Cat Surgery – Everything You Need To Know

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Surgery for cats

From time to time, your cat may require a surgical procedure. Usually, the first time a cat undergoes surgery is during spay or neutering as a kitten.

Surgeries fall into three main categories.

Elective-Desexing, declawing.

Non-elective – Necessary Surgery, but no immediate need. This can include corrective surgery to repair a broken bone, dental work/extraction or an anatomical fault.

Emergency – Surgery when the cat’s life or body part (limb, organ, etc.) is in immediate danger (massive bleeding, significant wounds, breathing difficulty, emergency cesarean section).

A qualified veterinarian must perform surgery and for complicated cases, a specialist surgeon.

Common cat surgeries

Common cat surgeries 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

Cats and anaesthesia

There are two types of anesthetic, local and general, both of which block the sensation of pain.

Local anesthetic is local to the area and is used in operations on the surface of the body. Locals have fewer side effects than general anaesthetics but are not suitable for most surgeries in the cat.

General anaesthetics render the cat unconscious. A veterinary nurse will monitor the cat’s vital signs while under anesthesia.

Anesthesia doesn’t come without risks, particularly with very young kittens, geriatrics and cats with underlying medical conditions. Many veterinarians like to do a pre-anesthesia work up to determine the overall health of your cat.  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 procedure.

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

Vomiting during anesthetic is a major risk; therefore, withhold food after dinner the night before surgery. Your veterinarian will advise you if your cat can or cannot have 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 before the appointment to fill out any necessary forms and give your vet a medical history.

Immediately before surgery

Your cat will receive a sedative before the anesthetic to relax and calm him.

Where necessary, catheters may be placed for intravenous (IV) medication or anesthetics; this will occur 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. These are administered via injection or inhalation (gas). Inhaled anesthetics are delivered through a tube placed in the windpipe. The dose of the anesthetic is calculated by the cat’s weight.

During the surgery

Once the cat is unconscious, the surgical site is shaved, cleaned, and antiseptic applied to the area. 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. However,  some operations will use forced respiration with 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 stay in the hospital during recovery from the anesthetic so that staff can monitor him.

Discharge from hospital

If the surgery is minor, and your cat is in otherwise good health, you may be able to take him home reasonably 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 depends on the age and health of your cat, the seriousness of the surgery, and how well he is post-surgery.

When you collect your cat, your veterinarian will give you a brief and a care sheet to take home. This will cover how to look after your cat and instructions on medicating him.

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.

Check the stitches every day to make sure they haven’t come loose and that the wound is healing. Any signs of infection such as oozing, redness, and swelling need immediate veterinary attention.

Your veterinarian will schedule a follow-up a week or so after the operation to make sure everything is healing well; he will remove stitches 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 from biting at the stitches. An alternative to the Elizabethan collar is a baby onesie; there are also commercial alternatives.

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 side effects include:

  • Post surgery infection
  • Nausea
  • Pain
  • Hypothermia
  • Reaction to anesthetic
  • Sometimes a cat will not pull through from surgery. This is incredibly hard to bear. Fortunately, it is quite rare.