Almost every pet cat goes through the ordeal of a spay or neuter; and no wonder. Have any of you tried living with an intact tom or queen? The spraying, the yowling, the incessant demands for attention … it’s enough to drive most cat owners who have thought about taking a pass on sterilizing their cats to run to the phone and lay claim to the next available surgical slot.
Spays and neuters are by far the most common feline surgeries, but owners should still take them seriously. As the saying goes, "there is no such thing as a routine surgery." Anesthesia and cutting open the body is never completely without risk, and owners play a huge role in monitoring their pet’s recovery.
That said, a feline neuter is just about the simplest surgical procedure vets perform. Because the surgery is almost always carried out under short acting, injectable (and sometimes partially reversible) anesthesia, these former toms are more or less wide awake when they go home. Ideally, they have received a long-acting pain reliever and/or local anesthesia that will keep them comfortable without the need for repeated treatments at home.
Feline spays carry a bit more risk than neuters because of the need to open up the abdomen. Most of the time, these surgeries are performed while a cat is under general, inhalant anesthesia, although in a shelter setting, or with young animals, injectable anesthesia may be used instead. Cats may be groggy for hours after general anesthesia. In fact, some vets require overnight hospitalization after spays so that they can monitor their patient’s recovery, enforce cage rest, and give as much pain relief as proves necessary.
So what is an owner’s role in the post-op care of a feline spay or neuter once the patient is home? First, examine the incision(s) twice a day. A spay incision is usually just an inch or two long and is located on the underside of the abdomen, while a feline neuter is usually performed through one or two small incisions in the scrotal area. Some hair has probably been removed, and a little bit of redness or swelling around the incision(s) is normal. But, if you see large swellings, extremely inflamed skin, bleeding or pus, call your vet immediately.
A male cat should have no sutures to worry about; the skin is left open to heal on its own. Females do have skin sutures, but many vets use absorbable materials that are buried under the top layer of skin and are not visible. If an incision appears to be gaping open and/or tissue is protruding through it, call your vet.
You also need to monitor your cat’s general demeanor. If he or she is groggy or has a poor appetite immediately after returning home, it is probably nothing to worry about. If, however, your cat seems to be getting worse rather than better as time goes on, call your veterinarian immediately. A deteriorating condition can be a sign of internal bleeding and/or infection.
If your vet has dispensed pain relieving medicines, as is often the case after a spay, make sure you administer them even if your cat is not obviously uncomfortable. Cats are very good at masking their pain and left untreated, it can delay healing.
Of course, there are times when cats may need different care after a spay or neuter. Always follow your veterinarian’s recommendations, and if you have any questions or concerns, give the clinic a call. It is always better to err on the side of caution when it comes to your cat’s health, and this is never truer than when a pet is recovering from surgery.
Dr. Jennifer Coates