Sending your furry best friend into the operating room is stressful under any circumstance. Not knowing what to expect while your kitty's recovering can make this even worse. Cats in surgical recovery may experience temporary behavioral changes. Knowing which ones signal danger can keep you both more comfortable.
The most common post-surgical cat behaviors are the result of anesthetics still coursing through your kitty's system hours later. Your cat may be sleepy, inactive, "out of it" -- in a word, she's probably acting stoned. This is usually because she is, which is to be expected since opiates are commonly used during surgery. She may also show a loss of appetite, due to the same anesthesia-related nausea you've probably experienced if you've ever gone under the knife. Most cats will sleep this off in 12 to 24 hours.
A more alarming post-surgical reaction is when your kitty becomes wild or aggressive. This is more common in multi-cat homes. These cats may be disoriented from anesthesia, causing them to become upset and aggressive. Their wonky behavior can make other pets in the home turn on them, escalating the aggression.
The lingering odor of antiseptics (not to mention of strange animals and people from the vet's office) can further distress your kitty and other pets in your home, leading to more antisocial behavior. This potential outcome is one of the reasons your vet probably asked you to keep your post-operative cat separated from other pets during her recovery.
When to Worry
Excessive pain can cause a host of odd behaviors in your best buddy. Unusual aggression is one possible sign of pain, but so is extreme withdrawal. A cat who is sitting hunched up, keeps her head down and eyes slit, won't come out of the carrier or is otherwise hiding is very likely in severe pain, especially if she just underwent abdominal surgery (including a spay). This cat should receive pain medication ASAP.
Some cats will incessantly lick their incisions, trying to groom the pain -- or the surgical staples -- away. These kitties usually need to wear a cone collar ("e-collar" or "Elizabethan collar") to keep them from self-mutilation.
Kitties who were spayed while they were in heat still smell like sexy ladies to boy cats -- and mating with one could be life-threatening to your girl kitty in this condition. Keep your post-op gal far away from the gentlemen, but if you suspect a rendezvous happened, get her to the vet right away.
A kitty who is still lethargic or acting depressed more than 48 hours after any surgery may be suffering from a surgical wound infection and should see a vet immediately.
Kitties who come out of surgery need a peaceful, comfortable place to rest and recuperate -- no excitement and no cuddling until they're moving, eating and acting normal again.
Keep your recovery cat warm, quiet and dry, with a soft bed, plenty of clean water and small amounts of her favorite food. Make sure she gets prescribed meds on time, but otherwise allow her to sleep undisturbed for the next couple days.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Angela Libal began writing professionally in 2005. She has published several books, specializing in zoology and animal husbandry. Libal holds a degree in behavioral science: animal science from Moorpark College, a Bachelor of Arts from Sarah Lawrence College and is a graduate student in cryptozoology.