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Post Surgery Care for Cats

Your cat just had surgery— whether it was a spay, neuter, mass removal, or something less routine – your cat will need some extra TLC to recover quickly and without complications.

When your cat has a surgical procedure, it can be a stressful time for you, your cat, and your whole family! This pet information prescription has a few tips to help recovery go smoothly for everyone. Get well soon little one!

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The Elizabethan Collar

cat-wearing-cone

The dreaded cone! (Also commonly referred to as the "lampshade" or the "radar dish.") Your veterinarian might give you this super stylish E-collar to protect your cat's recent surgery site from licking, chewing, or scratching.


The cone gets its name from the "ruff," white collar worn in the Elizabethan Age.

What You Should Do For Your Cat After Surgery

Your veterinarian will provide you with specific instructions based on your pet’s surgery, medications, and home care. In general, however, it’s important to:

  • Give all medications as directed and until gone, even if your cat seems fine or doesn’t appear to be in any discomfort. Skipping doses or stopping to give medications can have serious or unwanted consequences.

  • Follow all home care instructions thoroughly.

  • Keep an Elizabethan collar ("cone") on your cat at all times. If you can supervise your cat directly to avoid them licking or chewing their incision, sutures, or staples, then you may give them a break from wearing it, but be super careful as cats are quick and determined! There are many styles and options for E-collars, but as an overall general rule, the hard collar tends to be the most effective for a lot of situations – to help prevent serious complications.

  • Limit your cat to a single room or large "playpen" area after surgery, with their bed, food, water, and a litter box nearby.

high wall panels for surgery recovery

  • Ask your veterinary team if your cat needs any special litter during their recovery, particularly if there are incisions or wounds on their feet or legs, to avoid litter contamination. One thing you want to make sure is that the litter you use doesn't get caught in the incision.

    Click to see some litter options and other tips for post-surgery success.
  • If you have other cats or dogs, ideally, separate your recovering cat from them, even if they’re friends. Cats returning from a veterinary hospital bring back a lot of scary new smells, and the other animals may not be as welcoming for a day or two.

If you're reading this before your cat has surgery, you can check out these tips for desensitizing your cat to the E-collar. There's also some suggestions on style options and alternatives.

cat-wearing-soft-cone

Keep Your Cat Comfortable

The best thing you can do is to keep your cat calm, follow any home care directions, and administer all medications as directed. Remember that cats hide pain and rarely, if ever, cry out. So, it’s always better to give their medications and home care as directed even though they may appear back to normal. Provide your cat with a clean, quiet spot for them to recuperate, away from other pets or small children. You may want to move their food and water bowls closer to their resting area so they don’t have to get up and move as far to get to them. 

Read more about what to expect after surgery and tips for caring for and confining your cat.

If you're having a tough time keeping your cat inactive, or they're wrestling with their E-collar, your veterinarian may need to prescribe medication to calm them down. Give them a call to discuss your options.

How Do You Know Things Are Improving?

Your cat should be resting comfortably, eating and drinking well, and using the litter box. It’s not uncommon for your pet to be lethargic (low-energy), not eat or drink well, or have soft stool for the first 24–36 hours after surgery. However, their energy and appetite should be improving every day after their first day home.

Your cat’s incision should also be improving every day. While it is common to see some initial redness, swelling, and bruising at first, it should always be clean, dry, and without any yellow or green discharge. Any swelling and discoloration should start to improve within the first 3–5 days and resolve within 10–14 days.

How Do You Know When Things Are Not Improving? What You Should Do.

You should call your veterinarian right away if your cat has:

  • Respiratory difficulties: more than 40 breaths per minute at rest or when sleeping, difficulty breathing, or excessive coughing.

    To check respiratory rate: You count your cat's breaths for 15 seconds, then multiply it by 4 to get the number of breaths per minute. You can use the timer on your phone and place your hand on their chest to feel their breaths as you count. The normal rate for cats and dogs is between 8 and 40 breaths a minute.

  • Vomiting or diarrhea: more than one or two episodes

  • Discharge from the incision: any yellow or green discharge

  • If your pet has gotten to the incision and torn or ripped out any sutures or staples
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How Do You Prevent Things from Getting Worse?

One of the most common reasons a cat has to go back to surgery after discharge is because they were allowed to lick or chew at the incision or were too active while they were healing. While an E-collar can be annoying for you and your cat, it’s preventing a much bigger problem and will be worth the effort to leave it on until your cat’s incision is fully healed. Follow your veterinarian’s recommendation on returning to physical activity, depending on their procedure, it could be a few days to a few weeks. Sticking to the timeline your veterinarian provided will ensure the quickest return to normal for your cat.

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