You have prepared a grand welcome home surprise for your cat. After all, she has been so brave and so well-behaved at the veterinarian’s office for her spay surgery. But when cat arrives home, all she wants to do is hide under the couch and be left alone. She is not interested in any of the items in the mini buffet of wet and dry food and treats you have so lovingly put together for her. This scenario is one of the most common concerns raised by owners post-surgery, the cat won’t eat after being spayed. What could be the reason for this?
Why Will My Cat Not Eat?
A cat not eating immediately after surgery is normal up to 24 hours. After that period of time, she should already start eating and drinking on her own and should be back to her normal active, happy, mischievous self in 2 to 3 days. The lack of appetite for food and interest in eating after spay surgery may be due to any or a combination of the following factors:
- Nausea from the residual effect of the general anesthesia. Injectable anesthetics take some time to be cleared from the cat’s system and recovery time varies for individual cats, for some as long as 36 hours post-surgery. Inhaled anesthetics can be flushed from the system more easily with a supply of oxygen. Extended recovery time might be caused by poor oxygenation.
- Pain can cause a cat to go off feed. Pain may result from too light anesthesia during surgery or no follow-up pain relief medicine given. On the other hand, pain medicine can have sedation as side effect.
A cat not used to being confined in a cage or one that is feeling irritated with the Elizabeth Collar will likely not eat.
- Your cat’s stomach may still be adjusting coming from the fasting she did prior to surgery and it may have left her a little dehydrated too.
- Some cats are more sensitive than others. The process of recovering from general anaesthesia, regaining control of the voluntary functions, can be scary enough for some cats to make them not want to eat until they feels safe again.
- Concurrent medical conditions or subclinical conditions, like worms and viral infections, may add to the stress of surgery making your cat feel tired and have no interest in eating. Respiratory infections can make the cat unable to smell its food and hence have no appetite to eat.
If your cat is still not eating on her own 2-3 days after surgery, it may be a wound infection or surgical complication.
What You Can Do At Home
- Place the little patient in her bed in a warm, well-ventilated room and let her rest. Some cats just need to sleep off a bit the residual effects of anesthesia. Place a clean litterbox near her to encourage her to urinate as that will help flush out the injectable anesthetics from her body and hasten recovery time.
- If you have not been given discharge instructions pertaining to post-surgery pain management, call up the veterinarian. Observe your cat for signs of pain like heavy, rapid breathing and vocalization. Most cats, however, are very stoic and endure pain silently so constantly check on her because pain that is not managed might result to shock which can be fatal.
- Check with your veterinarian if the pain medication given to her may have sedation as side effect and discuss the possibility of placing her on a different medicine.
Check your cat for dehydration. Pull upward gently the loose skin at the scruff of her neck. It should go back down immediately. If it does not go down and instead forms a “tent” then she is dehydrated. If she has regained control of her swallowing, give her slowly small amounts of water using a dropper. You can also give her small amounts of wet food using the dropper or by placing a small amount of it on her paw for her to lick. Preferably use a prescription recovery diet because that is easier to digest and less likely to cause her an upset stomach. Alternatively, you can give her orally a vitamin paste that has a high calorie and energy content made specifically for patients who have no appetite to eat. If she will throw up the water or food, put in a call to your veterinarian to bring her back in as she might need to have an intravenous fluid infusion to counter the dehydration and calorie depletion. Do not delay beyond 48 hours as dehydration and starvation may cause permanent damage to some organs.
- While your cat is still recovering from anesthesia, keep noise and activity around her to a minimum. Place her on her soft bed or an area padded with cushions to protect her if she attempts to stand and falls. Be there to reassure her but do not hover too much. Keep litterbox , food and water near her.
- If you suspect the problem that is causing her to have no appetite might be something unrelated to the spay surgery, then bring her back to the veterinarian for a check-up and prompt treatment.
- Most cats do not chew on their incision site and sutures unlike dogs. Therefore an Elizabeth collar is not mandatory but to be used only if needed. Take off her Elizabeth collar and see if it improves her disposition and appetite. Likewise, do not confine her in a cage especially if she is not used to it. Cage confinement will only depress her more and make her not use the litter box nor eat. Just keep her in a safe room where she is not likely to run into things that might infect or cause her wound to open.
Check for fever, one of the first signs of wound infection. Inspect the surgical site for inflammation, leaking fluids, missing sutures and other complications. If you see anything that does not look right, bring her back to the veterinarian immediately. The veterinarian may give her a shot of antibiotic, pain reliever and perhaps an appetite stimulant.
Spay is a routine surgical procedure but anytime anesthesia is used there is always an inherent risk. I cannot overemphasize the importance of a thorough physical examination and standard laboratory testing prior to surgery to minimize the chances of complications arising during and after surgery. Since spay is an elective surgery, any medical problems the cat may have should be resolved first and she must have a clean bill of health before going under anesthesia and the knife. Surgery is only half done after the patient leaves the surgical table. The other half depends on how well taken-cared of the patient is after surgery. You as a pet parent have that responsibility to observe your cat and to report to the veterinarian within a reasonable time anything amiss. Complications caught early can be resolved faster and easier.