Why Has My Cat Stopped Eating After Surgery?
It’s normal for your cat to show little interest in food after coming home from the veterinarian’s office following surgery or hospitalization.
The experience is stressful and disorienting for cats. Anesthesia, medications, and surgical pain can temporarily suppress their appetite.
It takes some cats 24 hours or more to regain their appetite and resume normal eating habits. However, you can take steps to encourage eating during recovery and know when to seek veterinary advice.
The most common reasons cats stop eating after surgery include:
Pain and Discomfort
Cats are masters at hiding signs of pain. Surgical incisions, internal stitches, and other procedures understandably cause soreness. This discomfort can make eating unappealing. Even the position required for eating may aggravate pain. Your cat may avoid food until their pain is under control.
Anesthesia Side Effects
General anesthesia interferes with the appetite center in the brain. Its effects can persist for several hours after surgery.
Nausea is another common side effect that suppresses the desire to eat. These after-effects usually resolve within 12-24 hours. But they can discourage eating during the initial recovery period.
Stress and Confusion
Vet visits and hospitalization disrupt your cat’s routine. The unfamiliar setting coupled with human handling and procedures can cause anxiety. Stress and confusion in an abnormal environment may override their sense of hunger.
This effect should subside once your cat is back home in familiar surroundings. But initially, it may prevent them from eating normally.
Tips to Help Your Cat Start Eating Again After Surgery
While it’s normal for your cat to show little interest in food immediately after surgery, you don’t want their reduced appetite to persist. Here are some tips to encourage eating during the post-op recovery period:
Offer Strong Smelling Foods
Cats rely heavily on their sense of smell for eating. The lingering effects of anesthesia can temporarily dull their appetite. Try tempting your cat with the aroma of foods like tuna, salmon, clam juice, sardines, or rotisserie chicken.
The stronger the scent, the more likely it is to stimulate their appetite. Warming up canned cat food can also increase its aroma.
Give Small Portions Every 2-3 Hours
Instead of large, infrequent meals, offer tiny amounts of your cat’s favorite foods every few hours. This reminds your cat to eat and prevents an empty stomach that can further suppress appetite. Feed by hand or place small dishes around your home near your cat’s resting areas.
Use Appetite Stimulant Medications
If your cat is still not interested in food 24 hours after surgery, ask your veterinarian about prescribing appetite stimulants. Medications like cyproheptadine and mirtazapine help jump start your cat’s appetite and get them eating again.
Keep Food and Water Nearby
Make mealtime as easy as possible. Place food, treats, and fresh water near where your cat is recovering so they don’t have to exert themselves to reach it. The less effort required, the more likely your cat will eat. Use familiar food bowls from home if staying at the vet’s office.
Keep activity and noise levels low to avoid stress. Allow your cat to recover in a quiet, comfortable place. Use familiar bedding and toys from home. Comfort and calmness will help bring back their appetite.
With patience and coaxing, your cat should regain interest in their regular food within a day or two. Call your vet if they go 24 hours without showing any appetite after surgery.
A continued disinterest in food likely indicates a need for appetite stimulant medication or other support.
Getting Calories In When Your Cat Won’t Eat Voluntarily
If your cat is still refusing all food 24 hours after coming home from surgery, they need nutrients and calories. A continued lack of appetite can lead to dangerous complications like liver problems and fatty liver disease.
Here are some alternate ways to get food into your cat if they won’t eat on their own after surgery:
Syringe or Spoon Feed Nutritional Gels
Specialized nutritional gels for cats provide concentrated calories and nutrients in a smooth, pate-like texture. Brands like NutriCal and Tomlyn Nutri-Stat are made to be syringe fed or spoon fed. Slowly dispense small amounts on the side of your cat’s mouth or mix into canned food.
Give Nutritional Supplements
High calorie nutritional supplements like Pet-Tinic and Nutri-Cal can stimulate appetite while providing essential vitamins. Give them orally with a syringe or mix into food. Ask your vet about using temporary feeding tubes if your cat still refuses to eat with supplements.
Provide Subcutaneous or IV Fluids
Fluids provide hydration and prevent dangerous dehydration. Subcutaneous fluids are given under the skin. Intravenous fluids go directly into the bloodstream. Vets administer them during hospitalization and may teach you to provide subcutaneous fluids at home.
Assist Feed with a Syringe
As a last resort, use an oral syringe to slowly administer small amounts of pureed canned food or recovery formula. Go extremely slowly to avoid aspiration. Stop immediately if your cat shows signs of distress. This method should only be used as a temporary measure until your cat’s appetite returns.
With your vet’s guidance, these techniques can provide life-sustaining nutrition during the recovery period.
But the goal is still to get your cat eating voluntarily again as soon as possible. Most cats resume normal eating within 2-3 days after surgery.
Call your vet if your cat is still refusing food beyond this timeframe.
Creating a Calm, Comfortable Environment for Recovery
Your cat needs ample rest and relaxation during recovery to help their appetite return. Here are some tips for providing a calm, comfortable environment after surgery:
Keep Activity Levels Low
Restrict activity and discourage jumping, running, and playing. Confine your cat to one room with easy access to food, water, and litter. Limit visitors and provide a peaceful sanctuary to recover in. The less stimulation and activity, the better.
Keep the recovery area quiet by closing doors and windows. Mute televisions and radios. Ask family members to speak softly and avoid loud noises. A serene setting will help your cat feel at ease.
Use Familiar Items
Surround your cat with recognizable items from home like their own bed, blanket, scratching post, and toys. Familiar scents and objects provide comfort. Avoid introducing anything new or unfamiliar.
