When your Cat has Surgery

It can be difficult to see your cat undergo surgery. Many questions arise, not the least of which is whether your cat will experience pain after the procedure. Your veterinarian will be able to answer your questions, including details about the procedure, and how you can manage any pain that might result from the procedure.

In recent years, the veterinary community has made great progress in understanding how cats feel pain and how to treat that pain. We now know that surgery can cause pain in cats the same way it causes pain in people. The difference is that cats instinctively try to hide their pain. However, because we now know more about how cats feel pain, we now know how to recognise and manage it.

What Your Veterinarian Will Do

The severity and nature of surgical pain varies with each cat and the type of surgery, but if left untreated, surgical pain tends to be most severe around 24 hours after surgery, then diminishes as the surgical wounds heal over the next few days. Your veterinarian will begin administering pain medication an hour or two before starting surgery. This will allow pain management to be on-board before the surgery begins, and help keep your cat more comfortable during the critical hours immediately following the surgery.


What You Can Do

You play an important part in your cat’s recovery after surgery. Pain management is an important aspect of the healing process.

  • Keep your cat calm and comfortable – isolated from other animals and children for at least 12 hours
  • Check the incision daily for swelling, bleeding, discharge, red-ness or reopening. Call your veterinarian if you see any of these symptoms
  • Prevent the cat from scratching, licking or biting the surgical site

Understand Perioperative Pain Management better

Perioperative describes the period immediately before and after an operation or procedure.

Painful veterinary procedures continue to be performed each year without the benefit of analgesia (medication to alleviate pain), although analgesic use in conjunction with surgeries appears to be growing.

Obviously, veterinarians have shown increased awareness of companion animal pain management during the past several years, which has been reflected in the program content of professional meetings and in the articles published in the profession’s scientific journals. For many veterinarians, the topic of pain management is stimulating a renewed interest in clinical practice. Most veterinary practices make use of medication which ensures that your pet undergoes as pain-free a procedure as possible thereby bringing them back to good health in the shortest possible time.

While some confusion surrounds the terms anaesthesia and analgesia, the misunderstanding results mostly from the presumption that all anaesthetics provide analgesia, which is not the case. Clinically and practically, anaesthesia may or may not equate with analgesia. Under general anaesthesia, an animal may not perceive pain, but painful stimuli associated with tissue trauma still are transmitted to and processed by the central nervous system (CNS). Although this information isn’t then consciously perceived as pain, central sensitization can develop in the spinal cord and brain, resulting in the perception of intense, acute postoperative pain as the animal regains consciousness.

Anaesthetics. Anaesthetics are drugs that produce anaesthesia by depressing the activity of nervous tissue locally, regionally or within the CNS. Local anaesthetics administered at the surgical site can improve pain suppression during or after certain procedures such as orthopaedic procedures, lateral ear resections or total ear canal ablation and dew claw removal.

Sedation. Sedation is a state of mild central nervous system depression in which the animal is awake, calm and yet likely to be drowsy. Sedation reduces anxiety, irritability, stress and excitement. Although “sedation” is often used interchangeably with “tranquilization,” they are not synonymous.

Tranquilization. Tranquilization is a state of altered behaviour in which the patient is calm, quiet and relaxed, but is aware of surroundings and may be indifferent to minor pain. Generally, tranquility is not accompanied by drowsiness, analgesia or unconsciousness, but the animal is reluctant to move. A tranquilized animal still experiences pain.


Strategies for pain management

Recognizing and managing perioperative pain is not only a central issue in veterinary medicine, but it’s also an extremely important component of compassionate veterinary care. In fact, providing pain relief is as important as choosing the appropriate sedative, muscle relaxant, and injectable or inhalant anaesthetic for a particular patient and surgical procedure.

The question, “Which is the best analgesic in a particular pain context?” is not easy to answer, even for pain management specialists. Why? Because pain is a unique, individual experience and no two patients respond in the same way to a particular drug or technique. Effective pain management must be tailored to the individual animal and based in part on:

  • the species, breed, age, health status and behavioural characteristics of the patient;
  • the procedure performed, degree of tissue trauma and degree of pain (mild, moderate and severe) anticipated with a specific procedure or disease process; and
  • the availability of analgesic drugs, knowledge of pain management and surgical techniques, and stage (preoperative, intraoperative and postoperative) at which pain will be controlled.

An emerging pain management strategy is perioperative analgesia — the use of analgesics before, during and after surgery (preoperatively, intraoperatively and postoperatively, respectively). Recent studies demonstrate that administering perioperative analgesia is the most effective way to provide comfort and compassionate care for surgical patients.

Effective perioperative pain management takes advantage of several practices used successfully in human medicine, including:

  • using analgesics as early as possible, beginning preoperatively (preemptive analgesia);
  • using more than one class of analgesics, with each drug acting at a different point along the pain pathway (multimodal analgesia); and
  • matching analgesics, based on dosage and duration of action, to the degree of expected surgical trauma and postoperative pain.

Most veterinary practices make use of medication which ensures that your pet undergoes as pain-free a procedure as possible thereby bringing them back to good health in the shortest possible time.