What To Know About Your Cat’s Surgery Pre and Post-Op Care
There are many reasons that a cat may need to have surgery, from elective procedures, such as spays and neuters, to emergency intestinal obstruction surgeries. Regardless of the reason your cat may need to have a surgery, we in the veterinary community want to make sure you understand everything that goes into the surgical procedure, from preparing your cat for surgery to knowing what to expect afterward.
Your cat’s veterinarian understands that even just the term “surgery” can have a daunting association, and he or she will want to make sure you feel comfortable knowing your cat is in good hands. Talk to a local veterinarian if you have questions about what cat surgery entails and/or concerns about keeping your feline friend safe during the procedure.
Common Types of Cat Surgeries
The most common surgeries performed on cats are spays and neuters to prevent them from being able to reproduce. These procedures also prevent certain diseases from developing later in life and decrease the risk of certain negative behaviors from developing.
Another common surgical procedure done in cats is intestinal surgery to remove foreign objects they may have eaten that have caused intestinal obstruction, such as a string, pieces of plastic, or small toys. Cats love to play with, and sometimes swallow, strings. If your cat doesn’t feel well, begins vomiting, and won’t eat, there is a chance it could be due to an intestinal obstruction. This is especially true if your cat is young and otherwise healthy. If your cat is exhibiting these signs, make sure to have him or her examined by your veterinarian.
Other surgeries include bone surgery and fracture repair, laceration repair, bladder surgery to remove bladder stones, tumor removals, tooth extractions and dentals, C-sections during a difficult birthing process, and many more.
What Happens During Cat Surgery?
To perform surgery, cats need to be under what we call “general anesthesia”. General anesthesia is a plane of deep sleep, during which they can’t feel any pain, are not conscious or aware of their surroundings, can’t move, and experience a slowed metabolism. Cat anesthesia is initially achieved by giving your cat certain medications as an injection, and then it is maintained by having them breathe anesthetic gas mixed with oxygen.
Anesthetic medications are metabolized through the liver and can slow down breathing and blood flow throughout the body. Because of these effects, we always want to make sure your cat is healthy enough to be able to handle anesthesia. This is why your veterinarian may recommend doing blood work prior to surgery, even if your cat seems to be young and healthy and the surgical procedure is just a spay or neuter. Blood work can also let us know how to make the anesthesia safer for your pet, such as changing our typical anesthetic protocol or changing the rate of intravenous fluids they receive during the procedure to maintain hydration and adequate blood pressure.
Even if your cat needs an emergency surgical procedure, it is important to check blood work prior to performing surgery so they can be evaluated for dehydration or other underlying metabolic disorders that may need stabilizing prior to being put under anesthesia. Surgery is typically quite safe, but what makes it so is taking the proper precautions ahead of time and monitoring your cat thoroughly throughout the entire procedure.
Things that your veterinarian and veterinary team monitor during cat surgery are:
- Blood Pressure
- Oxygen Status
- Heart Rate
- Respiratory Rate
- Gum Color
How to Prepare Your Cat for Surgery
If your cat is scheduled to have a planned surgery, you will need to remember to remove any food left out for your cat so they cannot have access to any food after midnight the night before their scheduled procedure. This is to make sure they have an empty stomach during anesthesia to decrease the risk of them vomiting or regurgitating and then inhaling food particles into their airways, which can cause them to develop pneumonia. It is fine, however, for them to still have water available if they want it so they are adequately hydrated for surgery.
If your cat takes daily medications of some sort, it is very important to specifically ask your veterinarian if you should give them their medications the morning of surgery. If they need their medications that morning, make sure you ask if you should give it with a very, very small amount of food or if you should just give it by itself, depending on what your veterinarian recommends.
What to Expect On The Day Of Your Cat’s Surgery
Unless your cat stayed in the clinic overnight the night before the surgery, you will bring your cat into the clinic the morning of surgery and drop them off. You will probably be asked questions, such as “Did you feed your pet this morning?”, “Did you give your cat any medications?”, and “How is your cat doing today?”
The veterinarian will then do a physical exam on your cat and listen closely to their heart prior to giving any anesthetic medications. They will also have their heart rate, respiratory rate, and temperature taken (these are called their “vital signs”).
When the veterinarian and surgical team are ready for your cat’s surgery to be performed, they will give your cat a “pre-med”, which is a medication to help your cat feel relaxed and begin to feel sedated or sleepy. If the surgical procedure is going to be fairly painful, your cat may also be given pain medication at this time to decrease his or her pain response.
A note on pain in cats:
Veterinarians are especially sensitive to detecting and alleviating or preventing pain in cats. It is extremely difficult to identify pain in cats as they are so good at hiding it. At the same time, pain can have very negative effects on your cat’s body and cause delayed healing and prolonged recovery time from surgery. It is for these reasons that we try to adequately provide pain control before, during, and after surgical procedures.
After your cat receives their “pre-med” and they are starting to feel relaxed, the surgical team will put an intravenous catheter into one of your cat’s veins. This is done so your cat can be given fluids for hydration and to maintain good blood pressure. It also allows medications to safely and easily be administered during surgery and provides quick and easy access to one of your cat’s veins just in case they needed to have emergency medications administered.
What To Expect After Your Cat’s Surgery
When you come to pick your cat up - whether that is later that same day or the day after surgery - your cat may seem groggy or more tired than usual, and this is to be expected as the anesthesia is wearing off. It may take your cat a good 24-48 hours to get back to their regular alertness and behavior. Depending on the surgical procedure performed, you will likely be instructed to try to keep your cat’s activity to a minimum, or even limit him or her to a small room or crate to prevent jumping off anything.
After some surgeries, your cat may need to have an “e-collar” kept on to prevent them from licking at or tearing out their stitches. Even though the e-collar may be frustrating for you and your cat, it is very important. If your veterinarian has sent your cat home with one on, make sure to keep it on for the instructed number of days to prevent the risk of needing another surgery. Make sure you give all medications as instructed as well, especially the prescribed pain medications. The more diligent you are about the cat surgery recovery instructions, the better your cat’s healing period will go.
If you are worried about your cat’s behavior once he’s at home or your cat has not started eating within 24 hours, make sure to call your veterinarian and let him or her know your concerns. Your vet may want to come in to ensure your cat is recovering as he or she should and that nothing else is going on.
If you have questions about an upcoming cat surgery or the possibility of it, it’s important to reach out to a veterinarian near you for personalized care.