QUESTION: How can one help their cat recover from surgery?
Recap of my previous two columns: A few days after I got adopted, I stopped feeling so good. The vet told my owners that I might have an allergy to dental plaque. Because plaque is full of bacteria, and because my immune system was overreacting to those bacteria, the vet prescribed yucky-tasting antibiotics to kill the bacteria. Unfortunately, the medication didn’t work, and the next step was surgery by a dental specialist.
On with the story: Waking up from surgery was not a pleasant experience. I was still in pain. Worse, I discovered that all my teeth except the two lower canines had been removed. The specialist told my owners that the rest of my teeth had been too damaged to save. Just as bad, my head was now trapped in a hard-plastic cone-shaped prison! The specialist advised my owners that I needed the cone to keep me from pawing at the stitches in my gums. I disagreed with him; if they would just remove the cone I knew that I’d be the perfect patient.
When my owners got me home, they brought me to a closed room and tucked me into my bed but didn’t remove the cone. I made clear how upset I felt by yowling at them. They left the room and closed the door, which made my spirits sink further. What if my owners didn’t like me without teeth? What if they didn’t want to take care of me anymore?
I tried to walk to the door, so I could scratch at it and get them to return. But my cone made it impossible to see or move far, and I kept stumbling over my paws. Finally, I gave up and whimpered. That’s when Allison came back. She picked me up and held me in her lap. I wanted to just lay there and fall asleep, but I hurt too much to sleep. The only thing that felt good was her staying with me, stroking me, and loving me.
Eventually I must have fallen asleep despite the pain, because when I opened my eyes again the sun had gone down. Andy was in the room now too. He put some food and water in front of me. I tried to reach the bowls, but the carpet kept catching on the cone, and so I yowled again. This time they listened to me. They removed the cone. Oh, the relief! Instantly I opened my mouth to eat. Oh, the pain! I pawed at my mouth. I couldn’t help myself.
My owners put the cone back. I felt ashamed to have let them down, and crawled off my pet mom’s lap. But there was nowhere to hide. Every time I took a step, I stumbled over my paws. I trembled. My pet mom reached for me, but I retreated. I wanted to be left alone. She lay next to me, but my pet dad left. I waited and waited for her to leave too. When I woke up the next time, the sun was up again, and my pet dad had a package in his hand. He had brought a softer recovery collar to make me feel more comfortable.
Some cats are masters at hiding pain; that night I was not. Here’s a checklist for helping cats recover from surgery.
- Confine them to a small area on the floor where they will be safe.
- Limit their activity so that they can more quickly recuperate.
- Provide them with undisturbed time for a few days so they can recover in peace.
- Give them soft blankets to help them feel comfortable and reassured.
- Ensure they have easy access to a litter box, food, and water.
- Think about switching from traditional litter to shredded paper to avoid an infection.
- Check for signs that something is wrong: smell around the stitches and look for discoloring that doesn’t disappear in twenty-four hours, behavior changes, and ongoing pain
- Allow them outside until they have fully recovered.
- Let them lick or otherwise touch the stitches.
- Give too much water or water. Overdoing it may cause nausea.
My recovery took almost two weeks but, thanks to my dad buying me a better recovery collar, I could more easily walk about and eat during those two weeks. I’ll have a new adventure to share in my next advice column!
Have cat questions of your own? Submit to: allisontalkspetsATgmailDOTcom