Pet InfoRx
Wound Care for Cats

You (and your cat!) have just gone through a lot mentally and physically after your pet has experienced surgery or a wound. While perhaps you feel the worst is over, the work (for you) is just beginning.

There are specific guidelines for each type of wound. Check out which one applies most to your cat's situation.

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Did You Know?

cat scratching and biting people

Cat scratch disease (Bartonella henselae) is a bacterial infection spread from cats to humans. A person can be infected if a cat bites or scratches them, breaking the skin surface. It can also happen if an infected cat licks a person’s open wound. An infection occurs at the site about 3 to 14 days after the bite or scratch. The person can develop a fever, headache, poor appetite, and lethargy. Later, their lymph nodes near the bite become tender, swollen, and painful. Most cases clear on their own, but some can worsen and then need antibiotics.

General Rules for ALL Incisions and Wounds

The most critical thing to do is carefully follow your veterinarian’s instructions and follow them exactly. But often, we are so stressed and relieved that the initial issue is passed that we sometimes forget what was said and often misplace the instructions. Here’s a breakdown of what to do when you are dealing with post-surgical incisions or wounds.

  • Take a Day 1 photo or mental picture of the wound site when you leave your vet's office. This will help you monitor any changes over the next few days/weeks. 
  • Follow all instructions with regards to medications. More so with wounds than routine surgical incisions, cats need antibiotics to help clear any infections. Antibiotics, as well as any other medications your veterinarian has dispensed, MUST be given as directed and finished – even if your pet seems fine – don't stop until all the medication is gone. If your cat doesn’t seem to be tolerating the medication, contact your veterinarian but do not stop unless told to do so. Also, give meds with food to help prevent nausea and vomiting.
  • Keep your cat quiet and confined — NO running, jumping, or climbing. You may need to confine your cat to a dog-sized crate to keep them inactive. You want the crate large enough for a litter box, a place to lay, and an area for food and water.
  • Ideally, isolate from other pets in your home.
  • Keep an Elizabethan collar (e-collar) on at all times. DO NOT let your pet lick, chew, or rub the incision site.
    • Note: Cats are masters at removing e-collars – watch them closely. You may need an e-collar alternative or a combination of both.
  • Do not bathe your cat until all sutures/stitches (or staples) have been removed and your veterinarian gives you permission. 
  • DO NOT apply anything to the incision or wound site unless approved by your veterinarian.

    high wall panels for surgery recovery

Keep Your Cat Comfortable

  • One of the most important things that you can do to keep your pet comfortable is to give them the pain medications your veterinarian prescribed. DO NOT stop them even if your cat "appears" pain-free. 
  • Make a very comfortable, but easy to get on and off of, sleeping area on the floor.
  • Move the food and water bowls close to their sleeping/resting area.
  • You may need to change the size of the bowls so that the e-collar can fit around them.
  • Move the litter box to the room that your cat is occupying the most frequently. It may also be necessary to place more litter boxes throughout your home.
  • Be sure that your cat can get into and out of the litter box easily. There are low-entry litter boxes you can buy if this is a problem you're noticing.
  • Do not make your cat use stairs. If you have stairs carry them up or down.
  • Use calming pheromones such as Feliway diffusers or sprays to help lessen the stress for your cat. You can also try VetriScience Composure treats.

How to Care for a Routine Surgical Incision or Simple Wound Closure (like a spay/neuter or minor cut or tear in the skin)

  • Check the site a few times per day. The sooner you notice any changes that don't seem right, the better. See the list below, to know when to contact your veterinarian.

  • For the first couple days after surgery, you can ice the site for 15 to 20 minutes a couple of times per day to reduce inflammation and swelling. Do not apply ice directly to the skin. Place a towel between the skin and the ice.

  • BE SURE to ask your veterinarian how they want you to keep the incision clean. Feel free to call them, if you don't remember what they said. There may be slight oozing the first day or two, and this may build up on the incision. You do not want a lot of buildup to be there because it can damage certain sutures as well as slow down healing. You can apply a warm washcloth for a few minutes to the site to clean it. NEVER rub the wound. Just place the cloth on the site, let it sit and then remove it. Another option is filling a clean syringe and rinsing the area with saline. Then you are not directly touching the site, and your cat may be more willing for you to clean the area.

