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What should you feed a cat after surgery?

Ginger cat next to food bowl advice

You may see a change in your cat’s behaviour following surgery.

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A slight and temporary change of diet will be necessary for your cat after surgery.

By Dr Hester Mulhall MA, VetMB, MRCVS

Updated on the 12/08/2020, 10:46

Certain surgeries, particularly those involving the gastrointestinal tract or the mouth, require specific post-operative diets. This means that you should always follow the advice that a vet has given for your particular cat following their procedure.

Your cat will probably be a bit groggy for a while, and might even feel a bit nauseous. The anaesthetic can have gastrointestinal side-effects and some individuals will develop diarrhoea. An easily digestible ‘sensitive’ food is often a good option, as these are designed to be gentle on the stomach. Alternatively, some plain boiled chicken or white fish can be suitable for a couple of days, as these are relatively bland. Some cats will happily tuck into their normal food, but feed a smaller portion than usual for the first 24 hours.

If you decide to feed your cat a different diet post-operatively, you will need to reintroduce their usual diet gradually over the course of a few days by mixing in increasing quantities into the new food. Sudden changes in diet can cause gastrointestinal symptoms.

How long should I wait to feed my cat after surgery?

Your cat will usually be offered a meal at the vet practice, once they have woken up enough from their anaesthetic. You can ask the vet clinic whether your cat has eaten, what they suggest you feed and how often. Usually you will be able to give your cat a meal on the same day as surgery, unless you are advised otherwise. It is normally best to get your cat eating as soon as possible, so they have the nutrients and energy they need to help with their recovery.

It can be very harmful if a cat goes for a day or more without any food, and can lead to fatty liver (particularly in overweight cats) and deficiencies in essential amino acids. If your cat has not eaten for more than 24 hours once they are home from surgery, contact the vet practice to let them know.

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Why can't I feed my cat after surgery?

Your cat may need a different diet following surgery, such as one that is more easily digested or a therapeutic diet to manage a health condition. Having said that, it is important for them to be fed regular meals, as advised by a vet, to help them recover well from the surgery. You should not withhold food or water, as this can lead to serious health complications.

How long does it take for a cat to recover from anaesthesia?

Some individuals appear to bounce back very quickly, and seem very bright later the same day. Others take a few days to feel less groggy. This will depend on the length of anaesthesia and the procedure that was performed. Even if your pet is bright following their anaesthetic, it is important to follow guidance about what to feed your cat, what exercise they can do and to keep them indoors. They might have recovered well from the anaesthetic itself, but the surgical site will need time to recover and is at greatest risk of wound failure a few days after the operation.

Why is my cat not eating since surgery? 

It is likely that your cat will be less keen on their food the same day as their surgery. They may be feeling sick or tired and not want to eat. If they have not eaten within 24 hours of being back home, you should contact the vet practice. You can try tempting them by warming food up slightly to about body temperature, but not too hot. This helps to increase the smell of the food, which can stimulate your cat’s appetite.

You could also try offering the liquid used to boil chicken breast or white fish, as this will be more flavourful than plain water and will help get some fluids into your cat to prevent dehydration.

What will my cat's behaviour be like after surgery?

You will often notice a change in your cat’s behaviour following surgery. They might seem more subdued and sleepy, or could even be more vocal and clingy. This will usually settle down once they are back to feeling more normal again. If you notice any behaviours that don’t seem right, such as breathing quickly, pacing or general agitation, then they might be experiencing pain. If in doubt about a behaviour, contact the vet clinic where the surgery was performed for advice.

When should I take my cat back to the vet after surgery?

The vet may ask to see your cat for a post-operative check. This will often take place a few days after surgery and is an opportunity for the vet to check that your cat is recovering well and to look for signs of wound infection. You should book an appointment to take your pet back sooner, if you have noticed any cause for concern, including: if your cat is not eating; or if you can see discharge, redness or significant swelling associated with the surgical wound.

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