Adjust the Lighting
Bright lights can be harsh and disorienting after anesthesia and surgery. Maintain a dim, calm environment. Draw the curtains or blinds and use low lighting.
Keep the Temperature Comfortable
Anesthesia disrupts your cat’s ability to regulate body temperature. Make sure their recovery space is neither too hot nor too cold. Have a heating pad or fan on hand in case adjustments are needed.
The more you can make the recovery area resemble your cat’s normal safe spaces at home, the less stressed your cat will feel. A calm, comfortable cat is more likely to regain their appetite faster.
Monitoring Your Cat’s Appetite and Knowing When to Call the Vet
It’s important to closely monitor your cat’s food and water intake after surgery. Their eating habits and behavior provide important clues about their recovery. Here are signs to watch for:
No Interest in Food After 24 Hours
While an initial disinterest in food is normal, your cat should regain some appetite within 24 hours of surgery. If they are still refusing all food at this point, notify your vet. Appetite stimulants or assisted feeding may be needed.
Signs of Nausea or Vomiting
Anesthesia and pain meds often cause nausea. Vomiting and gagging are red flags. Don’t force food if your cat seems nauseous. Call your vet as vomiting can lead to dehydration. Anti-nausea medication may help.
Loose stools or diarrhea after surgery can indicate gastrointestinal upset. Stop feeding and let the stomach rest. Reintroduce bland foods like boiled chicken and rice once diarrhea resolves for at least 12 hours.
Significant Weight Loss
Weigh your cat daily on a pet scale during recovery. A weight loss of more than 2-3% indicates they are not getting enough calories. Supplements or assisted feeding may be needed.
Low Energy, Lethargy
If your cat seems overly tired and uninterested in normal activities, malnutrition could be setting in. Lethargy and weakness warrant a prompt vet visit to assess causes and treatment options.
Don’t hesitate to call your vet if your cat is exhibiting any of these warning signs. With prompt attention and care, your cat’s normal appetite and energy levels should return within a few days.
Transitioning Back to Normal Eating Patterns After Surgery
Once your cat regains interest in food, you can start transitioning them back to their regular diet. But reintroduce their typical food gradually over 2-3 days.
Here are some tips for easing your cat back into their normal eating patterns after surgery:
Start with Small Meals
Provide smaller portions fed frequently instead of large meals. This allows the stomach to adjust and prevents upset. Gradually increase meal size over several days.
Mix Regular Food with Recovery Food
On the first day home, feed a 25/75 blend of regular and recovery canned food. Then shift to 50/50 the next day and 75/25 the following day before fully transitioning back.
Ensure Ample Hydration
Dehydration is a serious risk after surgery. Make sure your cat has constant access to several bowls of fresh, clean water around recovery areas. Flavoring the water or using a pet fountain can promote drinking.
Use Appetite Stimulants as Needed
If your cat loses interest in food during the transition, appetite stimulant medications can help. Use them temporarily until your cat adjusts to their normal diet.
Provide Multiple Small Meals Daily
Divide your cat’s usual daily food intake into 4-6 smaller meals rather than 1-2 large meals. This eases digestion and prevents stomach upset.
With patience and a gradual approach, your cat should be back to their normal food and eating schedule within a week after surgery. Avoid sudden food changes and watch for signs of gastrointestinal distress.
Bringing Back Your Cat’s Appetite After Surgery
Surgery and anesthesia disrupt your cat’s normal appetite and eating behaviors. But with some simple techniques and patience, you can help get your feline friend eating again during recovery.
Focus on providing enticing smells, comfortable surroundings, stress reduction, and frequent small meals.
Syringe feeding nutritional gels or broth can provide sustenance until your cat regains interest in eating. Work closely with your veterinarian to use appetite stimulants or other therapies if needed.
Within a couple days, as the effects of anesthesia wear off and pain is controlled, your cat should voluntarily resume eating. Stick to bland, easily digested foods at first. Then slowly transition back to their regular diet over several days.
Monitor your cat’s food intake, energy levels, and litter box habits closely. Call the vet promptly if you notice ongoing vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy or other concerning symptoms. With attentive nursing care at home and your vet’s guidance, your cat will be back to their normal, hungry self before you know it.
Additional Questions About Cats Recovering from Surgery
How long should it take my cat to regain their appetite after surgery?
Most cats will regain some interest in food within 12-24 hours after surgery. Full recovery of appetite usually occurs within 2-3 days. Contact your vet if your cat shows no interest in food 24 hours after coming home.
What should I do if my cat vomits after eating?
Vomiting can indicate gastrointestinal upset. Stop feeding for a few hours and call your vet, as vomiting can quickly lead to dehydration. They may prescribe anti-nausea medication and recommend a bland diet once vomiting subsides.
Is it okay to entice my cat to eat with human foods like tuna?
Yes, human foods like tuna, chicken, and turkey are fine for the short term after surgery. They can stimulate appetite with their strong smells. But transition back to complete and balanced cat food within a few days.
How can I give oral medication if my cat isn’t eating?
Try mixing the medication into a small amount of tuna juice, nutritional gel, or meat baby food. Gently syringe or spoon feed to administer medication. Pilling can also be used as a last resort.
When should my cat’s activity level return to normal after surgery?
Restrict activity for at least 2 weeks after surgery. No running, jumping, or playing. Over-activity can impede healing. Build back up to normal levels slowly over several weeks. Follow all post-op instructions from your vet.
You may read also – How to Get Cat to Eat After Tooth Extraction