Cat Behavior After Surgery

For most cat lovers, taking good care of our feline companions involves several trips to the vet over their lifetime – and in some serious cases, surgery is often required. However, some pet owners tend to hesitate sending their cats to surgery due to the fear that they may see irreversible changes in their cat’s behavior after being on the operating table.

Some of these fears are indeed based on fact – often, if not always, cats tend to behave in a noticeably different way when they return home post-op. For those who are planning to book their four-legged friends into surgery soon, we’ve listed down some of these behavioral changes below so that you can be more prepared to care for your cats once they return home.

Behavior changes in cats post-surgery

 

 Sleepiness & Drowsiness

 During surgery, general anesthesia is often administered to your cat. This means that by the time the surgery is over and your cat has woken up, the anesthesia is still going to leave some lingering effects. Much like humans after a wisdom tooth extraction, you’ll expect some grogginess, wobbling and sleepy behavior in your cat during the first 6 and up to 12 hours.

One of the best things to do once you bring your cat home is to ensure that there is a comfortable space in your home for your cat to rest without any need for jumping (i.e, onto and off the bed) or complicated maneuvering around obstacles or furniture in order to reduce the risk of injury to your cat. If possible, place the cat bed (if your cat has one) on the floor in a warm, quiet room to allow your cat to recuperate for the next 24-48 hours.

 

Aggressiveness

 Some cats may exhibit aggressive behavior right after surgery. This is due to the effects of the anesthesia as well – unlike humans, cats don’t understand how anesthesia works, and cat owners can’t explain to them either, as cats don’t speak english! Their natural defense instincts start kicking in when they realize that they’re not fully in control of their body anymore, and this often results in wild or aggressive behavior in the first 6 to 8 hours after surgery.

Try to keep your cat away from other pets or children during this time, and keep checking in on them a few times, offering food and water. Their behavior should return back to normal once the anesthesia wears off.

 

Not using the litterbox

Right after the surgery up until the next 24 hours, you may notice that your cat isn’t using the litterbox – this is perfectly normal behavior. Cats are naturally inclined to be fully conscious over their actions, so if they’re still a little groggy, the litterbox would be the last thing on their minds. It is advised to monitor the litterbox behavior of your cat during the first 24 hours – if your cat still hasn’t urinated or defecated after that, contact your vet immediately.

 

Grouchiness

Grouchy cats aren’t particularly uncommon – even without surgery. But if your cat is normally sprightly and affectionate, post-surgery grouchiness might kick in after they return home. This is because your cat has been through a fairly traumatic couple of hours – the trip to the vet, the unfamiliar surroundings, bright lights, strange, scrub-clad people in masks and finally, the feeling of post-GA drowsiness and having to consume medication.

Ensure that your cat is kept safe, warm and happy after they return home from surgery, and your cat will go back to normal behavior in no time.

 

 Coughing

 Some cats may start coughing after an operation – this is because for some operations, your cat may have been administered oxygen and anesthesia through a tube placed in the trachea, which is the windpipe. Because of the prolonged contact of a foreign object in the throat area, this may result in a slight cough and mild irritation that will gradually go away over a few days. However, if your cat is still coughing after a week, contact your veterinarian.

 

Wound licking or chewing

 Wound licking is a common natural instinct that animals use to clean their injuries in the wild. Because the surgical site feels like an injury to them, they will usually start licking or chewing the incision, unknowingly making it worse. An E-collar is often the best way to prevent your cat from licking any stitches or surgical sites that will heal faster and better if left alone.

 

Nausea

 This is a side effect of anesthesia in some cats – they may start throwing up their food if too much is consumed in one sitting right after surgery. This is normal in the first 24 hours after surgery. The best way to combat this is to divide up their usual daily servings into smaller portions in order to avoid any vomiting due to nausea. After the GA wears off, the feeling of nausea will disappear.

 

 Loss of appetite

Some cats don’t even want to eat at all in the first 24 hours after surgery. This is partly due to the change in routine – cats are creatures of habit, after all, and after being tossed about on the operating table, your cat may not take too kindly to you acting like nothing ever happened. The other thing that causes loss of appetite is the effects of GA drugs on your cat’s stomach, which may cause some sensitive tummy issues.

 

Final thoughts

Going for surgery is not something anyone enjoys – and especially for cats, the operation experience may cause some serious emotional effects, even if you think you know your cat inside out. The best thing you can offer to your cat post-surgery is your company.

Your cat wants to feel safe and secure, especially when they’re feeling a little vulnerable in their post GA-induced state, and your presence will help to calm them down and let them know everything is all right. Bring your cat food and water as they are resting, and stroke or pet them gently to encourage their appetite as they recover, and they should be back to normal soon after.

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