise is restricted. This usually means strict cage rest – your vet will advise you on this
  • If your cat walks and jumps around in the days following their surgery it will put excessive pressure on a recently closed wound. This could delay the healing time or even damage the wound
  • Cutting short their restricted exercise time can also cause problems. Partly healed tissue can be damaged, re-opening the wound.

Looking after their bandages

  • Keep bandages clean and dry at all times
  • Temporary bandages should be removed 48 hours after the operation, at your veterinary practice
  • Larger immobilising leg bandages used for fractures (known as Robert Jones bandage) are placed so that your cat can still walk. Check them regularly, especially if they’re on a front leg and being used in a litter tray. Even if just the tip of the bandage becomes wet, the whole thing will have to be changed – a long process which is expensive and uncomfortable for your cat

Keep an eye on your cat’s coughing

  • If your cat has a full general anaesthetic they will have an endo-tracheal tube passed down their throat. Placement and removal may cause irritation to your cat’s throat, leading to a slight cough for a day or so afterwards
  • Keep an eye out for minor coughing in the first few days after an operation or investigative procedure
  • Any minor coughs or phlegm production should still be reported to your veterinary surgery.

Your cat’s mouth after dental work

  • Look for soreness of gums, signs of discomfort, difficulty eating, and lack of appetite or excessive drooling
  • Initially your cat’s mouth will be red and inflamed but this should calm down within five to seven days. During this time, ensure that your cat is not having difficulty eating their usual diet. You may want to offer them soft mashed food if they’re too uncomfortable to eat dry biscuits.

Care after neutering

  • You will probably see some redness, swelling and bruising around your cat’s scrotum and incision wounds after the operation. The scrotum will not shrink as soon as the testicles are removed, it will take time to reduce in size
  • Look for excessive, dark purple bruising or hardened swelling
  • In a routine cat castration, it is standard procedure to allow the incision wounds to heal by themselves.

If your cat has had an operation and you’re concerned about anything, contact your vet immediately.