What To Know About Your Cat’s Surgery Pre and Post-Op Care
If your cat is due for surgery, you’re likely a bit anxious and turned to the internet for answers on how to best prepare, what surgery will be like, and how to help your favorite feline recover at home. At GeniusVets, we believe that pet care information should come from veterinarians rather than the all-too-often-incorrect Dr. Google. That’s why we’ve taken frequently asked questions on cat surgery, sent these questions to renowned veterinarians across the U.S., and compiled their replies to get you helpful information that you can trust.
While we've sourced all of the cat surgery information and recommendations below directly from leading veterinarians across the country, please make sure to seek out the advice of your own veterinarian or find a trusted vet near you using the GeniusVets Directory.
Cat surgeries are considered elective when they're non-emergency surgeries and, as the name implies, you’re electing to do them—things like spays or neuters, dental procedures, etc. Those kinds of things are elective procedures versus emergency procedures for wounds, significant injuries, car accidents, ruptured spleens, intestinal blockages, and other more life-saving things than those emergent surgeries.
Non-elective things need to be done to ensure the animal’s good health, but they're not on an emergency level. Maybe there's a growth somewhere we don't like, and we want to take it off. It's not necessarily something that has to be done today, right at this minute, but it's probably something that should be done sooner rather than later.
Some other common surgeries for cats are as follows:
- Abdominal procedures for foreign bodies
- Wound management
- Fracture repairs
- Bladder stone removals
- Mass or tumor removals
- Bladder surgeries
- Declawing (this is largely frowned upon but is still an option)
Outdoor cats also get into fights with other cats so that they might need surgery for a wound or an abscess.
It depends on the procedure, but, in general, we require lab work before surgery, and that's mainly to help us understand how a patient is going to do with some of our anesthetic agents and to know what their overall metabolic stability is going into the surgery. Lab work also gives you a picture of what's happening inside, in the cat’s liver, kidneys, electrolytes, blood sugar, proteins, etc. Those are things you can't see or detect on a physical exam. So perhaps it is not mandatory, but it’s certainly advisable.
There are many different things that we get from the lab work. Some of the primary things that we look at are kidney and liver values. Those are the organs that metabolize or digest some of the anesthetic agents. And then, we're also looking at things like white blood cell count, red blood cell count (to check for anemia), and platelets, which can also help us understand healing processes. Protein levels and electrolytes also allow us to know how stable they are going into that procedure and how well they will do while in surgery. We might also check their clot time to make sure that they can appropriately clot their blood. So if they're having surgery, they don't risk bleeding out.
There are many considerations for cat surgery and questions that you should ask so that you and your cat are fully prepared for their surgery.
Some of the things you should know before your cat has surgery are:
- What time the surgery is
- Whether your cat needs to be fasted (with GI surgeries, this can be a more extended period than you might expect)
- What the actual procedure is intended to do, and how we will approach that—is it going to be a small incision that we're going to be making versus a large incision? Are they going to need to have significant restrictions afterward?
- What the recovery time will be for that surgery
- What the specific aftercare will be like, and when they can eat and return to normal activities
Getting the information on all of the above will help you prepare for those things ahead of time so that way when you pick your cat up at the clinic when it's ready to go home, you have all that laid out, ready to go. You’re not scrambling around trying to make last-minute preparations.
In most veterinary clinics, the person monitoring your cat while they’re under anesthesia will be one of the registered veterinary technicians. The latter is specifically licensed with a higher level of education and certification. And those technicians, in combination with a few other surgical technicians that we have specifically trained who are a part of our surgical team, monitor anesthesia while the doctors perform the procedure.
These veterinary technicians will be monitoring the following during cat surgeries:
- Heart rate
- Blood pressure
- Oxygen saturation
If they notice anything is amiss with any of those things, they alert the veterinarian immediately.
Recovery time can be a bit variable depending on the specific type of procedure. The majority of soft tissue surgeries take about 10 days for the full recovery of a cat to return to complete everyday activities. Some dental procedures require a day or two as the length of time they need to recover. And occasionally, some of the more extensive surgeries - wound repairs, abdominal surgeries, etc. - can be up to two weeks or so.
You can provide a low-stress environment to help your cat recover from surgery at home. So if you have other pets in the household, you might want to seclude the cat that had surgery or confine them so that they do not have to interact with other pets to avoid stress and overactivity. Rest is crucial! Any surgery typically involves cutting of tissue and manipulation and trying to put that tissue back together. There's going to be healing time; whether it's a couple of days or a couple of weeks—there will be substantial healing when that's done, along with pain control, of course. If they're outside cats, you still want to keep them indoors for several days afterward to heal. The last thing you want to happen is for your cat to aggravate their suture lines somehow.
You also want to pay close attention to the veterinary discharge instructions when your cat gets dismissed because a lot of those are explicitly catered to the cat—things that we think that they're going to need as far as pain management, sometimes antibiotics, and what to watch for that could indicate there is a problem. And a lot of cats are sent home with cones or collars to use afterward, which are essential for wound and incision care. Many cats go home with some activity restriction instructions—so paying close attention to those is critical to their recovery. And then one of the most important things is, if there's ever a concern at home, reach out to your veterinarian, as you want to err on the side of caution.
If you have any further questions about anything to do with surgery for cats, or you want to get your precious pet in for an appointment, please reach out to your vet. Don’t have one? We can help you find a local veterinarian!