Call an emergency veterinarian immediately, if yours isn't available, if:

  1. The incision is red or hot to the touch
  2. The incision is puffy, swollen, or looks "fluid-filled"
  3. There is any discharge or leaking – yellowish or greenish, even reddish clear
  4. The incision appears open or torn

Call your veterinarian for the next available appointment if:

  1. The area continues to bruise and extends to other areas after an initial couple of days
  2. Your cat acts significantly painful when they move (or they won’t move) or when the area is touched. Be very careful, as painful cats can bite even the humans they love and adore.

How to Care for an Abscess (including Cat Bite Abscess)

  • Follow the instructions from your veterinarian closely
  • Finish all antibiotics
  • Keep an e-collar on your cat at all times
  • Apply a warm compress (a warm face cloth), for about 5 to 10 minutes, over the entire area a couple of times per day before tending to the drains (if present)Cat bandaged on head-DP
  • Most abscesses have a drain (do not let your cat get to it and pull it out) with either an opening at the top and bottom or just at the bottom of the abscess (it will be either a flexible rubber-type or rigid tube-like)
    • If the drain is a flexible rubber-type: Mix hydrogen peroxide with water (50/50 mix) and gently apply a generous amount of it to the openings where the drain is coming out from the skin. After letting it sit a few minutes, gently clean away any discharge from the drain site. Often a Q-tip is helpful in gently stroking the "gunk" away. This needs to be done at least two to three times every day until the drain is removed by your vet (usually 5 to 7 days after the drain is placed).
    • If the drain is a rigid tube-like type: Mix the hydrogen peroxide and water (50/50 mix) and in addition to cleaning the opening(s), flush some down the tube. This needs to be done two to three times every day until the drain is removed (usually 5 to 7 days after being placed).
      • **NOTE** DO NOT use straight hydrogen peroxide at drain opening or for flushing. DO NOT use it at the openings once the drain is removed.
      • **NOTE** If there is drainage on the fur, away from the skin openings, you can soak it with hydrogen peroxide to clean it. You DO NOT want to leave discharge to dry on the fur and skin. A flea comb is helpful in gently removing the discharge from the fur.

Call your veterinarian if the drainage does not gradually decrease over the first 5 days or the site remains swollen or "fluid-like."

How to Care for a Partially Open or Completely Open Wound

  • It is CRITICAL to do everything your veterinarian has instructed you to do
  • ALL medications, especially antibiotics, must be given
  • Keep an e-collar on your cat at all times and keep other pets away. 
  • Keeping all your recheck and bandage change appointments is very important. Skipping appointments can potentially cause harm to your cat as well as delay healing.
  • Be patient for this process, as it may take 4 to 8 weeks (possibly longer if there are complications)

If the area is bandaged or a wound dressing is over the site, do the following

  1. Keep it clean and dry at all times – this is an absolute must
  2. If the bandage appears to have slipped, call your veterinarian right away, as an exposed wound is very susceptible to infection
  3. Monitor for swelling or heat above or below the bandage (press your hand close to the wound to feel for a "hot" sensation) – if present, call your veterinarian right away.

**NOTE** If the area is swelling and you cannot contact your veterinarian for instructions, VERY CAREFULLY, with bandage scissors or blunt-ended scissors, make a slit on the top and bottom of the bandage to release some pressure. If there is a drain present underneath the bandage, be sure to cut on the opposite side of the bandage from where the drain is, so that the drain remains in place.

Unless your veterinarian has taught you how to properly change the bandage or wound dressing, DO NOT attempt to do it on your own. This can cause more harm than good.

If you notice any foul odors or discharge leaking out of the bandage, contact your veterinarian immediately.

How Do You Know Things Are Improving?

  • For a routine incision, you know that the incision is improving and healing because the swelling and bruising will gradually and continually disappear. There will also be re-growth of the fur starting in the area.
  • To know the abscess is healing, the site will remain ‘flattened’ and the drainage will stop within 2 to 5 days. Your cat will also be eating, drinking, and acting normally.
  • Partially or completely open wounds – while they take the longest to heal (4 to 8 weeks) – will have some obvious changes to indicate they are healing:
    • The formation of granulation tissue – small rounded masses of tissue appear (looks kind of bumpy)
    • There will be minor bleeding or oozing of blood
    • There will be wound contracture – meaning the wound will continually look smaller and smaller. You will see smooth, thin and pink tissue forming around the edges.
    • The depth of the wound gets shallower with time. It will appear to be leveling out.

Cat wearing cone after surgery-DP

It cannot be stressed enough about how important it is to follow all of your veterinarian’s instructions, give all medications as instructed as well as to finish them, to keep your cat’s activity restricted with an e-collar on.

And lastly, call a veterinarian immediately if anything does not seem normal (better safe than sorry – any delay can be costly!).