Caring for your cat before and after surgery

Most cats will have an operation at some stage in their life, eg for neutering (speying or castration) or to treat a disease. Nowadays most operations in cats are fairly safe but the success of treatment and recovery depends to some extent on the quality of care that the owner gives before and after the operation.

What do I do before the operation?

If the operation is not an emergency it may be useful for you to arrange some time off work so that you are around to take care of your cat during the recovery period. The risks of any complications during or after surgery have been much reduced by improvements in surgical techniques and in the safety of the anaesthetics used. Since the stress of an operation can lower your cat's resistance to infectious disease check that your cat's vaccinations are up-to-date before it has surgery. Vomiting is dangerous when your cat is under an anaesthetic and to reduce the risk of this you will have been asked not to give your cat any food after about 8.00 pm the previous evening but water should be freely available until the time you leave home.

What happens on the day of the operation?

Most veterinary clinics do their routine operations in the late morning or early afternoon. Your vet will ask you to take your cat to the surgery at a particular time. It is important not to be late so that there is time to prepare your cat for its anaesthetic. Bring your cat to the surgery in a proper plastic carrying box marked with your name and address. Before the operation your cat will be given a sedative. A small patch of fur may be shaved from your cat's leg so that your vet can give intravenous injections or fit instruments to monitor your cat during the anaesthetic. When you leave your cat you will be asked to sign a consent form stating that you know the purpose of the operation and agree to have it done.

When will my cat be able to come home?

When your cat is admitted for their operation, you will be asked to leave a telephone number where you can be contacted, you will usually be told a time when you can ring to check your pet's progress. After routine operations most cats should be ready to come home within a few hours of waking up from anaesthesia. Some animals take longer to come round and your vet will not allow the release of your cat until they are fully conscious. The vet or veterinary nurse will tell you when your cat can be fed and watered, whether they will need any medication and when they will need to be brought back to have their stitches (sutures) removed.

What should I do when I get my cat home?

Keep your cat warm on his journey home. A hot water bottle covered with a blanket inside his carrying box may make him more comfortable. At home your cat should be left in a warm, quiet room until he is fully recovered. Do not allow him outside for at least 24 hours. Try to keep your cat quiet because any sudden movements may put a strain on the stitches. Your vet may prescribe pain killers, antibiotics or some other drugs to keep your cat comfortable and prevent infection. Many owners find it helpful to draw up a chart and tick off each dose when it is given so that nothing is forgotten.

Will my cat be ill after the anaesthetic?

It is quite common for a cat to appear 'groggy' for a few hours after a general anaesthetic and it may sleep longer and more deeply than normal. Your cat may be a little unsteady on its feet and need some support when using its litter tray. Warming the food and feeding by hand may help if your cat has a poor appetite (occasionally your cat may feel sick and may vomit - if this happens give it plenty of water but do not feed it for 24 hours). A tube is put down your cat's throat during the anaesthetic to help it breathe and occasionally this irritates the windpipe and may cause it to cough for a few days.

What are the signs of more serious problems?

If your cat is still dull or moving unsteadily when it has been home for 24 hours you should call your vet for advice. If the stitches have come out or split or there are any convulsions (fits), prolonged retching or vomiting or signs of swelling, discharges or bleeding from the operation wound contact your vet immediately.

How do I stop my cat cat pulling its stitches out?

Most cats try to lick their wounds but they should eventually get used to having stitches. If your cat does try to remove his stitches your vet may give you an Elizabethan collar to fit around your cat's neck to prevent him getting at the wound.

Related Factsheets:
Neutering - why and when
Vaccinating your cat

If you want any other information on health issues concerning your cat please contact your veterinary surgeon who will be happy to advise you.