Surgical Discharge Instructions for Cats

By Tammy Hunter, DVM; Ryan Llera, BSc, DVM

Your pet has undergone major surgery and is now discharged for continued care at home. Your job during the recovery period at home is just as important as the surgical procedure.

What special instructions should I follow when my cat comes home?

surgical_dishcarge_instructions_2018Home care after surgery mainly involves physical activity restriction. Most cats will naturally become very active within a short period after surgery; confinement and close supervision indoors is of the utmost importance! This means:

  • no jumping or running
  • no stair climbing
  • no jumping up on counters
  • no playing with other pets
  • no 'rough-housing'

Restrict your cat's activity for 7-14 days to allow the incision to begin healing.

Under no circumstances should a cat with a fresh surgical incision be allowed to go outdoors.

"Under no circumstances should a cat with a fresh surgical incision be allowed to go outdoors."

If your cat is left alone, he must be confined to a cage or other small area that is warm and safe. This strict confinement and activity restriction is necessary during the entire recuperative period. Excessive physical activity often leads to injury or serious complications. This means additional expense to you and added discomfort and risk for your cat.

How should I care for the incision?

Do not bathe your cat or allow the incision to get wet. This also means you should also prevent him from licking the incision.

Monitor the incision daily for redness, swelling, discharge, or licking. Mild redness and swelling are part of the healing process and should be expected for the first few days after surgery. After the first two to three days, the swelling and redness should subside, and the incision should look better each day. Moderate swelling on or around the incision site is abnormal and may be an early sign of infection. For routine elective surgeries, any discharge from the incision site is abnormal.

Never put anything on the incision unless you are told to do so by your veterinarian. Never put hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol on the incision. These chemicals are toxic to healing tissues and will cause inflammation and delay surgical healing.

Call your veterinary clinic if you observe abnormalities or have questions or concerns about your cat’s progress.

How can I prevent my cat from licking the incision?

Your veterinarian has various sizes of protective collars called Elizabethan collars (E-collars or cones) to keep your cat from licking the incision. Another great option is a recovery suit which is similar to one-piece pajamas. For further information, see the handout "Elizabethan Collars in Cats".

Licking often leads to chewing or removing sutures (stitches), which can happen in a few seconds. Mild licking can result in an infection that requires antibiotic treatment. However, persistent licking can cause serious injury to the incision and may require costly surgery to repair the damage.

Your cat should gradually improve each day. If your cat’s condition changes or suddenly worsens, please call your veterinary clinic as soon as possible. Your goal in following these post-operative instructions is to help your cat return to normal and pain-free life as soon as possible.

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