The vet has a variety of choices for closing your cat's surgical incision. Surgical glue and staples can do the trick, as can various types of sutures and particular suture patterns. Don't try this at home; let the vet's practiced hand remove your cat's staples. It's safer for the vet to do it, and he can check to make sure your cat's properly healed.
Closing the Gap
When the vet decides between staples, sutures or glue, he considers a variety of factors, including the tension of the incision, the type of incision and what he's closing. A suture, which is a threadlike material, may be absorbable or non-absorbable.
Absorbable sutures are typically used for closing muscles, small organ gaps and subcutaneous layers because they naturally break down inside the body, therefore negating a need for removal. Non-absorbable sutures are very strong and good for closing an incision in the skin; since the body can't absorb them, they must be removed by the vet.
Surgical adhesive, or glue, is effective for closing very small skin incisions; it eventually wears off or is absorbed. Staples can close a variety of openings, including skin incisions, small blood vessels and incisions in the stomach and intestines.
The thought of a vet stapling your cat closed after surgery may be unsettling, but there are good reasons for stapling an incision. Skin staples are simple and relatively quick to use, meaning less time in surgery and therefore less time under anesthesia. As well, they're secure and easy to remove. The primary drawback to staples is that the veterinarian has to become adept at applying proper pressure with the stapler. Insufficient pressure can result in a staple extending above the skin and not fastening properly, while too much pressure can cause a staple to embed into the skin, leading to swelling and difficult removal.
If you have a staple remover in your desk drawer, forget about using it on your cat. The vet will remove staples with a special tool provided by the surgical staple manufacturer. Occasionally, staples will move around during the recovery period, requiring the vet to use another special tool to safely remove the staples. Attempting to remove your cat's staples at home puts her at greater risk for a rupture at her suture site. As well, the vet can ensure all staples are accounted for when they're properly removed.
If you want to take an active part in your cat's hearing process, follow your veterinarian's instructions for post-surgical care. Usually that means keeping your cat on restricted activity for a week or two. Discourage any movement that may stretch the surgical incision, such as jumping, perhaps by cage rest. You'll have to keep an outdoors cat inside for a while.
Too much activity after surgery can cause a cat's stitches to break apart or bleed at the incision site. Poor activity restriction is a common cause of post-operative complications, resulting in additional vet visits and costs.
Important things to know
- Clean the incision only if the vet instructs you to do so.
- Don't use hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, disinfectants, creams or ointments on the incision.
- Don't allow your cat to get wet -- no baths.
- Don't allow your cat to lick or otherwise tend to her incision; she risks pulling out the stitches or introducing an infection at the incision site.
If your cat is irritating or licking her incision, employ an Elizabethan collar to keep her site inaccessible to her attentions.
Inspect your cat's incision at least twice a day to be sure it's healing properly. It should be clean, with the edges touching; the surrounding skin should be normal or slightly pink/red in color the first few days after surgery. A bit of blood or a few drops of drainage is normal the first day or two post-surgery; minor bruising may occur, particularly in pale-skinned cats.
Call the vet if the incision:
- Continuously seeps or bleeds.
- Emits an odor.
- Has loose or missing staples or sutures.
- Feels warm to the touch.
- Is swollen or red.
- Has intermittent draining beyond 24 hours.