Spaying is a delicate procedure that changes a cat’s life forever, but it doesn’t end with the surgery. Aftercare is just as important and since it is done at home, it’s fundamental to be prepared to face potential complications.
When a cat won’t eat after surgery it’s not always a reason for concern, but if your cat doesn’t get better after a couple of days, you should call your veterinarian and have your cat checked because she might need additional medications.
Why is your cat not eating after being spayed?
If your cat is not eating after spaying, it is probably due to the general discomfort they feel after the surgery.
Before the surgery, cats usually go without food for at least 12 hours, and the veterinarian might recommend withholding food for an additional 12/24 hours after the procedure, so if your cat is not eating after the surgery it’s completely normal.
However, some cats have a hard time finding their appetite back after the surgery due to various reasons. Sometimes the problem solves itself after a couple of days, but when the lack of appetite continues, it’s important to contact the veterinarian and find the cause of the issue.
Cats often suffer from nausea due to general anesthesia. The anesthesia wears off slowly over the course of the hours following the surgery, but every cat reacts differently to it.
Usually, the anesthetic process starts with an injection which is meant to sedate the cat for the time necessary for the surgery. To ensure that she remains anesthetized during the whole surgery, an anesthetic gas mixed with oxygen is provided through a breathing tube for the entire time.
The anesthetic injection might have some effects on the cat’s stomach, provoking nausea which prevents her from eating. The anesthetic gas can be flushed out of the system through the oxygen supply. A delay in the recovery may be due to poor oxygenation.
Cats should completely get rid of the anesthetic within 36 hours after the surgery, which means they should start eating again the day after the surgery or a couple of days later.
In addition to nausea, your cat might feel the aftereffect of the surgery on her body. Once the anesthetic starts to wear off if there’s no follow-up treatment the cat will feel the pain which may take away her appetite.
On top of that, some cats may suffer from a sore throat due to the endotracheal tube, which makes eating and drinking painful. In this case, your cat will probably show interest in food, but won’t be able to eat it.
It’s important not to waste time and contact your veterinarian as soon as possible to decide on a post-surgery treatment plan.
The Elizabeth collar is used to prevent animals from biting or scratching parts of their body that shouldn’t be touched, like the incision left after surgery. Cats are less likely than dogs to scratch their spaying incision, so it’s not always necessary for them to wear a collar.
Cats are free spirits and do not react well to wearing collars or other accessories, because they can limit their sight and freedom of movement.
When cats feel bothered or ‘trapped’ they might become depressed or irritated and lose their appetite. In this case, you should try removing the e-collar and see how your cat behaves and if their mood improves.
For the same reason, confining them in a cage when they’re not used to it could make them depressed and make them avoid food, water, and even their litter box.
Similar to bacterial infection, going without food or water for such a long time can make your cat dehydrated. Dehydration shouldn’t be underestimated because just like starvation, a long period of time could cause permanent damage to some organs or even death.
If your cat is not drinking after surgery, check if she’s dehydrated by gently pulling upwards the loose skin behind her neck. When a cat is well-hydrated, the skin should immediately go back down. If it goes down slowly or worse, it remains up forming a little tent, which means your cat is severely dehydrated.
Make sure anesthesia has completely worn off before trying to get your cat to drink water because anesthesia will make a cat lose control over her epiglottis, which is the cartilage flap that prevents food and water from entering the lungs.
When your cat has completely recovered from anesthesia, you can give her water in small amounts through a dropper. You can also give her wet food through the dropper, or by placing a small bite of food on her paw that she can lick off.
Between the anesthetics and the fasting, your cat’s stomach might simply be too upset to accept any food. You shouldn’t force your cat to eat after the surgery and if possible, get a prescription diet from your veterinarian that you can follow in the post-surgery phase.
Remember that if your cat is not eating after spay for the first 24 hours, it’s completely normal, but if she keeps rejecting food for a couple of days, it’s time to call the veterinarian.
How to get a cat to eat after spay
When your cat is not eating after spay, it’s equally important not to force her to eat and to make sure she doesn’t fast for more than 48 hours.
