How to Help a Cat Recover From Anesthesia

If your cat is scheduled for a surgical or dental procedure, she may be discharged from the hospital later that day. Once your feline friend returns home, your watchful eye and loving care will help her through the first 24 hours of recovery.

Care Begins In the Hospital

Today's veterinary patients experience smoother and swifter recoveries immediately following their procedures, thanks to advances in anesthesia that include newer drugs, safety precautions and protocols tailored for each individual patient. If your cat is undergoing an ovariohysterectomy, for example, she will likely receive a combination of anesthetic agents and pain management drugs. Many hospitals now place their patients on intravenous fluid administration, which helps to flush the drugs through the cat's system more quickly.

Some hospitals opt to hold patients overnight, believing that a patient's strict rest and confinement are ensured while the cat sleeps in a cage in the quiet, darkened hospital throughout the night while the place is closed for business. Many hospitals and shelters prefer to discharge their patients on the same day as the procedure so that owners can closely monitor the cat overnight and act promptly if a complication arises. If your cat is discharged to you on the same day, rest assured that you will not be handed a limp or dissociative kitty. Following the procedure, your cat is monitored in a recovery ward by trained staff. Only when your cat is able to stand and respond will her care be turned over to her loving family.

Prepare to Take Over

Before you pick up your cat from the hospital, prepare a small room for her in which she will spend the first 24 to 48 hours. It is essential to her recovery that she rest in a quiet spot away from household traffic, children and other pets, but she should be located where she will not be so isolated that you cannot easily check on her periodically. Be sure to choose a room that is free of slippery flooring, furniture, steps or countertops. While she will be able to stand, your cat may still be a bit wobbly and could fall from an elevated height. If such accommodations are not possible in your home, then consider setting up a large dog crate as your cat's recovery zone. Place some thick, cozy blankets on the floor of the room or crate to create a plush, warm bed for her to sleep in. Your cat may need to urinate more frequently than usual, particularly if she received intravenous fluid therapy, so provide her with a litter box filled with shredded paper instead of litter.

When you pick up your cat, the hospital or clinic will provide you with some postoperative care instructions that you will be expected to carry out for the duration of your cat's recovery and healing time. Be sure to ask questions about any point that is unclear, and make sure you have a telephone number to call if a question or concern arises after hours.

Care Continues At Home

When your cat arrives at home, you may notice some residual effects of the anesthetic and pain management drugs. Some of these effects may include:

  • Slight trembling
  • Unsteady gait
  • Agitation
  • Dilated pupils

These effects should abate within 24 hours. You may also notice that your cat's eyes appear glazed and wet, which results from a lubricant that is placed on your cat's eyes once she is anesthetized. Since she does not have a blink reflex while she is under, this lubricant prevents her open eyes from drying.

If your cat had surgery, take note of the incision. You will need to check the incision daily throughout the healing period. Since the incision's appearance upon discharge from the hospital is normal, this initial view will familiarize you with how it should look. Once you have performed this inspection, allow your cat to make herself comfortable in her recovery room. She will probably be lethargic and will sleep soundly once she settles in. For the first six to eight hours, check on her frequently. Contact your veterinarian at once if any of the residual effects worsen, if she is not easily roused or if she becomes unresponsive to your attention.

Food and Water Can Wait

Your first instinct may be to offer your cat food and water. After all, she was fasted since the previous night. Your cat is not likely craving her food while the effects of the anesthesia and pain management work their way through her system. Nausea is not uncommon in an animal that has been anesthetized. Withhold food and water for the first few hours after bringing your cat home. If your cat is less than five months old, offer her a small amount of water and a tablespoon of her canned food later in the evening. If your cat is older than five months of age, wait until the following morning to offer her a light meal of water and half of her normal feeding amount. If your kitten or cat holds down the food without vomiting, resume normal feeding with the following meal. Your kitty's appetite should normalize by 24 hours into her recovery. Monitor your cat's activities thereafter and be sure that she is eating, drinking and eliminating normally.

Continue Love, Observation and Restrictions

Once your cat has fully recovered from the anesthesia, she will still require your tender loving care if she has a surgical incision. Keep these postoperative care tips in mind until her incision is fully healed:

  • Do not allow her to jump on elevated surfaces or to play with other household pets and children.
  • Do not allow her to venture outdoors.
  • Do not bathe your cat.
  • Follow your veterinarian's surgical discharge instructions.
  • Do not administer human pain relievers. If you feel that she is in discomfort, contact your veterinarian for feline-friendly pain control options.
  • Do not allow her to lick excessively at her incision or chew at the sutures. If she is insistent, ask your veterinary clinic for an Elizabethan collar for her to wear for the duration.
  • Continue to use shredded newspaper instead of litter in the litter box.
  • Inspect the incision every morning and evening for signs of swelling, discharge or redness. If you see any of these abnormalities, contact your veterinarian.

If you have any questions or concerns about your cat's recuperation, do not hesitate to talk to your veterinarian. Your diligent care and an open line of communication with your veterinarian will ensure a smooth recovery from anesthesia and a swift recuperation from surgery for your cat.