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Cat Surgery - Everything You Need To Know

From time to time, your cat may require a surgical procedure. Usually the first time a cat undergoes surgery is when it is desexed (spayed/neutered) as a kitten. Most surgery is pre-planned, but as accidents happen, there may be an unfortunate time when your cat will undergo emergency surgery.

Surgeries fall into three main categories.

Elective-Desexing, declawing.

Non-elective - Surgery which needs to be done, but there is no immediate need, such as corrective surgery to repair a broken bone, teeth cleaning/extraction, anatomical fault.

Emergency - Surgery when the cat's life or body part (limb, organ etc) is in immediate danger (massive bleeding, major wounds, breathing difficulty, emergency caesarean section).

Surgery on cats must be performed by a qualified veterinarian. In some cases, a specialist surgeon will be required to perform the surgery. Your veterinarian will be able to recommend one to you.

Common cat surgeries:

There are many surgeries which are commonly performed on cats. These include:

  • Desexing surgery

  • Surgery to remove cancers and benign tumours

  • Bladder stone removal

  • Surgery to remove foreign objects

  • Surgery to treat wounds such as abscesses

  • Fracture (broken bone) repair

  • Dental surgery (teeth cleaning, tooth extraction)

  • Exploratory surgery may be performed where your cat needs to investigate the cause of a disease or ailment

Cats and anaesthesia:

When a cat is operated on, he will be given an anesthetic. This is used to block the sensation of pain. There are two types of anesthetic. Local and general.

A local anesthetic is just as the name would suggest, local to the area and are used in operations on the surface of the body. They are injected into tissues or applied topically. They have fewer side effects than general anaesthetics but are not suitable for most surgeries in the cat.

General anaesthetics render the cat unconscious. Your cat's vital signs will be closely monitored while he is under a general.

Anesthesia doesn't come without risks which are increased if your cat is very young or very old. Many veterinarians like to do a pre-anesthesia work up to determine the overall health of your cat. It is strongly recommended that you do this. He will also want to perform a physical examination on your cat, including listening to the heart and lungs for possible murmurs which could pose a problem during anesthesia.

Pre-surgical preparation:

In the case of an elective or necessary surgery, where you have time to plan, you will usually need to book your cat in with your veterinarian.

If your cat is an indoor/outdoor cat, bring him in the day before the operation, you don't want to be running around the neighbourhood looking for him on the morning of the operation.

Always follow your vet's instructions on how to prepare your cat for surgery.

Vomiting during anesthetic is a major risk, therefore all food should be withheld from midnight the day before the operation. Your veterinarian will advise you if your cat should or shouldn't be given access to water. Most will recommend leaving water out until the morning of the operation.

If your cat is on medication, continue to give this to your cat, unless your veterinarian advises otherwise.
Arrive at the vet around 15-20 minutes prior to the appointment to fill out any necessary forms and give your vet a medical history.

Immediately prior to surgery:

Your cat will be given sedatives prior to the administration of the anesthetic to relax and calm the cat and make him sleepy and easier to handle. In some cases of very minor surgery (suturing, cleaning an abscess) the sedatives and a local may be all that is required.

Where necessary, catheters may be placed for intravenous (IV) medication or anesthetics, this will be done once the pre-anesthetic sedatives are given when the cat is relaxed.

The type of anesthetic given depends on the length of the surgery and the overall health of your cat. They can be given via injection or inhalation (gas). Inhaled anesthetics are administered through a tube placed in the windpipe. The dose of the anesthetic is calculated by the cat's weight.

During the surgery:

Once your cat is unconscious, the surgical site will be shaved, cleaned with a surgical disinfectant. Sterile drapes will cover the cat, the table and instrument trays to avoid contamination.

Your cat's vital signs will be carefully monitored during the surgery and immediately afterwards. Pulse rate and strength, respirations and mucous membrane colour are all evaluated. In most cases, your cat will still breathe on his own, without assistance, but some operations will require the use of forced respiration with the use of a "mechanical respirator", this may also be required if breathing stops or becomes depressed.

Post surgical care for cats:

Your cat will be sleepy for some time after a general anaesthetic. Recovery time will depend on the age and the health of your cat but generally takes a couple of hours. He will be kept at the hospital while he is recovering from the anaesthetic and carefully monitored by your veterinarian or his staff.

If the surgery is minor, and your cat is in otherwise good health, you may be able to take him home fairly soon after the operation, in some cases (such as desexing, dental work), at the end of the day. How long your cat will remain hospitalised really depends on the age and health of your cat, the seriousness of the surgery and how well he is post-surgery.

Nausea is a common side effect of surgery, feeding your cat a bland diet for a few days afterwards will help his stomach. Baby food and cooked chicken breast are both suitable.

Rest is essential for the recovery of your cat. Don't let him outside, at least until his stitches are out, keep him quiet and in a confined area while he recovers.

Your cat's stitches and wound need to be checked daily to make sure they aren't coming loose and that the wound is healing properly. Any signs of infection such as oozing, redness, and swelling needs immediate veterinary attention.

When it is time to collect your cat, you will be given a brief from your veterinarian including any medication your cat requires and special care your cat needs. This should be put in writing for you.

Your veterinarian may wish to see your cat a week or so after the operation to make sure everything is healing well. If he has stitches, they will be removed at this time.

If your cat is pulling at stitches he may need to wear an Elizabethan collar which will restrict movement and prevent him biting at the stitches.

Surgery side effects:

No surgery is without risk, and the pet owner and veterinarian must weigh up the risks of surgery vs the risks of not treating the condition. Some common side effects include:

Sometimes a cat will not pull through from surgery. This is incredibly hard to bear, but
unfortunately it does happen.