Many cats will start feeling better as soon as they get home, so it’s important to leave a small amount of food and water in the same room where your cat is resting after surgery, for them to eat when they feel like it.
After 24 hours, if your cat is still not eating spontaneously, there are different tricks you can try to stimulate her appetite:
– Prescription diet: your pet should follow a healthy diet year-round, but good nutrition is especially important when they’re recovering from surgery and are in need of more energy and nutrients. Ask your veterinarian for a prescription diet or nutritional tips to keep your cat healthy during this time.
– Small and frequent meals: it’s important not to overwhelm your cat by forcing them to go back to their normal diet right away. If your cat has lost her appetite, you should feed her small meals several times per day to encourage them. You can slowly increase the amount of food and extend the time between meals once your cat feels better.
– Hand feeding: the surgery might leave your cat slightly traumatized or distrustful, so feeding her from your hand may give her comfort and encourage her to eat. Wash your hands and place a small bite of food on your fingers. You can also rub it gently against their mouth to tempt her. Otherwise, place the food on her paws, so she will be compelled to lick it off.
– Keep her company: sometimes everything a cat needs after such an unsettling experience is your presence. Do not leave your cat alone during post-surgery, especially during her meals. Many cats enjoy some cuddles while they eat, so make sure to pet her as a way to show your support and make her feel secure.
– Medications: when all else fails, you still need to get your cat to eat if you want to avoid dangerous medical conditions. Medications should be your last resort, but if your cat won’t eat after spay, go back to your veterinarian to get an appetite stimulant.
– Experiment with new foods: many cats are very selective with their food and will only eat certain foods or brands. However, they might be open to something new after the surgery, so you can try to experiment by mixing different things or make light homemade meals to stimulate their appetite.
What happens when a cat is not eating after a spay?
Each cat reacts differently after spaying, but the first 24 hours after the surgery their behavior can vary greatly and be very different from how they usually behave, which can be unsettling to see, but it’s not a reason for concern.
Your cat should slowly go back to its normal routine, including eating and drinking as it used to. This might take a few days, during which your cat should gradually improve.
However, some cats do not seem to make any improvement and their appetite doesn’t return. This can turn into a very dangerous situation because cats cannot go without eating for a long time, or they risk developing Hepatic Lipidosis, also known as ‘fatty liver syndrome’.
Fatty liver syndrome is a disease unique to cats which is more common in those cats that are overweight. Among the liver diseases that can affect cats, hepatic lipidosis is one of the most common and one of the most dangerous, because it can be lethal if not treated in time.
When a cat doesn’t eat or eat only small amounts of food for several consecutive days, fats start to break down rapidly in order to supply the body with the energy and nutrients it needs.
This process might overwhelm the liver that can’t keep up with a large number of fats, resulting in the accumulation of fat around the liver cells, which quickly compromises the functionality of the organ.
When the liver is compromised, it becomes noticeable through the skin or the whites of the eyes, which turn yellow. This condition is called jaundice and is common in cases of animal poisoning.
When the disease reaches this point, it needs to be treated quickly or it can cause the death of the cat.
Diagnosis of hepatic lipidosis is made through liver biopsy and blood tests. It is treatable through aggressive nutritional support, which is meant to increase the cat’s appetite and restore the regular liver’s functionality over the course of six or seven weeks.
What should you do if your cat is not eating after spaying?
Spaying is a medical procedure during which a cat is put under heavy medication that could compromise its appetite for long hours or even days after it’s over.
When a cat is not eating after surgery during the first 24 hours it’s better to leave them be and not force them to eat. You can leave food and water next to them and see if they start eating on their own.
After the first day, your cat should start going back to her normal routine, but if she doesn’t she’s at risk of starvation and dehydration, which can be life-threatening.
There are many reasons why your cat doesn’t want to eat and it doesn’t always require medical intervention, but you should call your veterinarian nonetheless and get advice.
Sometimes your cat just needs some encouragement to go back to her normal self, other times a check-up and medications may be needed.
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